Fr. James Crilly, CSV, served as pastor or associate pastor in nearly all the places where Viatorians

Fr. James Crilly, CSV

minister — St. Viator Parish in Chicago, Maternity BVM in Bourbonnais, St. Patrick Church in Kankakee and St. Thomas More Catholic Community in Henderson, Nevada.

Yet, in recounting his many decades as a priest to a group of students some years ago, he described setting up the mission in Colombia as his most profound experience as a Viatorian.

“Prior to leaving for Colombia, I was very much involved in teaching biology at Spalding Institute in Peoria and I thought I’d be there a long time,” Fr. Crilly told them. “But God acts in mysterious ways.”

Fr. James Crilly, with a student at Colegio San Viator in Bogotá, circa 1967

Fr. Crilly, who was among three pioneering Viatorians to establish the foundation of Colombia, passed away Nov. 2. He was 89.

It was in 1961 that Fr. Crilly led a delegation of three Viatorian priests who were dispatched to the Archdiocese of Bogotá in Colombia. They answered a call from Pope John XXIII, who in 1961 called for religious congregations to help evangelize Latin America.

These founding fathers included Fr. Tom Wise and Fr. Bert Mayr. Knowing no Spanish and little about their new country, they arrived by boat on Sept. 27, 1961. Their assignment? To start a Catholic secondary boys’ school that ultimately would lead to more teachers of the faith.

During the VYC, students describe Fr. James Crilly’s ministry, including establishing the foundation of Colombia

Less than two years later they opened Colegio San Viator in prefabricated classrooms. Its 32 students were taught by five Viatorian priests and one lay teacher. More than 50 years later, the school is thriving, with an enrollment of more than 1,000 students, including boys and girls.

“I was excited at the opportunity,” Fr. Crilly said upon reflecting on the foundation’s 50th anniversary. “I always believed the school and foundation would last this long. We established a quality school, with an excellent faculty who set the bar high.”