When Rocco Facchini was given his first assignment as a young priest in Chicago in the 1950s, he was full of fervor to save souls and minister to the people of the Church, whereever he was sent..
Tragically, Rocco couldn’t have asked for a worse assignment. Facchini, who had grown up in Chicago with Italian immigrant parents, was one of only about two dozen Italian American seminarians in the Chicago Archdiocese at the time. Most seminarians were expected to be Irish, German or Polish, and the rest were considered kind of the “bottom of the barrel.” Undeterred, Rocco had gone through Quigley Seminary, the gothic grey fortress near the Water Tower, and after twelve years was ready for duty.
Rocco longed for an assignment to an Italian American parish, preferably one on the Near West side of Chicago, where he had grown up with most of the other Italian families in Chicago. What happened, instead, proved to be extremely fateful for his vocation—and not in a good way.
Rocco was sent to serve at St. Charles Borromeo near Western Avenue and Roosevelt Road– a once thriving Catholic parish which was by now almost empty of parishoners; the neighborhood had greatly transitioned since the church’s 19th century erection, becoming predominantly African American and decidedly not Roman Catholic. The pastor of the church—Charles Kane—had fallen out of his faith. Agnostic, his only concern was the weekly public bingo game hosted by the parish, which brought in money for the coffers. But Rocco was undaunted. He was full of “piss and vinegar” and ready to convert the surrounding neighbors to members of the Catholic flock, dreaming of filling the church again as it had once hummed with life.
From day one, life at the church was . . . well… Hell. Fr. Kane was even worse than expected. He’d serve meals, giving a small portion to Rocco and the rest to his dog, speak boldly about his disbelief in the Gospel, padlocked the refrigerator and openly reveled in a relationship with the rectory housekeeper. Rocco found no support from the pastor when he voiced his hopes to proactively convert the non-Catholic people of the area. All he cared about was the bingo money being counted.
In addition to his issues with the current pastor, Facchini had another priest to deal with in the rectory of St. Charles: one who had been dead since 1927.
By the time of his assignment, the rectory of St. Charles Borromeo was already known to be “haunted,” and tales of its resident ghost had been eagerly traded at seminary by Rocco’s classmates and teachers. Rocco knew well that former pastor Peter Muldoon, who had gone on to become one of the most influential bishops in Chicago, still walked the halls of the old rectory, as he had lovingly built the church himself so many years before. In fact, Muldoon had planned to be interred at St. Charles upon his death, choose a spot behind the altar for his tomb.
Bishop Muldoon had been a crucial figure in the cohesion of the Irish American faithful in Chicago. A deep division existed between the foreign born Irish and the American born, the former jealously guarding the administrative positions in the church. Muldoon, though American born, knew how to smooth over relations, and proved himself quickly as a gifted leader. By 1901, Archbishop Feehan had named Muldoon auxiliary bishop, bringing him to live in the archbishop’s mansion in Lincoln Park.
Less than a decade later, Muldoon was sent to Rockford, Illinois to found the Rockford Archdiocese, fter his image was smeared by a jealous foreign born Irish priest who concocted atrocious lies about Muldoon, even publishing a book about them. Though Feehan had every faith in Muldoon’s innocence, he felt forced to send him away to preserve the integrity of the Chicago Church.
Muldoon went to Rockford and served well. There, in 1927, he died. Though he had longed to be buried behind the altar at St. Charles in Chicago, he was laid to rest in Rockford, among his adopted flock.
A final wish of Muldoon was that his episcopal ring be sent to St. Charles Borromeo, but before it arrived, it disappeared.
It was not long after Facchini’s arrival at the parish before he made the personal acquaintance of the ghost of Bishop Muldoon, who made himself well known by slamming doors, walking heavily up and down the halls at night, moving furniture and turning on radios in empty rooms. Sometimes, the heady scent of lilacs would waft by, filling the room or hall with an overpowering scent, and the pastor’s dog would bark and wail at unseen somethings. Returning home from outings, Rocco would often find his locked door standing open. Rocco began to speak to his invisible colleague:
“I’m your friend, Peter,” he would whisper. “Talk to me.”
One day, a visiting friend entered the rectory and noticed an older priest writing in his office. When Facchini later pointed out a large, framed portrait of Muldoon hanging in the hall and told him the ghost stories, the young priest went pale, saying, “That’s the priest I saw writing in the office when I came in.”
But while Facchini felt no fear from Muldoon, Fr. Kane lived in terror of the bishop’s ghost. When the large framed portrait of Muldoon, bolted to the wall, was found on the floor one day, Kane exclaimed, “It’s Muldoon! He’s out to get me!” The pastor would lock himself in his room at night, his dog standing guard at the door, convinced that Muldoon walked the halls seeking his doom.
After 15 years, Rocco Facchini left the priesthood and married, going on to raise two sons. In 1967 St. Charles Borromeo church, rectory and school were razed. Today the area, which was largely burned down over time during its impoverished era, is home to the FBI’s Chicago field office, hospitals and research facilities, and the Cook County Juvenile Courts, which stand on the site where the steeple of St. Charles once towered. Next door to the courts, where the rectory once stood, is the court parking garage.
Bishop Muldoon’s ring has never been found.