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Archdiocesan Priest, Rev. Charles W. Watkins, Dies

Ordained at 58, Watkins was a retired archdiocesan priest, former pastor of St. Columba Parish in Chicago

Chicago (Jan. 30, 2023) – Rev. Charles W. Watkins, former pastor of St. Columba Parish on 134th Street in Chicago, passed away Friday, Jan. 27, 2023. He was 78 years old.

Watkins was born on Oct. 1, 1944, in Florence, Alabama. He attended Coffee High School and the University of North Alabama, both in Florence, and the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary in Mundelein.

Before entering seminary, Watkins spent about 26 years working in health care. In the early 1980s, he was coordinator of the cardiac surgery section and a research clinician at the University of Chicago.

Watkins was ordained to the priesthood at the age of 58 on May 24, 2003, by Cardinal Francis George, and celebrated his first Mass on May 25 at Our Lady of the Ridge in Chicago Ridge.

Watkins served the people of the Archdiocese of Chicago as associate pastor at Our Lady of the Ridge Parish and St. Cletus Parish in La Grange. He became pastor of St. Columba Parish in 2012, where he served until retirement in 2020. Watkins was also chaplain of the Circus and Traveling Show Apostolate and served as Dean of Vicariate IV-C.

A 2014 Chicago Catholic newspaper article about Watkins, Mass in the Big Top and other unusual places, ends with his quote: “There are always doors and windows of grace open to you. I’ve considered myself an extremely fortunate person because I’ve been blessed to be able to do the things I thought were important to me.”

Rev. Michael Novick, ordination class of 2001 and associate pastor of St. Cletus Parish, was a close friend of Watkins since their years in seminary. “He became part of my family here in Chicago since his was in Alabama,” Novick said. “Through his life, everything he did was for the good of others, always focused on other people. He never did anything to bring attention to himself.” Novick added that his friend touched a lot of lives with his caring, compassionate and healing nature.

Visitation hours will be held from 3 to 7 p.m. on Jan. 31, 2023, at Elmwood Funeral Chapel, 11200 S. Ewing in Chicago. The funeral Mass will take place at 10:30 a.m. on Feb. 1, 2023, at St. Cletus Church, 600 W. 55th Street in LaGrange and will be livestreamed on the YouTube page of St. Cletus Parish: link.

Bishop Joseph Perry will be the main celebrant and Novick will be the homilist of the funeral Mass. Interment will take place in Alabama.