Calvert House copes with loss

By Tisse Takagi

Coping with turbulent and sometimes conflicting emotions, members of the Calvert House community are turning to each other for comfort and support following the news last Monday that their spiritual leader, Father Michael Yakaitis, had been involved sexually with an 18-year-old seminarian a decade and a half ago.

Student leaders of Calvert House gathered last Thursday evening to discuss their feelings and draft a letter expressing their united thoughts on the subject. A vespers Mass was held last Friday, attended by 80 people, followed by dinner and a discussion led by Chicago Bishop Joseph Perry.

There were mixed responses to Yakaitis’s resignation as chaplain on February 10, but the general feeling expressed by students at Calvert House was not one of betrayal and scandal, but rather of shock and sadness. While some expressed anger and uncertainty that he had accepted the position at Calvert House despite his past, most students grieved the loss of an individual whom they knew to be a loving, selfless advisor and friend, as well as a vital member of the community.

Father Mike, as Yakaitas was affectionately known, came to Calvert House as director and chaplain in 2001, and revitalized the Catholic community, according to R. Adam Molnar, a fifth-year graduate student in statistics, as well as the Graduate Fellowship leader at Calvert.

Molnar said that before Yakaitis’s appointment, there was “nothing wrong” with the Calvert House community, but that there was only a base level of events and offerings. “There were occasional speakers, daily masses, and weekly services, but that was it,” he said.

After Yakaitis arrived, “things started changing,” Molnar said. “The quality of the services changed. The songs got smarter and better, the quality of the homilies got better. became more attractive. More people started showing up, and masses were more crowded—people became more enthusiastic.”

Yakaitis’s intellectual side appealed to the members of the Chicago community as well. Aside from improving the quality of the services, Yakaitis gave talks clarifying some puzzling customs of Catholicism, such as why Catholics kneel and stand at certain times of mass, and how Catholics look at communion.

One of Yakaitis’s main accomplishments was fostering a strong sense of community at Calvert House and paying attention to inter-student relationships. With Molnar’s initiative and Yakaitis’s guidance, the graduate student fellowship was formed, followed by the undergraduate fellowship, both aimed at bringing together students of the Catholic faith.

In addition to being an influential administrator, Yakaitis formed close relationships with many, and was trusted by students with their deepest personal issues, from love and marriage to death and depression.

“When I had my last bout of depression he was the person I asked for a counselor recommendation,” Molnar said. “He was the person I trusted to do it.”

Kateri Somrak, a third-year in the College and the Undergraduate Student Fellowship leader at Calvert, said, “Father Mike was my comfort blanket when my brother died, and during a big breakup. Now it’s our turn to be a source of comfort to him.”

Although she said she feels like she’s “had a rug pulled from under feet,” Somrak does not feel any differently toward Yakaitis. “We can only judge him on the basis of what we know of him—he was so amazing to me in particular, and a source of strength and positive influence,” she said.

Klara Elteto, a fourth-year Ph.D. student in physics, expressed a similar view. “Personally, I don’t care what he did 15 years ago. I believe that a person can truly change with God’s grace,” she said. “To me, he will always be the person I knew here and his past is his past.”