A Day in the Life of a Husband, Father, Factory Worker, Priest

by Joyce Duriga with photographs by Karen Callaway

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As the city of Chicago prepares for bed, the Rev. Sharbel Iskandar Bcheiry prepares to head to work, not the work of a priest — visiting the sick or administering the sacraments — but that of a laborer in a factory, earning money to feed and shelter his family.

A priest of the Syriac Orthodox Church, Father Bcheiry, says some North American parishes can support their priest and his family. But, the 42-year-old priest says, “We have a small parish. We don’t have enough financial support.”

Having earned a doctorate in church history, he had originally hoped to find work at a local university.

“It’s not a choice to go to work in a factory. I have to do it. If not, there is no survival — not for the community, and not for us,” he adds, gesturing to his family.

So this husband and father of two travels an hour each day to work the 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift at one of the world’s largest suppliers of forging die steels, plastic mold steels, die casting tool steels and custom open-die forgings.

He started out as a welder-fabricator working the day shift and is now a machinist. But he has not abandoned his academic pursuits; he continues to study and publish books and articles. Indeed, factory work even provides him with a distinctive view of theology.

“It’s the practical theology,” Father Bcheiry says. “How to deal with the daily life. Punch in. Punch out. You have bosses, this one or the other yell at you. There is no privilege.”

To spend a day with Father Bcheiry is to witness a life that might surprise those who imagine priests divide all their time between praying and preaching.

For Father Bcheiry, that is just the beginning.

“I was born in Lebanon,” Father Bcheiry says. The second of five children, the priest says his father greatly influenced his faith journey.

“I lived in a family close to the church,” he explains. “My father, since he was 18 or 19, woke up every day at 4 a.m. to pray before going to work.”

Even from a young age, he knew he wanted to be a priest.

“At 13, I went to Syria, to a monastery that belonged to the patriarchate,” he says. Five years later, he returned to Lebanon and studied theology at the University of the Holy Spirit in Kaslik, a Catholic institute founded by the Lebanese Maronite Order.

As part of the preparation for priesthood, he finished his graduate studies in Rome, where he earned his doctorate at the Pontifical Oriental Institute. He was ordained in Chicago on 24 November 2006 by Mor Cyril Aphrem Karim, then the Syriac Orthodox archbishop of the eastern United States, who last year was enthroned as Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II in Damascus.

Following tradition, the young priest took a religious name, choosing as his patron St. Sharbel, the Maronite monk canonized in the Catholic Church in 1977.

Father Bcheiry’s priestly ordination took place just a few weeks after he wedded Nazo Adde.

“We met in New York. Nazo was born here in Chicago. Her father was the parish priest of Chicago for 18 years,” he says. Her uncle is also a priest of the Syriac Orthodox Church in the United States.

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