CHAMPAIGN — Monsignor Albert W. Hallin epitomized a strong work ethic and faith in God, according to those who knew him best, describing him as a passionate taskmaster with a sense of humor and an instrumental force behind the founding of the High School of St. Thomas More.
“He was passionate about everything — his faith, the Green Bay Packers, Catholic education. And he never forgot the fact that he was a teacher,” said Kristine Ketcham, a seventh- and eighth-grade teacher at Holy Cross School, where Monsignor Hallin would drop into her classroom to share lessons.
Around Easter, she said he would come in to explain in great detail the Passion of the Christ, using a 5-foot beam to make it realistic.
“He never forgot he was a teacher. ... He’s someone I will always remember fondly, for sure,” she said.
The C-U Catholic community — including the parishes of St. Matthew and Holy Cross, where he was pastor — are mourning the loss of Monsignor Hallin, who passed away on Monday at the age of 90.
A Mass of Christian burial will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Friday at Holy Cross Catholic Church, Champaign. Visitation will be from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday at the church, followed by a scriptural wake service.
A South Side of Chicago native born in 1929, Monsignor Hallin lost both of his parents early in life. In 1951, he joined the Navy, where he became a medic and served on the ground in combat with the U.S. Marines in the Korean War before returning to the United States and committing his life to the priesthood, according to good friend Tom Costello.
“To me, that’s what kind of really made him special. He was not some guy that the angels whispered in his ear,” said Costello, who got to know the monsignor very well when his wife, Rose, was principal at Holy Cross School.
After leaving the military, he entered St. Paul Seminary in Minnesota and was ordained a priest in 1961. Eventually, he came to St. Matthew parish and Holy Cross parish and was a driving force behind the creation of St. Thomas More. His parish assignments also included St. Mary and Sts. Peter and Paul in Westville, Holy Family in Peoria, St. Anne in East Moline and St. Boniface in Seymour. He was also vicar forane of the Champaign Vicariate, and in his later priesthood, he also served as an assistant chaplain at St. John’s Newman Center.
Costello said Monsignor Hallin was a priest, a teacher, a scholar and a patriot.
“Those four things without question,” he said. “There was really nothing more important to him than his parishioners. ... He felt like his parishioners were his family.”
It’s cliche, Costello said, but he was a priest’s priest, working long hours, making sure people are OK, tending to his flock and always displaying a strong work ethic, even in retirement, leading Mass at Inman Place for the fellow residents there.
Mary Tate, a fourth-grade teacher at Holy Cross, said he was a great supporter of Catholic education and strong supporter of them as teachers, too.
“And that’s so important to know you have that kind of support from the pastor. He would make sure we had everything we needed and would back us up in every situation,” she said. “He was instrumental in getting St. Thomas More built in the first place, and I’m grateful to him for that, because all three of my children went there and received a great education. That’s something that I don’t even know how to thank a person for.”
Tate said the pastor could be reverent, but when it was time to have fun, he knew how to have fun, too. She and Ketcham both recalled how he would put on his green Green Bay Packers sweater and join the teachers for their holiday parties.
“He was an unbridled, maniacal Packer fan,” said Costello, adding that he also was fond of James Bond films and loved music. “His absolute favorite song was ‘Satin Doll.’”
Describing Monsignor Hallin’s small stature, Costello said it never gave anyone the advantage, because he was tough, yet he had a sense of humor, too.
Mark Randall, former director of development in the beginning years of St. Thomas More, said he got to know Monsignor Hallin well in those early years of fundraising and student recruitment.
“He worked hard to make that school a viable option as a Catholic secondary school,” he said. “He was the consummate priest. He lived it 110 percent. There was no off-duty for Monsignor. He always wanted to pass on the faith and witness.”
Randall said he was an absolute taskmaster, and that truly showed in board meetings as he always expected details.
“You couldn’t put any number out there. He wanted everything backed up,” he said, recalling how Monsignor Hallin questioned him once if he was paying attention.
But on the flip side, Randall added, he also was a true gentleman and had a great sense of humor.
“He knew how to work hard and knew how to have a good time,” he said. “He was a great person to work for.”
Gloria Fellers also worked with him when she taught at Holy Cross School, and in the summertime, she worked in the parish office with him.
“He could be just as funny as serious. He loved a good laugh,” she said, adding that he was always reading and had “bookshelves after bookshelves” full of books. “And you knew he read them.”
Ketcham also recalled his voracious reading.
“He loved to read, books, books, books all over the place. He never stopped learning. With all this knowledge already in his head, you’d think he could slide a bit, but he took in information all the time,” she said. “The volume of books he owned was amazing, and you know that he read them and incorporated them into his life, his homilies.”
Costello said he was incredibly smart and had a vast knowledge of the history of the Catholic church, too.
On Monsignor Hallin’s 80th birthday, Costello said, the Rev. Richard Mullen joked that while most people go to Google when they don’t know something about the church, he picks up the phone and calls Monsignor Hallin.
“True story,” said Costello, describing how Monsignor Hallin would often reference obscure historical facts. “Needless to say, I was quite fond of him.”
Fellers, who is now director of religious education at Holy Cross parish, said all six of her children attended Holy Cross and knew Monsignor Hallin and loved him. She said he was just the type of person who was dearly loved and always remembered.
“He’s just a wonderful, very well-educated man, very generous, and a very strong person and personality; very dedicated to what he’s doing,” she said, adding that he was very sweet and seemed tough but was just a good person. “He will be greatly missed.”
Tate said he gave his all and then some to the Catholic community.
“He’s definitely earned his reward, and we know that he is at peace and enjoying the glory of the kingdom, his goal,” she said.