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Ivers, Michael

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Michael Ivers was often posted to West Side churches during 27 years as a priest for the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago and after leaving the priesthood served for several years as a Chicago Housing Authority commissioner. Ivers was pastor of St. Agatha Catholic Church on the West Side from 1988 to 2000 and recently headed the Yuma Community Food Bank in Arizona.

The Rev. Dominic Grassi was a friend and seminary classmate who also taught and coached with Ivers."He was a kind of force of nature who saw things very clearly," Grassi said. "And when he saw there was a need, he went after that need. Throughout his time, he was always an advocate for the poor, for justice and for those in need. He also had a great belief in the potential of all people."Ivers, 69, died of complications from pancreatic cancer Oct. 24 in his home in Hilo, Hawaii, according to his wife, Greta. The two, who were married in 2002, moved to Yuma in 2011 to be closer to Hawaii, where they had family.

Ivers was born and grew up on the South Side of Chicago. Educated by nuns in grammar school, he went on to high school at what was then Quigley Preparatory Seminary South, where he later taught and coached with Grassi. He continued seminary studies at the college level for a year before deciding to earn an undergraduate degree at DePaul University in Chicago.His degree there was in speech and drama, a background that served him well in his preaching and inspirational talks.

After working for a time, he decided to return to seminary studies at Mundelein Seminary of the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein.

"He just had that calling," said his sister Mary Palmisano.

Palmisano said Ivers spent most of his 27 years in the priesthood in African-American communities. His longest posting was as pastor of St. Agatha, where Ivers and others led efforts to improve the lives of the people of the North Lawndale community.

A July 1993 Tribune story recounted an outdoor Mass in Douglas Park to mark the church's 100th anniversary, and the march for gun control that followed. Ivers was described as "a ruddy-faced man with white hair," who rounded up the congregation to walk through the park and some of the area's most troubled areas.

"We had five people killed on our block in January and February," Ivers said. "What affects your community affects your church. We have to be involved."The church helped build houses and run the country's first scattered-site resident management organization, fed homeless people every Sunday, lobbied in Springfield for legislation and conducted a gang intervention program, among other things.

122679895.jpgxFor Ivers, those other things included chairing the advisory board of the Fantus Health Center, part of the Cook County Health and Hospitals System, in the 1990s, when he worked with Dr. John Raba, then the director.

"He led a very dynamic group of patients and community leaders," Raba said. "The whole board worked hard on patient access to care, the quality of the environment, and courtesy and respect of staff to patients. It did make a difference over time."

Ivers was involved for years in the annual CUSP Conferences in Chicago. Andy Eltzroth one of the conference owners, described Ivers as "a keynote, kickoff guy," the only presenter invited back to present every year.

A biography on the CUSP website noted Ivers was named a Paul Harris Fellow by Rotary International in 1999 and in 2000 was named the Distinguished Fellow of Leadership Greater Chicago. He was a board member of Chicago Communities in Schools from 2002 until 2011 and received the Award of Excellence from Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas for being the "Prophet of Non-profits." He was the 2009 Court Appointed Special Advocates of Cook County Spirit Award recipient.

Mayor Richard M. Daley appointed Ivers to the board of the Chicago Housing Authority in September 2001, and he served two terms as a commissioner until June 2011, when Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed him a commissioner of Chicago's Zoning Board of Appeals, where he continued until relocating to Yuma in late 2011.

Ivers decided to leave the priesthood in 2001 but never lost his connection to the church, Grassi said. "Mike was really honest with himself, honest with the church, honest with others. It was time for him to move on."

"He was really proud of his work with CHA," his wife said. "Really proud of helping to tear down (CHA) high-rises and advocating for scattered-site housing."

"He was always very involved in the community, very involved in the West Side, always very involved in people's lives, trying to make things better," said the Rev. Matthew Eyerman, who was newly ordained when he met Ivers after being assigned to St. Agatha as associate pastor.

In addition to his wife and sister, Ivers is survived by his mother, Loretta Ivers; sisters Anne Palmisano and Ruth Parrott; brothers James and Paul; stepsons Maurice France and David Hayes; and a stepgranddaughter.

Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Saturday in the chapel of St. Rita of Cascia High School, 7740 S. Western Ave., Chicago.

Graydon Megan is a freelance reporter.