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A Couple You Should Know

These Two Are a Perfect Match in Living the Abundant Life
as appeared in Chicago Tribune PrimeTime 9/12/21

Their lives together have the makings of a great novel. Greg Zimmerman is a married former priest, having left the order of the Claretian Fathers, and is a former missionary turned human resources manager. He has abundant and distinctive hobbies, talents, a passion for lifelong learning, and an all-encompassing love of life. His beloved wife Jane is a retired nurse and a current Reiki and Healing Touch Practitioner, a mindfulness and spiritual mentor, a musician, and a writer. The couple has lived and been extremely active at Monarch Landing senior living community in Naperville for almost eight years.

Greg entered the seminary at the age of 14, wishing to pursue the priesthood and missionary work. Extensive preparation for this included college, four years of philosophy followed by four years of theology studies, and then ordination in the Catholic Order of Claretian Fathers in 1963. He worked for five years as a missionary in Guatemala.

Although Jane lived across the street from Greg’s home base at the Provincial House of the Claretian Ministries in Oak Park, it wasn’t until they were coincidentally on the same European tour that they met. Both were part of a pilgrimage to the Spanish home of Anthony Mary Claret, the founder of the Claretian Order. They connected and spent much of the trip together along with Greg’s brother and Jane’s classmate.

Greg returned to his missionary work in Guatemala but stayed in touch with Jane. In 1970, he returned to the Chicago area on sabbatical and enrolled at Loyola University to earn his master’s in counseling psychology. Jane was attending Loyola’s nursing school. They started seeing a lot of each other and became good friends.

“I was already questioning my future given the fact that the Vatican Council reneged on reforms they’d been looking at,” says Greg. “I was interested in expanding my own personal growth and self-development.”This included a growing interest in marriage and family. Greg left the active ministry in 1973 and married Jane in 1974.

Greg’s new career was in human resources, first at St. Mary of Nazareth Hospital in Chicago and then at St. Joseph Hospital, also in Chicago. He earned his MBA, remaining in the health care industry for 17 years. During that time, the couple, who had four children, moved to Downers Grove. Greg became the village’s director of human resources for 15 years until he retired in 2006.

Jane had earned her master’s in nursing at University of Illinois and worked in cardiac care. She then taught childbirth education courses at West Suburban Hospital and later became the Associate Director of Nursing for DuPage County Health Department.

Still drawn to helping and connecting people despite having left the priesthood, Greg became involved with CITI Ministries. The mission of this lay organization is to help individuals fill their spiritual needs. Greg has officiated at weddings, baptisms and funerals.

“I’ve married 800 to 1,000 couples of all different faiths: Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Jain, Protestant, and some people without religion,” he says. He also performs same-sex marriages. “Any serious love relationship is to be honored and is sacred. The reason people get married is to form a union based on love, which is the very definition of God,”he says.

One of Greg’s most extraordinary hobbies is model shipbuilding. “To date, I’m working on my 12th model. Each takes one and a half to two and a half years. I work on them in Monarch Landing’s woodshop for about three hours each day,” he says. Greg says that he also reads the history of each ship he builds.

Greg is also very involved in helping to lead Great Courses at Monarch Landing. The continuing education program provides opportunities for participants to research and discuss diverse topics, including current events and world history. “I’m in a constant search for my life, for more life, more involvement, knowledge and learning. I see myself as an eternal student,” he says.

Jane is an avid reader, a competitive water volleyball player, leads a mindfulness class, and is on the community’s finance committee. In addition, she spends time practicing piano and guitar, writing poetry and has recently written a book that she plans to publish.

Greg and Jane love sailing and recently sailed from Chicago to New York across the Great Lakes in 21 days. They are both avid bike riders and enjoy Monarch Landing’s convenient access to the Prairie Path.

Looking back at their storybook life together, Greg remarks, “Jane is the spectacular gift of my life; there’s no other way to say that. I would not be the person I am today had I not married my wife. It’s clear to me. I’d be a pastor in some parish, and people would refer to me as a crusty old fart.”

Jane adds, “As far as we were concerned, meeting each other was in the realm of providential.”