Rev. Thomas Swade

Two of the priests on the most recently released Archdiocese of Chicago list of 36 men accused of sexual abuse served at St. Bernardine’s in Forest Park in the 1960s and 1970s.

Rev. Thomas Swade served at the parish, 7246 W. Harrison St., between 1961-1966. Rev. Peter John McNamara served as assistant pastor between 1970-1972, when he left the priesthood. Both priests started their careers with St. Bernardine’s as their first assignment. The McNamara incidents occurred at St. Bernardine’s church, the Swade incidents occurred 20 years after Swade left the parish

Rev. Peter James McNamara

Rev. Peter James McNamara was assigned the title of assistant pastor at St. Bernardine in Forest Park in June, 1970. In less than a year, complaints were filed by Pastor William Quinlan that McNamara was having an “ongoing affair” with a 17-year-old girl. Quinlan wrote directly to then-Archbishop John Cardinal Cody. The teenager was involved in a youth group and volunteered at Sunday Mass. Complaints said the priest had given the girl gifts and invited teenagers up to his room for pizza. The victim allegedly stayed behind when other teens left. Quinlan said McNamara and the girl were “sweating it out” because she might be pregnant.

McNamara requested permission to leave the priesthood and records indicate he took a job as an electronics salesman. The documents show Quinlan asked the cardinal how the congregation should be informed, to lessen scandal if the two should marry. 

Documents say a secret marriage was performed in December 1972.

“The ceremony was performed with no other witnesses present and under obligation of secrecy, as was required at the time by the rescript of laicization of the Holy See,” says a document. They divorced in 1989 and the marriage was declared null.

It appears the archdiocese paid an unknown settlement in 2006 to a second alleged victim who came forward in 2002.

The second female victim alleged that McNamara had abused her during his time at St. Bernardine when she was between 14-15 years old and their relationship continued after he left the priesthood and she reached adulthood. Initially, she said the relationship began in 1968, but then changed the date to 1971. 

Records show the Archdiocese paid an unknown settlement to an unnamed person on Dec. 18, 2006.  

In 2007 McNamara wrote a letter to Cardinal Francis George asking to be removed from the list of priests accused of sexual relations with minors. 

“You have defamed my name,” he wrote. “I have never seen the accusations against me and have not been given an opportunity to defend myself.”

“After being a priest for about one year (June 1971) I met a marriage-minded woman,” the letter said. “When we wanted to begin a dating relationship I did the right thing… I was offered a transfer to another parish but chose to take a leave of absence.” McNamara said he requested laicization and left the priesthood. He said his ex-wife and he had two children. 

“I demand you do the right thing and remove my name from the list. If this is impossible, I insist you note by my name that I have one allegation, 17 years or older, ex-wife, the way the state of Illinois does.” 

Rev. Thomas Swade

Swade was accused in 1992 of improper sexual contact with five underage parishioners when he served as assistant pastor at St. Dorothy’s parish on Chicago’s South Side. The incidents allegedly took place between 1972-1982. In 2006, another teen said he was abused by Swade as a minor. 

Swade was a priest at St. Bernardine’s in Forest Park between 1961-1966. 

Students involved in a St. Dorothy’s teen program called “LINK” said Swade touched their genitals, often during the course of a swimming lesson. A male student said Swade reached into his swim trunks for two minutes during a lesson. A female student said he fondled her crotch. One male student said Swade had grabbed his penis in a swimming pool locker room. Parents also complained that they observed Swade asking students to “sit on his lap.” One student said Swade would lie close on a bed with himself and a female student. He said the priest would ask him to lie on top of each other, fully clothed, but that Swade admitted once he had ejaculated. 

Swade fought the allegations, asking to stay in the parish, especially the LINK program. He told investigators none of the incidents were sexually motivated.

He also told investigators he used touch as a way to help a young man “come to grips with his own problems and his own sexuality.”

Swade was placed on administrative leave, and housed in the Cardinal Stritch Retreat House on the Mundelein campus with other priests accused of sexual misconduct with minors. 

In 1997, Swade caused a stir when he moved into a rectory at a Winnetka Catholic parish with a school, Sts. Faith Hope and Charity. He was said to have finished treatment and was “no threat to children.” Fellow seminarian and friend, Rev. Tom Ventura, asked his parish to give Swade a “second chance” in the spirit of Lent. 

The Archdiocese file shows a stir among parishioners who wrote letters demanding Swade not be installed in the parish.

Sts. Faith Hope and Charity is “a community of successful, competitive people who will not be satisfied until they have all the answers.” It is also noted that television news personalities and Chicago Tribune reporters are members of the parish. 

Swade moved to a Jesuit Residence House in Chicago under the supervision of an on-site monitor. He was permitted to say Mass at the Metropolitan Correctional Facility in Chicago and worked full time in the Archdiocese Office of Ethnic Ministries.

In 2001, there was an appeal to install Swade as pastor of Holy Family parish, 1080 W. Roosevelt Rd., Chicago, next door to St. Ignatius College Prep High School. The review board denied the request. 


See the Chicago Archdiocese’s links to 35 priests accused of sexual abuse of a mnor here:

Related documents

Rev. Peter John McNamara

Rev. Thomas Swade

Jean Lotus loves community journalism. She covers news, features, two school boards, village council, crime, park district and writes obits for Forest Park Review. She also covers the police beat for...