The Pivotal Pastor

Ron Lewinski, Mission, and St. Mary of the Annunciation Parish

Non-Fiction - Biography
410 Pages
Reviewed on 10/10/2023
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Edith Wairimu for Readers' Favorite

The Pivotal Pastor: Ron Lewinski, Mission, and St. Mary of the Annunciation Parish by David Kennebeck is a documentation of one visionary pastor’s role in building a new church in Illinois filled with impactful reflections, encouraging discussions, and valuable insight. Following Lewinski’s new role as the parish’s pastor, parishioners were uncertain about their church’s future. He was known as an introvert who disliked conducting fundraising efforts and so the parishioners were skeptical that he could lead the construction of a new church building and expand its ministries. Through servant and collaborative leadership, Lewinski inspired the parishioners to follow the vision they had set for the church and participate in the years-long project. The work is a beautiful tribute to a man who led with relentless love, humility, and faith in God and a parish’s incredible achievements.

I appreciated that the work includes practical lessons about leadership and faith. The discussions are in-depth and paint a compelling picture of teamwork and what a community with a clear vision and determination can achieve. While the story is about a specific church, there are many invaluable lessons that other pastors and churches can glean from it. With precision and skill, Kennebeck intricately organizes the steps involved in building the new church and adding new ministries, including the reasons for the decisions made throughout the project. It is enhanced by humor, clear color photographs, and engaging communication details involved during the planning, construction, and later stages. The Pivotal Pastor by David Kennebeck is a profound historical non-fiction work that covers a pastor’s vital role in building a church and inspiring faith in his church community.

Olga Markova

The Pivotal Pastor: Ron Lewinski, Mission, and St. Mary of the Annunciation Parish by D. J. Kennebeck is an impressive memoir about the mission of Ron Lewinski, a Catholic pastor, to build a new church of St. Mary to accommodate the growth of the parish community and the expectations of Vatican II. A self-doubting introvert averse to seeking donations, Fr. Lewinski was appointed as the pastor at St. Mary’s when the parish was growing but little initiative was seen from the congregation. To succeed in his mission to build the new church, Fr. Lewinski needed to harness the latent powers of the congregation to fundraise for this costly project and undertake a multitude of tasks involved in land development. Will Fr. Lewinski succeed in his mission?

The Pivotal Pastor by D. J. Kennebeck is a thoroughly researched documentary enriched with beautiful illustrations and photographs. As an Anglican, encouraged by my desire to learn more about other churches, I enjoyed reading about the Catholic rites, the role of clergy and laity in Catholic parishes, and how Vatican II impacted church design. My favorite episode was about the location of the Tabernacle. I also liked the humor – Cow Pie Bingo is very memorable! In addition to the most obvious audience of Catholic priests and parishioners, I believe this story will appeal to clergy and laity of other faiths who are curious about Catholic church architecture and liturgical norms. It will also appeal to anyone interested in architecture and design generally, land development project planning, fundraising, and leadership.

Jamie Michele

In 1996, Father Ron Lewinski arrived at St. Mary's, a historic German parish in Illinois, which is the entry point of The Pivotal Pastor by David Kennebeck. The parish aimed to stay true to its roots by bucking trends driven by progressive politics and remaining aligned with the core values of the Catholic Church and biblical text. By 2002, the parish had transformed far greater than anyone had imagined. The campus expanded and boasted a new church. The number of congregants in the pews has grown significantly, and involvement in ministries has increased. Lewinski led the parish until 2014 while juggling projects on several fronts. When he made his final journey home to Christ in 2017, his passing left a legacy of growth and change for the once-small parish, embracing its heritage while expanding its reach.

The Pivotal Pastor by David Kennebeck adeptly examines the unique collaboration between Fr. Ron Lewinski and architect Dirk Lohan, during which they set out on a journey of transformation, building a community of faith and a refurbished church. Kennebeck's narrative blends the past and present, illustrating the key contributions of Fr. Lewinski to the project. This account digs into the leaders' and parishioners' personal and spiritual development in addition to the logistical and architectural difficulties. The powerful influence of religion, teamwork, and visionary leadership is demonstrated while honestly recounting the victories, setbacks, and breakthroughs that characterized the project. For readers who are interested in inspiring, real-life stories of spirituality, fostering community, and effective leadership, Fr. Lewinski serves as a tremendous source of inspiration regardless of which faith a reader follows.

Asher Syed

The Pivotal Pastor by David Kennebeck is the biography of Father Ron Lewinski, who in January 1996 became the pastor of St. Mary's Parish in northeastern Illinois, with a mission to rejuvenate the parish, expand ministries, and construct a new church. His intellectual approach aimed to unite the diverse congregation and effect positive change. Throughout 1996, he engaged in neighborhood visits and community events, like the Pork and Corn Roast. By July 1997, the parish had tripled in size, prompting expansion plans emphasizing communication and mutual responsibility. Formal approval came in April 1999. In January 2002, a cross for the steeple arrived, symbolizing faith and community, and a dedication ceremony followed in April. Father Lewinski's dedication extended beyond the parish, where he championed Vatican II reforms, contributed to liturgy and religious education, and received recognition and awards for his service.

David Kennebeck does a beautiful job of showing what faith, commitment, and determination will fuel in his look at the professional life of Father Ron Lewinski in The Pivotal Pastor. As someone who is passionate about public works regardless of religion, the pure grit that Lewinski employs is admirable. As a result, the community was the greatest benefactor of his service, and, in this regard, Lewinski is a testament to what it means to devote your life to the flock. Kennebeck writes with a clean and concise narrative, and by incorporating photographs and other visual mementos of the journey, he brings the project of expanding the church physically to life. I enjoyed watching it all come together. The fundraising for money to refurbish is probably the piece that stands out as one of the biggest hurdles. There is a misconception that Catholic churches are flush with cash, and that is simply untrue when it is put into the context of one parish in the northeast. I imagine that this work will become a part of St. Mary's history, and it is a fine, deserving piece. Very highly recommended.

K.C. Finn

The Pivotal Pastor: Ron Lewinski, Mission, and St. Mary of the Annunciation Parish is a work of non-fiction in the biographical writing, religious, and sociocultural history subgenres. It is suitable for readers of all ages and was penned by author D. J. Kennebeck. The work is a captivating exploration of a remarkable collaboration between a nationally recognized priest, Ron Lewinski, a world-renowned architect, Dirk Lohan, and a close-knit farming community. Set against the backdrop of Illinois farmland, this historical non-fiction book chronicles the journey of building a new church on 33 acres of land at the turn of the millennium. The book highlights the incredible growth of the parish from 600 to 1,200 households during the six-year project, the construction of a larger church to accommodate the expanding community, and the significant increase in ministries.

Author D. J. Kennebeck's storytelling skill brings together various elements of vision, leadership, teamwork, communication, change, and transition to deliver a fantastic depiction of community in action under positive and powerful guidance. What sets this account apart is its meticulous attention to detail and unique access to materials that only the author possessed. Through personal insights, anecdotes, and humor, the book brings to life the experiences of both the pastor and the parishioners involved in this transformative project. The work celebrates the accomplishments of St. Mary of the Annunciation Parish but also serves as an inspirational guide for pastors facing similar challenges, emphasizing their potential to be pivotal within their own circumstances. Overall, The Pivotal Pastor is a compelling and enlightening read for anyone interested in the intersection of faith, community, and leadership, and I would not hesitate to recommend it.