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Fr. Michael Taffessee

March 4, 2018

Fr. Michael was a spiritual advisor to Haile Selassie.  Selassie was referred to as the Lion of Judah and his lineage went back into the 1100’s I think.  If you don’t have an image of Selassie google President Kennedy’s funeral and you will see the miniature Selassie walking beside the gigantic Charles De Gaulle of France.  They were in the front rank of the dignitaries attending.

 

Our first International Training Institute in Africa was in Ethiopia and Fr. Michael was a participant.  He was imprisoned when the Derg took over the government and killed Selassie.  He was in prison for quite a while and tortured while he was there.  I can’t imagine what information they thought they would get from a priest, but he had large burn marks on his arms which is why even in the hottest of summers, he would still be wearing a long sleeved shirt.  (He would sometimes wear short sleeves in his room and I saw/and talked to him one of those days in the hall on the way from the bathroom.) He was scheduled for execution, but that was apparently not done in the prison which I believe was in Addis Ababa.  As he was being transported to his execution he was smuggled into Egypt by a leader of the  Coptic church there.  We used to talk about him as he had also sent participants to the ITI.  Fr. Michael did some healing in Egypt and we worked with our government and the church there to bring him to the US under the auspices of the Ecumenical Institute.  In spite of all the changes we went through as a community, he insisted on staying in the building.  His gratitude for our participation in his rescue was unlimited.

 

I don’t know exactly when he became involved in building the Ethiopian Coptic congregation in the Chicago area.  For many years, they rented the chapel of the Evanston First United Methodist Church.  They outgrew the space and eventually purchased the church on the southside.  I met Ethiopian Methodists in Iowa that asked as soon as I mentioned that I had spent time in Chicago if I knew Fr. Michael. Father Michael and my dad hit it off immediately.  They were both global churchmen.  From their first meeting, there was never a time I came home to visit that Dad didn’t ask about Father Michael or Father Michael ask about my dad when I returned.  It was a bit as if they had looked into each other’s souls and found peace residing there.

When we were assigned back to Chicago from Rome, we were housed next to Father Michael. Naomi was just a year old, but she had risen to her feet three months earlier to chase her sister.  When she walked down the hallway, she looked like a gyroscope on a loose string.  I have so many images from that year of Father Michael going down the hall behind her, bent over with both hands outstretched to catch her if she fell.  I always felt that a part of our deep friendship was that my daughters were named Esther and Naomi.  Their names had given me great credibility in his eyes.

 

I remember the privilege of walking around uptown with Father Michael and having to stop sometimes two or three times as we went to a community meeting so he could bless parishioners coming our way.  Father Michael’s driving skills were legendarily poor.  When we completed the new parking lot, I went out and painted his name on the stopper for the first parking spot to the left.  (Those to the right were not angled to be as helpful.)  I have always hoped that this ended his accidents in the parking lot.  I took great grief from many of our tenants at that time for giving him the only reserved space.  When I reminded them of his driving skills they usually got off my back.

 

One day Fr. Michael came into the building with some of his parishioners and I was cleaning the floor of the elevator on my knees.  I told them they were welcome to come in and go up to his floor.  Fr. Michael introduced me to them as the mother of his first Naomi.  One of the parish members with him also had a daughter named Naomi.

 

Fr. Michael also came to Naomi and Colin’s wedding and participated in the baptism of Austin that day with the Ethiopian cross he had given the minister of their ceremony.  It was used to sprinkle him in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  He had given it sharing the story that it was from his local church there and they had given it to him the last time he had been home before he left for his full orders.  I believe he said he was 17 at that time.

 

I feel as if I could go on and on and I do not want to bore you.  I was simply concerned that some of us may not have known him as well as others.  Personally, it is a bit as if my father has died again.

          ~~   Margaret Aiseayew

 

 

 

 

Margaret, what a heartfelt sharing!  We also experienced his special blessing when we told him about our adopted grandson Caleb from Ethiopia.  He kept asking us to say his name again, which we southerners pronounce as Kay lub.  He asked us to spell it and as we did, his eyes brightened and he said “ Ah,  Ca’ Lib” (Cah’lib), and told us that Caleb was one of the first disciples.   So we share your delight in that memory of the connection of importance of one’s name.  He was a special presence and so revered and loved by his congregation.  Journey On, Father Michael!

~~  Linda Cock

What a towering presence of Mystery and Humility sent to grace our community for lo so many years! I remember the fragrance of incense wafting out of his 8th-floor apartment on the North Side on a ritualistic basis and the Sunday morning our family visited his large congregation on the South Side I believe when son Adam was a toddler. He shared tender encounters with our children, didn’t he? I remember being sprinkled with water by Fr. Michael at the end of the service which was followed by a grand feast!

From his attentive gaze into your eyes and his soft-mannered conversations he doubtless leaves cherished moments of Spirit-Priest leaving a lasting imprint on the lives and hearts of our Beloved Community. In Gratitude for Cherished Moments,

          ~~. Dawn Collins

Yes, always seemed a holy man, and so kind.  I also have memories of him walking the hall, behind a little one, hands out and down ready to catch a fall.  I also remember  Fr. Michael on elevator duty.

          ~~  Jim Wiegel

Thank you so much Margaret for sharing your story about Fr. Michael. When Addi and I arrived in Chicago, we immediately made deep connection with Fr. Michael. I wondered if it was Addi and his shared experience as political prisoners that drew them close together. Fr Michael was always a great soul to visit every time we had a chance.

          ~~  Elsa Batica

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