Monsignor Ignatius McDermott

“Instead of swinging incense at oneself, I have always felt it is better to swing it at others.”

Monsignor Ignatius McDermott has been helping chronically-ill or orphaned children, drug addicts and alcoholics, the sick, and the homeless in and around Chicago for almost 60 years. Because he believes the only thing better than doing good is doing good anonymously, we know only a small part of what he has done. Such is the quantity and quality of his good deeds, however, that streets and children have been named after him, books written about him, and he has been proclaimed a living saint. In 1975, after years of helping his friends on Skid Row, McDermott founded Haymarket House, the first free-standing, social-setting detoxification center in Illinois. Haymarket House has since expanded to a large complex known as the McDermott Center, housing 325 men and 175 women in private rooms. “Mac Hilton” provides a detoxification center, food and shelter for the homeless, counseling, drug abuse services, family support, and a Maternal Addiction Unit. Under McDermott’s guidance, the Center offers dignity and self-respect to the approximately 1,000 people admitted to the facility each week. McDermott’s illusions about keeping these good deeds quiet were shattered in 1986, when he celebrated his 50th year in the priesthood. More than 10,000 people joined in paying their respects, with city leaders standing in line next to the homeless. McDermott still shrugs off his own celebrity. “If you are doing something good, write it on an ice cube,” he says. “The eternal scorekeeper is noting it on the immortal scoreboard, and that is all that counts.”