Northlake retirement home chaplain says time as Ringling Brothers clown helps in current job
These days, Timothy Doody is a chaplain at Casa San Carlo retirement community in Northlake. But before that, he worked in advertising design and also spent five years as a circus clown with Ringling Brothers. | Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 22, 2013 6:58AM
NORTHLAKE — It’s Ash Wednesday and Chaplain Timothy Doody appears to be the busiest person at Casa San Carlo retirement home.
Three times he goes to the chapel to dispense ashes and blessings. A resident died yesterday and he meets with family members. Leaving the elevator, he meets a woman resident using a walker. To save her a trip to the chapel, he dips his thumb in a small container and makes the sign of a cross on her forehead while saying, “Thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return.”
Q: Where are you from?
A: I was born and raised in San Francisco.
Q: Where did you go to college? What did you study?
A: San Francisco State with a degree in the dramatic arts.
Q: What did you do after college?
A: I worked for five years with Ringling Brothers. I was a clown.
Q: Did you like it?
A: You’re doing something highly creative. Doing it with a group. The teamwork of it all. It was almost like religious life, living in a community of shared mission and belief.
Q: What did you do next?
A: I went into ad design. I went to art school in Boston and worked for a couple agencies in Boston. I thought if I was going to starve to death, I didn’t need to starve and freeze to death, so I moved back to California. I worked for agencies in San Francisco and the North Bay, then teamed up with a fellow and formed the Harrington Design Group. Did that for 25 years.
Q: When did you decide to become a chaplain?
A: I made the transition to chaplain gradually. When (volunteering) in a nursing home in Sonoma, a Redemptorist priest asked me if I was interested in being a Redemptorist. I followed that.
Q: But you didn’t become a priest?
A: I was into my second year of vows. It brought me here to Chicago. I realized I hadn’t heard a woman’s voice in a long time. I said a prayer, how nice it would be to hear a woman’s voice and have someone to talk to. An hour and a half later Father Jack Farry of St. Thomas the Apostle in Hyde Park was introducing me to Martha Vertreaca. We met in January and married that December 2000.
Q: What next?
A: That changed my course. I did clinic pastoral educational residency, then got certified. I earned a master’s of divinity at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago in 2002 and a doctorate of divinity at St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein 2010.
Q: Did you serve as a chaplain anywhere else?
A: I worked at the University of Chicago hospitals part time.
Q: When did you start at Casa San Carlo?
Q: What are the challenges of being a chaplain? Or of being a chaplain in a retirement home?
A: The hardest thing I’ve run across is the loss of friends. It comes with the territory. One lady said when she first moved in here, all these people were strangers. You can’t do everything but you do what you can.
Q: Does having worked as a clown inform your being a chaplain? Does having been in design inform your being a chaplain?
A: I’m still doing design work. I put together the worship page (in newsletter), do signage. Clown work – one of greatest needs in a retirement home is there is not enough laughter. I told Ruth, who is with Ringling Brothers, I’m finally doing something just like clowning but you don’t have to put on all the makeup.