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Des Plaines woman sues Catholic priest's estate over his will
By Madhu Krishnamurthy | Daily Herald Staff

The late Rev. Edwin Bohula

 

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Published: 9/9/2009 12:01 AM

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He was an ordained Catholic priest for 52 years.

She was his longtime caregiver.

That much was public knowledge.

But Des Plaines resident Irene Serwa says her relationship with the late Rev. Edwin Bohula, pastor of a parish in unincorporated Lemont, was significantly more.

Serwa claims she and Bohula had a clandestine affair for 13 years living together as "husband and wife" from 1994 until Bohula's death in 2007.

Serwa is suing Bohula's estate, for which she is a co-trustee, and its beneficiary, Dominican Sisters of Chicago, for sole rights to the Des Plaines home that Serwa and Bohula jointly owned.

According to the complaint, they first met in 1959 when Serwa was a student at St. Fidelis Grammar School in Chicago and Bohula was the assistant pastor of that church.

The two became reacquainted in 1994 and began an intimate relationship after Bohula's mother died, the lawsuit claims.

Bohula, who died Dec. 2, 2007, left a will allowing Serwa to continue living in their home for the rest of her life, but leaving his interest in the property to the Dominican Sisters of Chicago Rosary Hill Convalescent Home, a Polish Catholic order, according to the lawsuit.

Sister Natalie Pekala, a co-trustee of Bohula's estate and a spokeswoman for the Dominican Sisters of Chicago, declined to comment on the lawsuit or Bohula's will.

Archdiocese of Chicago spokeswoman Dianne Dunagan said officials are aware of Serwa's lawsuit, but have no knowledge of a "civil marriage" between her and Bohula or the will he left behind.

"It's a matter not in our hands," Dunagan said. "It really doesn't have anything to do with the archdiocese."

Many people at Bohula's parish knew he and Serwa were living under the same roof in Des Plaines, but no one knew about their private lives, said the Rev. Ed Gleeson, who succeeded Bohula in 2003 as pastor of St. James at Sag Bridge Catholic Parish.

"Obviously, it's a great scandal," Gleeson said. "Nobody here knows anything. Very few people from those days are left."

In the lawsuit, Serwa claims she and Bohula had mutual rights of survivorship, meaning Bohula's interest in the property should have passed to Serwa as the surviving owner upon his death.

Serwa claims that on Jan. 10, 2006, without her knowledge or consent, Bohula breached their agreement and transferred his interest in the property to his trust. On Dec. 26, 2006, Bohula changed his will leaving his interest in the home to the Dominican Sisters.

Serwa has been fighting Bohula's will ever since his death.

"It's just been terrible," said Serwa, 60, who has lived in that home since 1988.

Serwa's attorney Alan Jacobs said it was unfair for Bohula to bequeath it to the Dominican Sisters since the property was not his to begin with.

According to Cook County assessor's records, Serwa is listed as the original owner of the Des Plaines home, which she placed into joint tenancy with Bohula in 1996. Diocesan priests do not take vows of poverty, and can own property.

It was Bohula's primary residence from 1998 until his death.

"Father Bohula talked Irene into putting the property into joint tenancy with him," Jacobs said. "She did that. And then, he went out and broke the joint tenancy. She can't sell that property (now)."

Serwa would like to will the property to whomever she chooses, he added.