1921 - 2014
Anne Prete was one of the select Catholic lay people who heard the call of Vatican II, saw the potential the church’s renewal would unfold and, on a very practical level, recognized the demand for resources that aggiornamento would require.
She and her husband of 60 years, Jerry, (who left a lucrative position in the secular world in order to devote his career to Chicago’s Catholic Charities), were one of the founding couples of Chicago’s Christian Family Movement (CFM) and found spiritual growth in the Cursillo movement. They were also frequent speakers at Cana and Pre-Cana conferences.
One evening, at a CFM meeting held in a living room, Anne volunteered to research the best source and price for a book that the group agreed to read together. Anne’s modest volunteer task, to purchase that single book, gave birth to Alverno Religious Art and Books (Alverno), a retail store she developed and grew for the next 40 odd years.
Anne sought to establish a store that would offer Roman Catholics traditional items like rosaries, medals, and First Communion gifts. But more importantly she wanted to create a source for contemporary books and art, not only for Catholics but for the wider church as well. She treasured the burgeoning ecumenical movement and recognized the power and value of education, not only for the young, but also continuing education for adults. She understood the power of books and cherished the excitement surrounding the release of so many new theological opinions and the publication of current contemporary biblical research. Through it all she was an optimist and appreciated the ultimate potential for spiritual growth and renewal always focusing on cutting edge research and the latest trends.
Alverno’s mission was to make all matter of thought, official and unofficial alike, available for the faithful providing resources that challenged established norms and sparked debate and discussion. Copies of Jungmann’s The Mass were stocked on the shelves along with Ratzinger’s Introduction to Christianity side by side with official Missals and approved ritual books. Alverno sold more copies of the Dutch Catechism than any other store in the USA. The publishers visited once just to see the place that did so well with this cutting edge publication. The store sought to serve not only local people, with easy access to a retail outlet, but also people in smaller towns without such an accessible resource. The store donated services and gifts to numerous causes and was never particularly motivated by financial success or gain.
Anne believed, with passion, that lives could be changed for the better when people were informed about the full expression of Vatican II and the many implications that trickled down from that historic world-wide council. Local Protestant ministers, pastors, and lay ministers appeared at Alverno’s door and were welcomed and well served. Here Chicago’s ecumenical movement was nurtured with the latest resources, bridges were built, and the Word was spread.
Anne Prete and Alverno’s contribution to liturgical renewal was significant. While most religious supply retail stores concentrated their efforts on more lucrative items like church goods, Alverno established a strong focus on books. Likewise, Alverno was a leading source for printed music and hymnals, something few religious retail stores stocked in ample supply. Alverno was often the only full service retail source exhibiting books and music at many liturgical and musical meetings and conventions. The store exhibited its wares at virtually every national and regional meeting of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians, (NPM), Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Committees, (FDLC), and numerous other local diocesan events. During the 1970’s, exhibits were offered at all the meetings of the Liturgical Conference and booths were erected at Marriage Encounter, CFM gatherings, and many Protestant conventions including SCUPE and Worldwide Urban Ministries. Anne and Jerry Prete often drove to these exhibits with the latest books packed in the trunk, plus bolts of felt and burlap hanging out the car windows for the banner makers! Alverno occasionally sponsored its own book signings and workshops. A number of liturgical pioneers composers and authors were the happy recipients of Anne Prete’s hospitality. Her heart and her home were open to many including Joe Wise, and Clarence Rivers, to name a few. Fr. Rivers remained a close friend to Anne and Jerry for his entire life.
Anne Prete worked side by side with her daughters, Mary Prete Dalbis and Deborah Wnukowsi. In 1975 they created the first national Religious Art and Book Catalog giving Alverno a national and international sales base. In 1979, when Pope John Paul II visited Chicago, Anne was interviewed by Walter Cronkite to discuss the intellectual vibrancy of the Catholic community. Eventually, Mary Prete Dalbis took over the store’s management and was a familiar face and friend to many at countless conventions and conferences. Mary was the recipient of NPM’s Pastoral Musician of the Year Award in 2008.
It’s fair to say that Anne Prete was a pioneer in what was usually a male dominated business. She became a longtime member of the National Catholic Education Exhibiters Association, and was an active member in the National Church Goods Association. She also served on the Advisory Board for Youth Ministry in the Archdiocese of Chicago. When Alverno was purchased in 1995, by the RCL Enterprises Corporation, the store had over 100,000 titles in stock.
This liturgical pioneer was sent off in style! Her funeral mass was held at Ascension Church in Oak Park, Illinois on May 10, 2014 with Fr. Ed Foley, Capuchin, presiding and preaching, Paul French conducting the choir, and David Anderson playing the organ. The musical repertoire spanned the ages and included selections from the beginning days of the liturgical renewal. Peter Scholtes’s “They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love” Michael Joncas’s “On Eagle’s Wings” and Suzanne Toolan’s “I Am the Bread of Life” and the chant Agnus Dei were all sung with magnificent gusto by the assembly. Exquisite renditions of Faure’s “In Paradisum” edited by William Ferris, and Daniel Gawthrop’s “Sing Me to Heaven” were offered by the choir. She was laid to rest next to her husband in Queen of Heaven Mausoleum in Hillside, Illinois.
Tribute prepared by Michael A. Cymbala with Mary Prete Dalbis and Deborah Wnukowsi.