The Archdiocese of Chicago on Wednesday night informed parishioners and families with students at eight parishes and six elementaries in Bridgeport, Canaryville and Chinatown which of their churches and schools will be closed or consolidated.
Cardinal Blase Cupich has decided:
• St. Jerome Croatian and Santa Lucia-Santa Maria Incoronata will consolidate into one church, effective July 2019, with Santa Lucia closing.
• Nativity of Our Lord and St. Gabriel will consolidate into a single parish with two worship sites, both churches initially to remain open.
• The cardinal has asked for more time to make final decisions regarding All Saints-St. Anthony, St. Barbara’s, St. Mary of Perpetual Help, and St. Therese. Decisions on those four churches were put off to Jan. 15.
The decision on the schools:
• St Barbara school will close and become a second campus for St. Therese school.
• Santa Lucia School will close, with its families absorbed by St Jerome.
• Bridgeport Catholic Academy and St. Gabriel School will consolidate into one school with two campuses, which will serve the new parish created by Nativity and St. Gabriel.
Cardinal Blase Cupich did not show up at the meeting, which angered many. The meeting started out docile but ended with shouting and yelling by angry parishioners.
“A lot of people are angry the cardinal didn’t come,” said Diane Fitzpatrick, a parishioner at Nativity. “We don’t get that part. He’s probably out in the suburbs somewhere, and a lot of people are hurt that he didn’t even bother to show up.
“I do go to all the churches, because we like to mix it up,” Fitzpatrick said. “Without churches and schools, neighborhoods are going to disappear, and people are going to have to move out because there aren’t enough good schools.”
Griselda Silva, a parishioner at Santa Lucia, came with her 12-year-old son, Sebastian Ayala, who’d attended Santa Lucia until recently, when she transferred him to Bridgeport Academy because of rumors of Santa Lucia’s closure.
“We’re really sad to hear they’re going to close our church and school,” she said, describing the news as a punch in the gut. “I’m still trying to digest this. So disappointing. Sebastian is still an altar server at Santa Lucia. It’s our home.”
The Rev. Jason Malave, the cardinal’s delegate for the Renew My Church initiative, told the crowd, “The perspective of the cardinal is first let’s get our structures right, that is, how many structures can we support? Then we focus on discipleship. We don’t have the financial resources. We don’t have the priest resources. We know this is not easy.”
This is the 14th grouping of the city’s 97 church groupings to undergo this process.
An estimated 1,000 people attended the meeting at St. Barbara’s Church, 2859 S. Throop St., to hear the decision after months of meetings between the parishes and archdiocese.
“So we’re still left in suspense about St. Therese,” said John Lin, a parishioner at St. Therese. “I’m glad the school will stay open, but I’m more concerned about what’s going to happen to my parish. I have my daughter planning a wedding, and I don’t know whether she’ll have a church to go to. I’m anxious to know the cardinal’s decision.”
Chris Campbell, 89, a parishioner at St. Gabriel for 56 years, said, “There’s nothing we can do, but it still hurts. St. Gabe means everything to us; we go to 8:00 mass daily, and we love our priest. But they say there’s a shortage of priests, that’s why they have to do this. I’ll just have to go to Nativity. I’m sad, but I’ll still keep my faith, whatever church I have to go to.”
Eluisa Lynn, of Berwyn, a parishioner at St. Barbara’s for several decades, was less accepting. “I’ve had it. I’m most likely going to leave the church,” she said. “I’m angry, and disappointed more than anything. St. Barbara’s means a lot to me. This is a family.
“I have a 94-year-old dad,” Lynn said, “and right now I have to figure out when he passes, what church am I going to hold his funeral at? I moved from the neighborhood 26 years ago when I got married, and I still kept driving in from Berwyn to go to my church. I taught CCD classes here for 14 years. I’m just so angry.”
Earlier this week, the archdiocese described what was coming as “difficult decisions … necessary to achieve the goal of having a vibrant, life-giving faith community accessible to all Catholics in the Bridgeport-area.”
Under the archdiocese’ “Renew My Church” initiative, closings/consolidations of struggling churches and schools are being used to cut costs for aging infrastructure and address a priest shortage. While many parishes struggle with challenges from the changing demographics of Catholic mass and school attendance, closings and consolidations remain very emotional, priests at some of the eight parishes noted.
The eight parishes involved in Wednesday’s decisions were All-Saints St. Anthony; St. Barbara; St. Gabriel; St. Jerome Croatian; Santa Lucia-Santa Maria Incoronata; St. Mary of Perpetual Help; Nativity of Our Lord and St. Therese Chinese Catholic.
St. Barbara, St. Gabriel, St. Jerome, Santa Lucia-Santa Maria and St. Therese have elementary schools serving preschoolers thru eighth-graders. A sixth school, Bridgeport Catholic Academy, serves several parishes.
A day before, the archdiocese had announced consolidation of two other churches in another South Side grouping. St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church and Immaculate Conception Catholic Church will merge into a new parish, effective July 2019, with both churches initially remaining open as worship sites of the single parish.
The archdiocese, which had shuttered St. Michael’s school in June, said Immaculate Conception School will remain open to serve the new parish. Two other parishes and schools in the St. Michael grouping were also left open.