Over two dozen parishioners called out the Archdiocese of Chicago on Wednesday for what they say is putting profit over the faithful by closing a number of churches over the last several years.
Julie Sawicki, president of the Society of St. Adalbert, which looks to preserve St. Adalbert Church in Pilsen, said immigrants like her family came to Chicago to help build these churches that are now on the verge of being sold to developers.
“When our immigrant ancestors toiled and saved their pennies, nickels and dimes to build these magnificent houses of worship for our entire community, these churches were turned over to the Catholic church for stewardship” Sawicki said. “I don’t think any of my Polish immigrant ancestors imagined a day would come where negotiations for this would be done with real estate developers.”
Parishioners gathered in front of the defunct All Saints St. Anthony Church, 518 W. 28th Place, in protest of the archdiocese’s Renew my Church program, which they say has been used for closing churches in the Chicago area.
The self-proclaimed “God Squad” represents 25 parishes and churches that have shuttered or are on the cusp of closure and have filed canonical appeals to save the buildings.
“It is especially disappointing and painful that the Archdiocese of Chicago embarked on a path of closure, liquidation and sale instead of one of renewal and revitalization,” Sawicki said. “Cardinal [Blase] Cupich we ask you please follow canon law, guide the faithful, cater to the faithful, not to investors.”
The Renew My Church campaign is the archdiocese’s effort to improve Chicago area churches by addressing the challenges facing individual parishes.
The Archdiocese of Chicago said that any parish consolidation is beneficial since resources from multiple parishes can be combined for one and any proceeds from property sales go back to the parishes after debts are paid.
“Our model of parish life was built for a different time. Structural changes are necessary to direct as much attention — time, talent, and financial resources — as possible on evangelization and being and forming missionary disciples in our parishes,” the archdiocese said. “We understand these changes are difficult, and even painful, and that some Catholics may not transition to worship with the new parish community for various reasons.”
Sawicki said the archdiocese has been up front with the challenges the Catholic church faces in Chicago that have resulted in parish consolidations or church closures. The reasons include shortages of priests, dwindling church attendance, financial debt and changing demographics.
But systemic accountability has been absent, Sawicki said.
“We have not heard any acknowledgement from the church of its own issues and how they have been a contributing factor to the decline of our Catholic faithful here in the Chicago area,” Sawicki said. “Scandal after scandal has continued to rock the church and the faithful have been driven away in droves.”
Desiree Sanders grew up in St. Dorothy Church, 450 E. 78th St., and was devastated when she learned the only church she’s known would be closed in July. Sanders recounted the church’s role in the civil rights movement and how over 30 years ago the church installed stained glass windows that feature Black saints.
“St. Dorothy has been considered the flagship of the African American Catholic community, and St. Dorothy acquired a sterling reputation in the entire archdiocese for solid faith, sound administration, ethnic pride and quality education on all levels,” Sanders said. “The closure of St. Dorothy’s parish is a disappointment on so many levels … the closure, eventual sale and destruction of St. Dorothy erases this rich history.”
The news of church closures and subsequent sales of them has also gotten the attention of Preservation Chicago, a group working to protect historic buildings in Chicago. The organization recently listed all the city’s Roman Catholic churches on its annual “7 Most Endangered Buildings” list.
“These are architecturally significant, as well as historically, culturally and all embracing of each of our communities,” said Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago. “It is really tragic to see these being closed in such a wholesale way without the sensitivity that is really required.”
Manny Ramos is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of issues affecting Chicago’s South and West sides.