Victory — for now — at Northwest Side church after Vatican appeal

Parishioners were upset when the archdiocese decreed in 2022 that Our Lady of Victory would be deconsecrated and ‘relegated to profane use,’ but the Vatican took their side.

SHARE Victory — for now — at Northwest Side church after Vatican appeal
Susanna Ernst, a parishioner for 15 years at Our Lady of Victory church, stands in front of the church which is located at 5212 West Agatite Avenue in the Portage Park neighborhood, Monday, April 24, 2023. | Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Susanna Ernst, president of the Northwest Chicago Historical Society, fought to overturn the Archdiocese of Chicago’s decree ordering the deconsecration of Our Lady of Victory Church, where she is a parishioner.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Renata Gryzik graduated from Our Lady of Victory Church’s grammar school in 1973. She was a member of the Northwest Side parish when the church closed in 2021.

Now 63, Gryzik attends St. Edward Catholic Church. But following the revocation of a decree from the Archdiocese of Chicago, she said she hopes she can again worship in the church where she attended third through eighth grade.

The initial decree, which was issued in July 2022, stated that Our Lady of Victory would be deconsecrated and “relegated to profane use,” which means sacred services could no longer be held at the Portage Park church.

This decree came about a year and a half after the archdiocese announced Our Lady of Victory, located at 5212 W. Agatite Ave., would be closed and its parish merged with other nearby churches.

To parishioners like Gryzik, the news was devastating.

“It’s so hard to even imagine how hard it was for all of us,” Gryzik said. “In Chicago, if you’re Catholic, instead of what neighborhood you’re from, you say what parish you’re from.”

Under the Renew My Church program, the archdiocese has closed, merged and consolidated Catholic churches across Chicago.

Our Lady of Victory church located at 5212 West Agatite Avenue in the Portage Park neighborhood, Monday, April 24, 2023. | Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Our Lady of Victory was built in 1906. The last Mass before the church was shuttered was celebrated in November 2021.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Our Lady of Victory is the oldest Catholic parish on the Northwest Side, said Susanna Ernst, the president of the Northwest Chicago Historical Society. She is also the president of Save OLV, the organization that fought to overturn the archdiocese’s decree.

Ernst, who has been a parishioner at Our Lady of Victory since 2006, said the deep community ties to the church and the fact that the church was solvent and not in debt made the decree “a hard pill to swallow.”

“There were people that were sobbing” when the church closed, Ernst said, “because they’d been going to the church for generations — their parents, their grandparents, their great-grandparents, sometimes their great-great-grandparents.”

When the archdiocese decreed Our Lady of Victory would be closed, parishioners began appealing to save their church as they knew it. First, they appealed the consolidation of Our Lady of Victory with other local churches, which was denied by both the Archdiocese of Chicago and later the Vatican.

Our Lady of Victory merged with St. Bartholomew Catholic Church and St. Pascal Catholic Church to create the new Our Lady of the Rosary parish.

The last Mass at Our Lady of Victory Church was celebrated in November 2021.

After the later decree that the church would be deconsecrated in addition to being closed, the parish tried again. They were denied by the Archdiocese of Chicago, but were ultimately successful at the highest level — the Vatican.

Our Lady of Victory church located at 5212 West Agatite Avenue in the Portage Park neighborhood, Monday, April 24, 2023. | Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Our Lady of Victory parishioners successfully appealed to the Vatican to halt the deconsecration of their church. The Archdiocese of Chicago will revisit the matter next month, a spokesperson said.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

“We went through the decree, and we refuted every line,” Ernst said of the appeal to the Vatican. The decree cited factors like declining attendance and financial woes.

On April 11, the archdiocese announced the initial decree was revoked for now. Archdiocese spokesperson Susan Thomas told the Sun-Times the matter will be revisited next month. The decree was revoked because the meetings to discuss the fate of the church took place over Zoom, not in-person.

This dispute was another strike against Cardinal Blase Cupich for the parishioners of Our Lady of Victory, Gryzik said.

“This guy isn’t leading us,” Gryzik said of Cupich. “There was no leadership there.” She added that she preferred the previous cardinal, Francis George, who was from Chicago.

Parishioners were frustrated after the closure of the K-8 school connected with the church at the end of the 2015-16 school year, which some blamed on the archdiocese. Ernst said the archdiocese gave the parish an amount of money they needed to raise to save the school.

“The parishioners were frantic. They raised the money, and then they closed the school anyway and took the money,” Ernst said. “There’s a lot of anger.”

Gryzik also expressed frustration over the closure of the school, which was the grammar school she attended decades ago.

“The way I see it, we raised the money that they told us to, and then they pulled the rug out,” she said.

Ernst added that Our Lady of Victory, which was built in 1906, is more than just a house of worship. It is a historical landmark in a neighborhood that has few remaining.

“The idea that one of the few beautiful, wonderful historic spaces that we have could see the wrecking ball, that is devastating to me,” Ernst said.

If the decree is reinstated, Ernst said, the historical society will pursue landmark status for the building.

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