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Sunday morning Mass to end at Chicago’s second-oldest Catholic church

Holy Family Catholic Church in Little Italy. | Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Sunday morning Mass is coming to an end later this year at Chicago’s second-oldest Catholic church.

Cardinal Blase Cupich’s decision was handed down to parishioners Wednesday evening at Holy Family Catholic Church, though Cupich himself was not in attendance to answer questions.

Holy Family will be folded into Notre Dame de Chicago Church at the start of July under a new parish and with one pastor and one pastoral staff, according to Rev. Jason Malave, Cupich’s liaison for his Renew My Church initiative.

The announcement is the latest development in that initiative, which the church says is meant to evaluate the vitality and future of the city’s parishes as changing demographics and beliefs on organized religion pose challenges to the Catholic Church. The effort has led to cost-cutting measures that have included consolidation and closings in the archdiocese’s 97 parish groupings.

Malave was tasked with giving answers to an increasingly angry group of churchgoers Wednesday evening. Malave said a council of 31 priests was consulted on these parishes, and eight or nine meetings have been held since September to discuss the changes. Though Sunday evening mass and weddings will continue at Holy Family, the current model wasn’t sustainable, he said.

“This seems like it’s the end of the road when it’s just the beginning,” Malave told parishioners.

Many refused to submit questions written on a note card, as Malave had asked. Instead, some went to the front of the church and spoke on a microphone.

“Surviving the Chicago fire, that’s a long process,” 60-year-old Tony Palos, a Holy Family parishioner, told Malave. Holy Family famously survived the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and was attended by the family of the infamous Catherine O’Leary, whose cow was accused by many as causing the fire.

“Meetings since September?” Palos said. “It’s not even baseball season.”

As many as eight parishes in Chicago have closed altogether under Cupich’s plan.

Last week, the archdiocese told parishioners in Bridgeport, Canaryville and Chinatown of plans to combine four parishes into two, and to close one of the parish’s churches.

At a November meeting about that group of churches, parishioners were angered that Cupich did not show up to explain the announcement himself, turning what started as a calm meeting into a shouting and yelling clinic by angry parishioners.

An archdiocese spokeswoman couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday evening.

Three of the four parishes discussed at Wednesday’s meeting are over a century old and have deep ties to communities in the city.

Dedicated in 1880 as the original Jesuit parish in Chicago, Holy Family is the mother institution of the adjacent St. Ignatius College Prep and Loyola University Chicago in Rogers Park.

Four years later, Notre Dame was founded by French-speaking immigrants. The parish’s current church building was built in 1887.

Holy Family and Notre Dame were two of the four churches on the agenda at Wednesday’s meeting.

The other two in the parish grouping — the Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii and the Newman Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago — will continue current operations, Malave said.