Some parishioners identify with St. Adalbert Church in the Pilsen neighborhood as much as they do with the color of their own eyes.
To change seems unfathomable.
So reaction was swift after the Archdiocese of Chicago announced Sunday it will close St. Adalbert amid a realignment of Pilsen parishes.
“Hearing this just breaks my heart,” Beatriz Medina, 18, said through tears Sunday morning after Mass. The people at St. Adalbert became her family when she was having problems at home, she said.
The archdiocese cited the high costs of needed repairs for closing St. Adalbert. The church’s two iconic towers that pierce the neighborhood skyline have been covered in scaffolding for months because they are crumbling.
A parish-based fundraising effort to collect $3 million to fix the towers has collected about $100,000, parishioners said.
St. Adalbert may have taken the brunt of the impact, but other parishes will also be affected by the “reconfiguration” of Pilsen parishes. St. Ann and Providence of God will be absorbed by neighboring parishes St. Paul and St. Procopius, respectively, due to low Mass attendance, changing demographics and a decline in the number of priests.
Church doors at St. Ann and Providence of God will remain open for worship “and continue to offer Mass and other sacraments as determined by the pastors,” the archdiocese said in a statement.
A week ago Archbishop Blase Cupich outlined a “multi-year planning process” for the church in a column in the archdiocesan newsletter, Catholic New World, that’s expected to lead to the closing of parishes and merging of others. The archdiocese has 351 parishes in Cook and Lake counties and expects to have about 240 priests by 2030.
Blanca Torres, a longtime St. Adalbert parishioner, says a group of parishioners will try to raise the money for church repairs and fight the closing.
About 40 parishioners hung around after Mass Sunday morning at St. Adalbert to vent to the Rev. Alberto Rojas, auxiliary bishop of Chicago, and the Rev. Michael Enright, the church pastor.
Parishioners asked why not knock down the church’s twin towers and save the rest of the church? Why doesn’t the church sell relics and use the proceeds to save St. Adalbert? Why not sell property downtown to raise money?
Rojas responded in part: “I don’t think faith should be based on a building. I think faith should be based on Christ.”
Enright declined to speak with reporters after Mass. “Maybe later,” he said. “We’re still licking our wounds.”
Conspiracy theories were rife among a group of about 10 parishioners who huddled after Mass. “They’re going to sell this place and turn it into a bunch of condos. It’s a continuance of the gentrification Pilsen has been seeing for years and it’s very political,” said one man who asked not to be named.
“Maybe there’d be money if the archdiocese didn’t have to spend millions to settle sexual abuse lawsuits,” another woman said.
The changes announced Sunday will leave Pilsen with three Catholic parishes: St. Pius V, St. Paul and St. Procopius.
“The goal in considering a reconfiguration plan was to continue serving the Catholic population in Pilsen using resources and personnel in a more effective and pastoral way,” the archdiocese statement said.
No closing date was set for St. Adalbert. The other changes are effective June 30.
Marietta Rotman, a parishioner at Providence of God, said she is organizing a meeting Tuesday night for everyone who wants to oppose the closing and consolidation plans.
“I’m angry. We’re going to fight this,” said Rotman, who teaches Sunday school at Providence of God and lives in Pilsen, where she was raised. “What’s wrong with our parish? We have a priest and a good building and attendance at Mass is on the rise.”
Others were more sympathetic to the archdiocese’s position.
“There’s sadness, but we understand,” said Carlos Campos, a 35-year-old auto technician who commutes up to 30 minutes from the Southwest Side to attend Mass at Providence of God. “Many people have stopped coming to church, and that’s pretty shameful. But we’re trying as hard as we can to keep people coming.”
Another Providence of God parishioner, a young man who asked not to be named, said “there’s always going to be change and we’ve got to adapt and be strong. It’s lifestyle change — like a new job, a new house — but the faith is still there.”