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Fire will not destroy San Rocco Oratory

By Joyce Duriga


What is an oratory?

A place set aside by the bishop or diocese for divine worship. There are three types: (1) public, for religious communities; (2) semipublic, for some specific groups; (3) private, for a family or individual. (“Catholic Dictionary,” Father Peter Stravinskas)

Who is St. Rocco?

French nobleman who lived in early 1300 and gave his money to the poor to become a traveling beggar. He is a patron saint of Italy, bachelors, epidemics and falsely accused people.

San Rocco Oratory will be OK.

That’s the prevailing message a few weeks after a Dec. 23 electrical fire damaged much of the Chicago Heights building.

“As long as we stay together as we have all these years we’ll be OK,” said oratory member Vera DiMaggio, 51, of St. John, Ind.

Familiar territory

This isn’t the first time the small congregation with a strong Italian heritage has endured tough times. In 1967, the former San Rocco Parish sustained damage from a hurricane.

Then, in 1991 the parish closed and the building was razed. After the community petitioned the archdiocese to reopen the parish — taking their case all the way to Rome — they were granted oratory status. An oratory is often a small, private chapel, but in this case, it is under the auspices of the archdiocese.

A new building went up in 1997 at 315 E. 22nd St., and now that new building must be repaired.

The building’s structure is sound but the inside is being cleaned and the sacristy and the building’s roof will be gutted and repaired. Most costs are covered by insurance

The sacristy sustained the most damage along with a statue of the oratory’s patron, St. Rocco, which exploded in the heat of the fire.

Father Michael Gilligan, oratory director, said he is just glad no one was hurt, especially so close to Christmas.

Until the oratory is repaired, which is expected to take a few months, the 200-member congregation will celebrate Mass in nearby St. Anthony Hall.

Sad news

For many parishioners, the news of the fire saddened their hearts.

“I was absolutely devastated when I walked in there. I couldn’t believe it,” said Jake Biamonte of Chicago Heights.

DiMaggio agreed.

“It was like, ‘What more can happen to our church?’” said DiMaggio, who has been a member of San Rocco’s on and off all of her life. Her son is a regular altar server at the oratory’s Sunday Mass.

DiMaggio is one of the many members who is not from Chicago Heights. The close-knit group is very loyal to San Rocco’s and each other. Most are older and were raised in the parish.

“Everyone knows everyone and we all take care of each other. It’s an awesome place,” she said.

And all will pitch in to help repair the church, she added.

“If we have to pound nails, we will pound nails to get our church back.”