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The Catholic New World
Communities merge to worship
10 West Side parishes now four

By Michelle Martin
Staff Writer

Six West Side parishes will formally cease to exist June 30 following a more than two year process of restructuring aimed at keeping Catholic parishes in the region strong and vital.

Four remaining parishes are welcoming members of the closing churches, said Jean Welter, director of the archdiocesan Office for Research and Planning. Those four parishes have put together realistic budgets to support vibrant, strong faith communities.

In the meantime, each of the closed parish sites will have some kind of remaining Catholic presence, whether in the form of a school, food pantry or other social service program.

“It really is very exciting,” said Welter. “There is going to be something in every place to maintain a Catholic presence on the West Side.”

Welter’s office worked with clergy and parishioners from all 10 parishes involved for more than two years before the September 2004 announcement that six sites would close. Since then, implementation teams have been working to foster relationships among the various communities.

St. Agatha Parish, 3146 W. Douglas Blvd., will welcome parishioners from Our Lady of Lourdes, 1444 S. Keeler Ave; Blessed Sacrament, 2153 S. Millard Ave.; and Presentation B.V.M., 734 S. Springfield Ave. at a unity Mass July 10 on Douglas Boulevard in front of the church.

The three closing parishes all will hold their closing Masses June 26, Welter said.

In addition, all four parishes will participate in a North Lawndale revival meeting at St. Agatha June 13-15, Welter said.

Our Lady Help of Christians, 832 N. Leclaire Ave., and St. Angela, 5758 W. Potomac Ave., both held their final Masses May 8. They are merging with St. Martin de Porres Parish, 5112 W. Washington Blvd. All three parishes had been pastored by Father Kenneth M. Brigham, who retired May 1. A new pastor is expected to be named shortly, Welter said.

St. Malachy Parish, 2251 W. Washington Blvd, formally welcomed parishioners from Precious Blood Parish, 2411 W. Congress Parkway, May 15. The English-speaking community from Precious Blood now will be integrated into the St. Malachy community, while Spanish-speakers will continue to attend Mass at Precious Blood church until St. Malachy’s facilities can accommodate them.

Oblate Father Patrick Casey, who had served as pastor of both parishes, said St. Malachy needs more parking and more meeting space before it can hold a Spanish Mass and provide a home for the Spanish-language ministries developed at Precious Blood. However, the two groups will be one parish with two worship sites until St. Malachy is ready for all of them in about two years, Casey said.

Since September, members of both parishes have worked together to bring representatives of Precious Blood onto reconstituted pastoral and finance councils at St. Malachy, and they have had many opportunities to worship together, he said.

That’s been the case at each of the three parishes that will be welcoming new parishioners, Welter said. In each case, the lead pastor has celebrated Mass and preached at the parishes that will close, and each receiving parish has welcomed its new members at worship services.

Implementation teams for each site have developed new councils and other groups so that members of closing parishes can fully participate in their new church homes, Welter said.

At Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica, 3121 W. Jackson Blvd., the restructuring did mean not closing or absorbing members of another parish. But the basilica’s implementation has still been busy, drafting a new five-year plan and applying for a grant that would pay for a staff member to do evangelization and outreach. The other parishes could work with Our Lady of Sorrows on that effort, Welter said.

The 10 parishes had a combined Sunday Mass attendance of about 2,500 people in the year before the reorganization was announced, Welter said. The smallest, Our Lady of Lourdes, had only 87 worshippers.

That wasn’t enough to support 10 parishes with ongoing church maintenance, staffing and other needs.

The remaining communities should be vibrant enough to evangelize and provide all the ministries a strong parish needs, she said.

With the plans and budgets each parish has submitted, there are possibilities for developing new ministries to better serve residents of the area, she said.

At the same time, members of closing parishes have worked together to try make sure their ministries survive.

For example, Project Greenlight, an employment-readiness and computer training program for ex-offenders developed at Presentation Parish will continue at a local Protestant Church and at nearby Bethany Hospital. A transitional housing program operated by the Department of Children and Family Services for young men preparing to move from foster care to independent living could expand, and Presentation’s campus of Our Lady of the Westside School will remain open.

Still, it hasn’t been completely smooth, said Walsh, who had pastored the parish for 12 years and doesn’t yet know what his next assignment will be.

“Sometimes it’s been hard to get some answers about what we’re going to do,” said Walsh, who is planning the parish’s last community march for June 24 before that Sunday’s closing Mass.

“We’re still trying to figure out if we can continue to have things like our NA (Narcotics Anonymous) meetings here. Some of our parishioners will go on to St. Agatha’s, but some won’t go to another Catholic church.”


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