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Building a church, growing a parish


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When Father John Jamnicky walked into St. Raphael Church for 4 p.m. Mass Sept. 1, it marked the first time Mass was celebrated in a new parish in the Archdiocese of Chicago since 1999.

It also marked a high point in the journey of St. Raphael Parish, which is holding services in a renovated machine shed on the former Pederson farm in Antioch.

The 200-seat temporary church—furnished with religious items and fixtures from several closed Chicago parishes—will be the congregation’s home for the next five or six years, giving the new parish time to attract members and build a new church on property the archdiocese owns about a half-mile away.

Jamnicky spent 20 years as chaplain at O’Hare International Airport before going to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as national director of the Apostleship of the Sea and coordinator for the human mobility apostolate of the U.S. bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services. He returned to the archdiocese last year and was assigned to evaluate the need for a new parish in Antioch.

Once he reported that the rapidly growing area needed a parish, he was assigned to get it off the ground. It’s named after the archangel who is the patron of travelers, a reference both to Jamnicky’s history and the nature of the community, which includes many people who commute to Chicago every day.

Several new parishioners said they chose to register even before the church started offering Masses because the other parishes in the area are too crowded.

“It’s only about three minutes from my house,” said Chris Deutschmann, who has already taken on the job of feeding the chickens and geese once a week, with her 3- year-old and 17-month-old sons in tow. “And the other parishes are just too crowded. It’s hard to take little kids.”

Deutschmann’s husband is Lutheran, she said, so most weekends, she’s on her own for Mass, usually with the older boy.

“You have to get there at least 15 minutes early to get a seat,” she explained. “And there’s no room to walk back and forth in the back if he gets restless.”

The two parishes from which the new territory was carved—St. Peter in Antioch and St. Patrick in Wadsworth—haven’t objected, Jamnicky said. Both have seen their congregations grow so rapidly that they are usually standing-room-only, and they are bursting at the seams.

To make St. Raphael a reality, Jamnicky and administrative assistant Dave Retseck had to pitch in.

That’s what Jamnicky was doing one day in August, clad in a green T-shirt and a baseball cap, a pair of work gloves tucked in his back pocket. He had just helped the workers shift a 1,500-pound marble statue of Mary to its pedestal, contemplating the bare interior of a barn that in less than three weeks would be a church.

Wood fixtures, including confessional doors, arches and a large crucifix—most of which came from the now-closed Precious Blood Church on the West Side— were installed. The tabernacle, from the South Side’s St. Ethelreda, which closed not two months before, were waiting, as were stained glass windows from the former Quigley South High School Seminary.

Pews from Blessed Sacrament waited in another barn, near where the chickens and geese Jamnicky is raising roost for the night. He hopes to sell the eggs as a fundraiser.

Later, while Retseck handled the calls, Jamnicky discussed St. Raphael’s situation. The parish must get off the ground quickly, because it has to repay an archdiocesan loan for startup costs, then raise enough money to build a permanent church before its lease runs out in six years.

Parishioner Tom Wetzel and his family decided to register before the parish opened its doors because, he said, he thought they could help.

“Being a new parish, it seemed that there were things that needed doing,” said Wetzel, an extraordinary minister of Communion who has considered the permanent diaconate.

Wetzel and his wife, Mary Lou, are both retired from the U.S. Air Force.

“I like the challenge,” he said. “There’s a lot of work there, a lot of things that need to be accomplished. I think it’s a ‘build it and they will come’ sort of thing.”

After the first weekend of Masses, Jamnicky was hopeful;

“It was spectacular,” he said. “As we were preparing for Mass, and there were no more radios and McDonald’s wrappers and pop cans around, it struck me that we were preparing for something special. I could feel the Lord’s presence in this sacred space. I think this is going to work.”