The Archdiocese of Chicago announced several changes to its Bridgeport-area parishes and schools, as the latest step of its major "Renew My Church" overhaul sparked by a shortage of priests and financial concerns.
The Bridgeport grouping, encompassing the Bridgeport, Canaryville and Chinatown neighborhoods, includes: All Saints-St. Anthony Parish, St. Barbara Parish and School, Bridgeport Catholic Academy, St. Gabriel Parish and School, St. Jerome Croatian Parish and School, St. Mary of Perpetual Help Parish, Nativity of Our Lord Parish, Santa Lucia-Santa Maria Incoronata Parish and School, and St. Therese Chinese Parish and School, the Archdiocese said in a statement.
St. Therese Chinese School will assume responsibility of St. Barbara School, according to the Archdiocese, utilizing both campuses under the St. Therese Chinese School leadership and name. The school will be led by the current St. Therese Chinese School principal, while the principal of St. Barbara School will serve as that campus' administrator and remain involved in leadership decisions, church officials said.
St. Barbara School students will be automatically accepted into St. Therese Chinese School, while faculty and staff will be given "priority status" in hiring for the expanded school.
Cardinal Blase Cupich requested further discussion on the future of the parishes of both, as well as All Saints-St. Anthony, St. Mary of Perpetual Help and Archdiocesan Center for Chinese Apostolate, the Archdiocese said, with a delay on any decisions about these parishes until at least mid-January.
St. Jerome Croatian and Santa Lucia-Santa Maria Incoronata Parishes will be combined effective July 1, 2019, according to the Archdiocese, with St. Jerome Croatian Church as the active worship site and the latter slated for closure by June 2020 at the latest. The combined parishes will have a single school, meaning Santa Lucia-Santa Maria Incoronata School - with a current enrollment of 42 students - will also close on June 30, 2019.
The Nativity of Our Lord and St. Gabriel Parishes will combine, with both churches remaining open as worship sites, according to the Archdiocese. Bridgeport Catholic Academy and St. Gabriel School will also combine, as one school with two campuses, each led by its own principal who both will report to the pastor of the new combined parish. Faculty and staff at both sites will remain employed so long as they are in good standing and enrollment levels remain the same, the church said.
These mergers and closings are the latest step in the "Renew My Church" initiative that Cupich announced in February 2016, citing decreasing Mass attendance, financial problems and buildings in need of repair as some of the challenges facing the Catholic Church that ultimately spurred the overhaul.
With only 240 priests estimated to be available by the year 2030, and 351 parishes across the city, the Archdiocese began to formulate a plan to consolidate.
The reorganization process is expected to take years, and Chicago priests were told in 2016 that the Archdiocese may close anywhere between 80 to 100 parishes.
Some parishioners that learned Wednesday about the future of their churches and schools said they weren't surprised, while others expressed frustration and disappointment.
“It’s very sad. We need churches. We need the influence of our church, our school and our neighborhoods," Carmen Perez-Lemke said.
“I don’t understand because we are here, we come here every Sunday," she continued. "Saturdays we’re involved."
“Each of these parishes have given so much over centuries where they are with the community they’re at," added Nell Andrzejewski.
“It’s sad that we got to this point but with the counts of the numbers at the mass attendance you could kind of see this was going to happen," Luz Leyva said.
It’s not the first time some families have gone through this.
“They closed St David’s, the building closed down," Leyva said. "We moved ... they closed the Spanish mass there.”
Parishioners worry about students having to change schools and the faithful leaving their neighborhoods.
“You take away the church and change it, what other changes come? So we’re not against change, but we want our tradition and good neighborhoods to be the way it is," Jose Perez said.
Read the Archdiocese's entire statement on changes for the Bridgeport grouping here.