The Chicago Archdiocese is in the midst of a major overhaul that will leave it with 123 fewer parishes by July 1 of this year.
The archdiocese faces multiple challenges, including fewer Catholic priests, fewer people in the pews, old buildings that need repairs and financial shortages.
Renata Gryzk, a parishioner who has seen her parish close, said she is "very bitter about it, very hurt."
Gryzk was raised in Our Lady of Victory on Chicago's Northwest Side. She said watching her home parish close last November was "a struggle and a struggle for many, many people."
Rev. Jason Malave, the spokesman for Cardinal Blase Cupich's Renew My Church initiative, said "our culture has shifted so radically, so radically, and we are no longer the church of the 1970s, the 1960s."
Rev. Malave said Pope Francis wants the church to look for "new methods and, when it's necessary, to really evangelize well the community that we find ourselves in."
The Chicago Archdiocese had 2,400 priests in 1975, that included Diocesan, religious order and retired priests. Today there are 1,200.
When it comes to parishes, just four years ago, there were 344 in the Chicago Archdiocese. By July 1, 2022, there will be 221.
Many Chicagoans identify themselves as what parish they are from.
Rev. Malave said "we are such a parochial church, absolutely we know where we grew up." He concedes "people will be getting used to new saints, new saint names, because they've united."
But Gryzk worries about the future of the church as Chicago Catholics believe their parish "it really does define you; you feel so lost, like a part of you is gone."
Corpus Christi in the Bronzeville neighborhood is another parish that has closed. Its school building currently has a for-rent sign on the front door.
In all there will be 57 churches across the archdiocese that will no longer be used for Mass.
Ward Miller with Preservation Chicago worries about the church buildings but also the services centered there as he notes "we not only lose a great church, and a religious center, we lose all those services that come with it. It’s a community center, it’s food pantries, it’s counseling, it’s child care, it’s community that leaves with each one of these institutions."
The major overhaul was in the works before the coronavirus pandemic. Mass attendance has been falling and COVID has also had a huge impact.
As Rev. Malave notes, "there are definitely people who are critical of this journey, but the same people who will know, and will be able to name members of their own family who have stepped away from the practice. Let’s get our foundation firm, and build, reintroduce people to Jesus after that."