Archdiocese: Value of land little to do with parish merger
by BRIAN NADIG
The decision to merge Saint Thecla, Saint Cornelius and Saint Tarcissus parishes next year had more to do with finding new ways of getting people to attend Mass and little to do with the land values of the closed campuses, an Archdiocese of Chicago official said.
The merger also will allow for stronger support of church ministries and the spread of the Catholic faith, said Father Jason Malave, who serves as Cardinal Blaise Cupich’s liaison for the archdiocese’s "Renew My Church" consolidation initiative.
"We are uniting as one church and coming together as a community," Malave said.
Under the initiative, parishes in Chicago are being consolidated and closed due to low attendance at church services, declining school enrollment, a shortage of priests and an aging infrastructure.
Church pews at the three Northwest Side parishes are typically no more than about 20 percent full during services, Malave said.
Plans call for the Saint Thecla and Saint Cornelius parish campuses to be closed, with the Saint Tarcissus campus at 6020 W. Ardmore Ave. becoming the host site for the newly consolidated parish on July 1. "Saint Tarcissus campus offers a central location in the new parish’s territory, including access to public transportation," the archdiocese said in a written statement.
Malave said that average weekend Mass attendance was considered in the decision-making process to merge the parishes. The average attendance is 785 for Saint Cornelius, 705 for Saint Tarcissus and 547 for Saint Thecla.
Many Saint Thecla parishioners have argued that their parish was at a disadvantage because it lacks a permanent pastor (a retired pastor serves as the administrator in charge) and the archdiocese canceled its Polish-language Mass, as the average weekend attendance in 2017 was at about 1,100. The archdiocese has said that there are other parishes which hold Polish services.
There also have been accusations of "a land grab" by the archdiocese, as some Saint Thecla members have said that it is unfair to close their parish since it was operating in the black. They also note that the amount of deferred maintenance for Saint Thecla is less than the other parishes.
All the proceeds from any possible sale of Saint Thecla’s land or lease of its buildings would be reinvested back into the consolidated parish, Malave said. The archdiocese only takes a portion of those proceeds if the original parish has a debt to the archdiocese and Saint Thecla has no debt, he said.
Some parishioners also have expressed concern that a Sept. 30 inquiry by Alderman Anthony Napolitano (41st) into the possibility of the Chicago Public Schools leasing the Saint Thecla School may have affected the decision to close the parish campus. CPS is looking for a location to house a regional pre-K center for the Norwood Park community.
"The decision had nothing to … do with the (alderman’s) inquiry," Malave said. There were no discussions between the archdiocese and the school system, and the "Renew My Church" process included input from all three parishes which started months earlier, according to archdiocese officials.
For about 2 years the archdiocese has been in lease negotiations with CPS for the former Saint Cornelius School, 5252 N. Long Ave., and an archdiocese spokeswoman said that a lease could be finalized in "the coming weeks." CPS is looking to establish several new regional pre-K centers on the Northwest Side.
Decisions on the future of Saint Thecla’s property are at least a year away, archdiocese officials said. Masses could continue at the Saint Thecla and Saint Cornelius churches until late November of 2020 under the transition plan.
The process has begun for naming the consolidated parish and appointing a pastor and a principal of the new school, which will represent a merger of the Saint Thecla School, 6323 N. Newcastle Ave., and the Pope Francis Global Academy North Campus, which is housed on the former Saint Tarcissus School, 6040 W. Ardmore Ave. The merged school will operate on the Saint Tarcissus campus.
Some Saint Thecla parents said that families already are looking at other options, including public schools for their children. News of the school merger resulted in the loss of 15 to 20 students at Saint Thecla in September, one parent said.
Several other Northwest Side parishes, including Our Lady of Victory, Saint Constance and Saint Robert Bellarmine, will be going through the "Renew My Church" process next year.