St. Pascal, Bellarmine, Constance, OLV parishes facing possible merger
by BRIAN NADIG
Possible scenarios for the consolidation of four Jefferson-Portage Park parishes are expected to be released next week.
Saint Pascal, Saint Robert Bellarmine, Saint Constance and Our Lady of Victory parishes are undergoing the Archdiocese of Chicago’s “Renew My Church” process, which calls for the merging of parishes and schools and sharing of resources.
Organized in 1906, OLV is one of the oldest parishes on the Northwest Side, and the other three parishes are located within OLV’s original boundaries.
“As each (new parish) opened up, it took away ‘real estate’ from OLV,” said Northwest Chicago Historical Society researcher Frank Suerth. “In that day, if you lived within that boundary, you were expected to go to that parish.”
Last year, Saint Tarcissus, Saint Cornelius and Saint Thecla went through the “Renew My Church” process, resulting in the merger of the three parishes into the new Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity Parish and the closing of the Saint Cornelius and Saint Thecla churches.
In a recent Facebook posting, Saint Pascal pastor Elliott Dees urged parishioners to attend town hall meetings in which feedback will be collected on the consolidation scenarios.
“I was happy with the conversation that we were able to have with those who participated (in the Aug. 16 meeting), but I have to stress how important that it is that more people participate. If our parishioners do not come to the meetings, our leadership team will have difficulty voicing the needs and concerns of our parish. I would hate to have a decision made and parishioners left with the feeling that they did it have a voice. To have a voice, participation is paramount,” Dees wrote.
Each of the four parishes will present the scenarios that are being considered for the possible merger at its own town hall meeting in the next 2 weeks. “We will be presenting the scenarios that could possibly govern the future of our parish and campus. We will be looking at possibilities concerning the combining or closing of parishes and schools. There will be an opportunity for you to provide feedback and ask questions after the presentation,” Dees wrote.
The archdiocese takes into consideration mass attendance, school enrollment and financial stability before making their determination.
Throughout the archdiocese attendance is down 27 percent compared to 20 years ago and in a recent 10-year period attendance at Saint Pascal dropped by about 40 percent, but its weekly attendance is still more than 800, which is a benchmark that the archdiocese sets for each parish.
Saint Robert Bellarmine and Saint Constance each have their own school, and Saint Pascal hosts Pope Francis Global Academy, which also serves Our Lady of Victory. Enrollment at these schools reportedly has been dropping or are stagnant in recent years, and when parishes are merged, they are allowed to have only one school, but that school can have more than one campus.
Any parish debt along with the projected cost of any building repairs could be a factor. Financial information was released for Saint Pascal, and records show that the parish currently has no debt. The parish recently received new doors to the entrance of its church.
According the archdiocese, the number of young families joining the Catholic Church has decreased significantly. About 85 percent of the children confirmed as Catholic stop practicing their faith by age 21, and Catholic marriages are down by 55 percent since 1990.
At Saint Pascal, there were 12 on-site marriage ceremonies between July 1, 2018, and June 30, 2019, with a parish median throughout the archdiocese of eight weddings.
Archdiocese officials have said that while “Renew My Church” has led to the closing of churches and other buildings, the consolidation allows for more resources to focus on the archdiocese’s mission of making disciples and supporting its ministries.
For many Chicago neighborhoods, Catholic churches were once at the center of a neighborhood’s culture, serving its spiritual, educational and recreational needs, but “we don’t live in that place or time anymore,” a local pastor recently said. “If you looked at pictures from the 1950s and 1960s, (churches were) filled to the brim.”
The consolidation scenarios will be announced at the following town hall meetings: 3 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 30, at Saint Constance Church, 5843 W. Strong St., 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 1, at Saint Pascal Church, 6199 W. Irving Park Road, 7p.m. Thursday, Sept. 3, at Saint Robert Bellarmine Church, 4646 N. Austin Ave. (register at firstname.lastname@example.org), and after its 10:30 a.m. Mass on Sunday, Sept. 6, at Our Lady of Victory Church, 5212 W. Agatite Ave.
Some parishes also may be live-streaming the town hall meeting or posting it afterwards on its website. Due to social distancing guidelines, capacity is limited at the meetings, and some parishes may require participants to register.
Cardinal Blasé Cupich is expected to announce the final consolidation plan for the four parishes by November. It’s possible that one of the parishes could be left out of any merger and continue to operate on its own.