Final mass at St. Thecla, St. Cornelius being discussed
by BRIAN NADIG
Setting dates for the final Mass at the Saint Thecla and Saint Cornelius churches are among the matters which must be decided as part of the plan to merge those two parishes with Saint Tarcissus on July 1, forming the newly consolidated Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity Parish.
Saint Elizabeth, which will include a new elementary school, will operate on the current grounds of Saint Tarcissus at 6020 W. Ardmore Ave. The final Mass at Saint Thecla Church, 6725 W. Devon Ave., and Saint Cornelius Church, 5430 W. Foster Ave., can be no later than November under a timeline set forth by the Archdiocese of Chicago.
Father Gregory Rom, the Saint Thecla administrator, said that input on a date is being sought from parishioners.
"Some say let’s go as long as possible," he said.
Another suggestion has been to hold the final Mass at Saint Thecla on Aug. 15, which would coincide with the 95th anniversary of the parish, said Rom, who will serve as the associate pastor at Saint Elizabeth.
Complicating the decision is the pandemic.
Rom said that it is not clear when in-person Mass can resume and that the declining revenue in recent months could make it difficult to keep facilities open through November despite some cost-saving measures. "We shut down the church and school boiler. It’s pretty cold in there," he said.
At Saint Cornelius, pastor Dan Fallon reported in a recent bulletin that "while we are by no means out the woods, things are improving (with the parish’s finances)."
Fallon also wrote that Saint Cornelius did receive a $60,000 Paycheck Protection Program loan that will not have to be paid back if no employees are furloughed and that "we are getting some returns from our second Easter mailing with its appeal for support." The other two parishes also received a PPP loan.
Overall Sunday collections are down about 50 percent at Saint Cornelius during the first 7 weeks of the stay-at-home order, compared to the 7 weeks prior to the shutdown. The archdiocese is offering online church services during the shutdown, and parishioners are encouraged to make donations online or by sending in a check.
At Saint Tarcissus, pastor Mike Grisolano reported, "Our offerings are down to about 75 percent of what they were which is pretty good when compared to how other parishes area sowing financially throughout the archdiocese. We’ve cut cost costs where we could. The heat is turned off in the convent, church and set to 50 degrees in the school."
Saint Tarcissus also received as much as $7,000 in revenue from the sale of items from the convent, 6035 W. Ardmore Ave, which will be demolished to make room for an approximately 30-space parking lot, Grisolano said. Those items include "an old school desk one person wanted for teaching their child at home," he said.
The parking lot is contingent on the Zoning Board of Appeals issuing a special use permit for off-site parking since the lot would not be immediately next to the school or church, Grisolano said. He added that plans are moving forward for the installation of diagonal parking on North Moody Avenue along parish grounds.
The three parishes are being merged as part of the archdiocese’s "Renew My Church" initiative. It is in response to problems of decreased attendance at Mass and lower enrollment at Catholic schools throughout Chicago, as an increasing number of young adults who grew up as Catholic are leaving the church.
The archdiocese is looking to sell or lease the Saint Thecla and Saint Cornelius campuses, and proceeds from any sale or lease would go to Saint Elizabeth, according to archdiocese officials. Earlier this year representatives of two Chicago area churches seeking a larger facility toured Saint Thecla.
In addition, the Chicago Public Schools has expressed interest in leasing the former Saint Cornelius School, 5252 N. Long Ave., for the purposes of converting it into an early education center, but the those plans have hit several delays since first being announced in 2017.
There have been reports that the additional land in the 5800 block of North Milwaukee Avenue might be acquired for the new Saint Elizabeth parish, either to house ministries or to allow for more parking. One commercial building is for sale and anther for lease in the block.
The archdiocese has acknowledged that more parking is needed given the anticipated increase in Mass attendance at the Saint Tarcissus campus once the merger is completed.
Grisolano said that at this time acquiring additional land does not appear to be a viable option unless there was revenue from the sale or lease of the other two parish campuses.
Some Saint Thecla parishioners have argued that their parish has a large parking lot and should have been chosen as the host campus for Saint Elizabeth, but archdiocese officials have said that Saint Tarcissus represented a centralized location and is more easily accessible via public transportation.