By Cielo Melero and Jessica Aguilar | @RedLineProject | Posted: Monday, Dec. 16, 2019
For Jaime Miranda, church was a place where he felt at peace. It was “a safe house and an escape from all the crime in the neighborhood.”
For Concepcion Rodriguez, church has been everything for her and her family. It has been a place that harbors memories of her late mother and father, and has allowed her opportunities and furthering her children's higher education.
“The church was our second home,'' Rodriguez said.
Pilsen churches have been a staple and a resource for many families in the neighborhood for decades. The recent closings of about a dozen churches has affected parishioners in unimaginable ways, erasing family memories and traditions that span generations.
“Church was a social event, that has been lost, that sense of community. That’s when you socialize with everyone in your area every weekend,” said University of Illinois PhD student Josh Hoxmeir, whose primary focus of study is Catholic Religion.
In 2016, the archdiocese proposed a plan to reconfigure six Pilsen churches— St. Adalbert, St. Ann, St. Procopius, St. Paul, Providence of God, and St. Pius. Only three would remain as central parishes of the Pilsen neighborhood
Despite parishioner resistance and ongoing fights with the archdiocese council and the Vatican, Providence of God merged with St. Procopius and the beloved St. Ann and St. Adalbert have been sold off to developers— St.Adalbert currently in limbo.
According to Block Club Chicago, St. Ann was sold to developers, Evenlight LLC for the price of $ 1.35 million. The church will become apartments and condos to the Pilsen community.
St. Adalbert, which has been serving the community for over 100 years was in the process of purchase by City Pads, a development company. The price of the parish was listed a $4 million. The company has plans to develop living apartments in the rectory and convent and has previously stated that they will not build housing in the Church itself.
For many Pilsen natives who grew up in these churches, the closings and sales come at a great loss. Many being forced to attend other neighboring churches.
“It is a devastating loss, my grandparents met at St. Adalbert and married at St.Ann, we all had our sacraments, we had our funerals and weddings there,” said Carol Nusko, a Pilsen native. "A few people have decided to go [to St. Paul] and others have decided to not attend at all.
Said Miranda was an altar boy at St. Adalbert in 1996 and was devastated when he found out that St. Adalbert was being sold.
“These churches have a lot of memories, they mean a lot, they are not just a building," he said.
The reconfiguration and changes in Pilsen stem from an implemented program from the Archdiocese Cardinal Blaise Cupich called Renew My Church, which has caused for the revaluation of parishes that have served and become a staple of the community. This program has brought about the recent closings and merges of Chicago churches.
According to Preservation Chicago, 75 to 100 buildings and parishes across Chicago which are to be merged, consolidated, closed, sold and perhaps demolished over the next several years, with 75 Catholic churches expected to close or consolidate over the next 10 years.
The Archdiocese of Chicago data from 2018 show a significant decline in newly ordained priests. There is also a drastic change in the number of parishes. The 416 in 1990 has declined to 336 in 2019. Mass attendance and the catholic population has also declined by 37% since 1990.
The reasons for these implemented changes -- as stated by the Archdiocese council -- is declining mass attendance, the changing demographics, low number of available priests and no available funds.
For many parishioners — like Graciela Vega, a St. Procopius parishioner of 51 years— the change in demographics isn't the only reason for church closings.
“It is mainly a lack of faith in younger generations, my mom would drag me to church, which is why I still go today because it was important to her. These younger generations don't have that value,'' Vega said.
According to Block Club Chicago, funds were raised for both parishes of St. Adalbert and St. Ann from parishioners who wanted to keep their parishes open. St. Adalbert’s received a large sum of $1 million. St. Ann parishioners also raised a large portion of money. But the archdiocese still decided to close doors.
“Church parishioners did everything, but the Chicago archdiocese continue to close Pilsen churches,'' Concepcion said.
Vega said she was greatly saddened by the closings of St. Adalbert and St. Ann and for all the parishioners who took the time to raise the money for their places of worship, but were ultimately denied their desire by the Chicago Archdiocese..
“Churches are becoming more political and no longer listening to the needs of their parishioners” she said.
Even with the new reconfigurations in place by the Chicago archdiocese, there is still a decline in mass attendance and many longtime parishioners have left the Catholic churches in Pilsen.
But for many of Pilsens long time residents, it's about feeling comfortable, and not being forced to attend another church because your parish has closed doors.
“Not all churches [feel or act] the same, it's about the priests and how he teaches the mass,'' Miranda said.
Father Adan Sandoval, the presiding father of St. Procopius for over a year, was asked about the closings.
“The message we are sending is that we are shrinking and we are disappearing," he said. "The church is like a home for many people and sadly there ancestors invested so much and these closings are an insult for many, discouraging parishioners and not a lot follow when they're closing.”
When Sandoval said of the negative backlash from changes at St. Procopius: “If we don’t move forward or we will get left in the past. The new direction [of the church] is not my direction, it is the way we need to move. I am part of that change and it is a little bit hard for people to do these changes.”
Sandoval said the recent changes that he has implemented at St. Procopius has fostered greater attendance. Celebrations and new traditions like, the Day of the Dead festivities has brought more attention to the church.
“ We are receiving more people at mass and I have seen more weddings, Quinceañeras and more Anglo sacraments,” he said.
Pilsen churches are at a historical turning point. The Chicago Archdiocese is finding it easier to close parish doors instead of having them remain open.
In Pilsen, this reconfiguration has impacted the faith and the lives of devout Mexican Catholic parishioners.
“We need the right people, who will bring people together instead of tearing people apart” Rodriguez said.
Return to The Red Line Project
Feedback: Contact the reporter via Twitter or leave a comment below.