As more parishes in suburban Chicago anticipate mergers later this month, the archdiocese aims to keep spirits up through its “Renew My Church” initiative, which has been ongoing since 2014 and aims to redistribute resources amid a growing shortage of priests, Chicago Tribune reported January 4.
The Archdiocese of Chicago has 291 parishes, but will have only 200 priests in nine years, said Fr. Dennis O’Neill of St. Martha in Morton Grove, one of the parishes that may have to merge. When Renew My Church began six years ago, there were 360 parishes in the archdiocese.
The 1,411 square-mile archdiocese has over two million Catholics. Among them are the parishioners of five suburban parishes who are waiting to hear if they will be merging on January 21.
In addition to St. Martha’s, those parishes are St. Lambert and St. Peter in Skokie; St. Isaac Jogues and St. John Brebeuf in Niles.
Fr. Mario Pereira, pastor of St. Isaac Jogues is approaching the consolidation with a positive outlook, looking for opportunity. “How can we energize Catholics who have been falling away? How can we revitalize so that the people coming to the church should not be feeling demoralized that less and less people are coming?”
“The church has been many years on maintenance mode,” Fr. Pereira added. “It has gone to discipleship mode. It is good that we go out and find people and bring them back to the church. Just as we renew our houses, we need to venerate our spiritual life.”
Others are doing their best to hope that church attendance takes a turn for the better.
Fr. Henry C. Kricek, pastor of St. Peter’s, said before Covid, his church–which just had its interior renovated for $350,000–used to have 1,500 people for Masses. “Will we ever get those people back?” he asked. “I hope so, but we’ll have to wait and see.”
In addition to priest shortages, many of the church buildings are getting old, so the archdiocese has to ask if it’s feasible to keep churches open where renovations are needed.
Other churches will not be affected by the reorganization of the archdiocese. The Shrine of All Saints, which is housed at St. Martha of Bethany Church–for example–will remain as it is due to its “presence and relevance”
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