Holy Family, Notre Dame to combine
February 1, 2019

Holy Family Church will continue to host Sunday evening Masses, marriages, liturgies, and events involving Saint Ignatius College Prep.

By Nathan Worcester

Disappointment and some anger stirred in the pews of Holy Family Catholic Church after Bishop Robert Casey, the Archdiocese of Chicago’s episcopal vicar for the Little Italy/Near West Side area, announced that Holy Family Parish will be combined with Notre Dame de Chicago Parish. The church and parish, which date to 1857, are Chicago’s second oldest. Notre Dame also traces its history to the 1850s.

The decision came as part of Jan. 23’s Little Italy Grouping update, which is part of the Archdiocese’s “Renew My Church” initiative. The other institutions in the grouping, Children of Peace School, the St. John Paul II Newman Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), and the Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii, will not be changed.

Although the 9:45 a.m. Sunday Mass will cease at Holy Family, the Sunday evening Mass at 5 p.m., marriages, and liturgies and events involving adjacent Saint Ignatius College Prep will continue. The Archdiocese also plans to host special liturgies and programs at Holy Family. Cardinal Cupich and his Presbyteral Council are calling for all Sunday morning Masses to be held at the Notre Dame worship site as part of the newly aligned parish and to meet the initiatives of Renew My Church to build vibrant communities of worship.

“I think it’s a terrible mistake,” said the Rev. Michael Gabriel, Holy Family pastor. “We all agreed that we should have one pastoral team but two sites to worship at.” He went on to say that the decision was not what the Little Italy Grouping Team recommended.

“We’re going to lose more disciples,” added Fr. Gabriel. “Just now, from people who were at the meeting, I’ve gotten four texts from people—all younger—saying they’re not going to come back…to the Catholic Church.”

The new, united parish will come into being on July 1, 2019, and will have a new pastor. There will be a meeting with Notre Dame and Holy Family parishioners on Wednesday, Feb. 20 to discuss the qualities desired in the combined parish’s spiritual leader. The Rev. Jason Malave, Cardinal Blasé Cupich’s delegate for Renew My Church, said the pastor should be selected as of mid-March by the Priest Placement Board. He added that both Fr. Gabriel and Notre Dame’s pastor, the Rev. Kevin Hays, can apply for the position. The Archdiocese is facing a shortage of priests to fill its pastorships and this spring will only have 26 priests for 39 parish openings.

Fr. Malave was asked repeatedly why Notre Dame was chosen over Holy Family for the new parish’s primary site. He cited Notre Dame’s rectory, as well as the fact that Holy Family is owned by the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) and only leased to the
Archdiocese of Chicago while Notre Dame de Chicago Church and physical plant are property of the Archdiocese. He explained that Notre Dame’s living quarters would allow for all of the priests in the Little Italy cluster to live together in community—something the Archdiocese wanted to see happen. Fr. Malave also noted that Notre Dame has numerous meeting rooms available for current needs and future growth.

More broadly, he emphasized the global decline in available priests and the church’s sexual abuse scandals as factors dictating the consolidation or closure of parishes throughout Chicago and the world.

“I am incredibly sad for the folks at Holy Family,” said Notre Dame parishioner Kate Floros. “I would love to have a more dynamic community worshipping with us, and I hope that that happens. But I think that the explanations they gave did not ring sincere to me… If I had been a Holy Family parishioner, I would have walked away in disgust.”

Floros said the loss of Holy Family’s 9:45 a.m. Mass, which attracts a heavily African-American crowd, is particularly insensitive.

“It’s a hard moment,” said Ryan Lentz, a parishioner at Notre Dame whose family also worships at Holy Family at times, as his children attend religious education there in a combined program with Notre Dame. “As a church, we’re facing some really difficult realities, and you can’t deny the numbers that go into the impact of needing to use resources well and be good stewards
of what God has given us. When I see the anger and the frustration and the uncertainty that people have, I really understand where that’s coming from.”

Despite the Archdiocese’s representatives’ attempts to confine questions to those written on slips of paper and handed up to Fr. Malave, two Holy Family parishioners, identified by Fr. Malave as Nora Jackson and Tony Palos, stood up to address Fr. Malave directly. Their words met with applause from the audience, as did a written comment advocating the ordination of female priests.

Jackson said the Archdiocese should resist “the Jesuits’ game,” saying the religious order had not wanted the congregation in Holy Family when it was threatened with closure 35 years ago. Fr. Malave replied that the Jesuits are not dictating terms, adding that the order is providing a part-time priest for some events at Holy Family but has stated it does not have the resources for a Sunday morning Mass. A representative of the Midwest Society of Jesus participated in the Little Italy Grouping Team meetings and shared the Jesuits’ willingness to be supportive going forward.

“We survived the Chicago Fire,” said Palos, who noted he had attended Holy Family’s grammar school as a child. Palos said the parish’s African-American congregants helped preserve the church during the riots and unrest of the ’60s: if not for that community, “we wouldn’t be standing here today.”

“My family changed the bulbs on this altar,” said Antontio Canino, who has been a Holy Family parishioner for 50 years. “My family [rang] the bells by hand. I think we’re going to lose the parishioners that we have. We’re taking two steps back.

“We fought for this church when the wrecking ball was going to tear it down,” Canino added. “We raised that money and we saved the church. And we can’t even save it? That’s a slap in the face.”

Canino pointed to the church’s organ and said that it was one of only six of its style in the world. “They sold it back in the ‘60s, and the reconstruction of this church got it back.”

“Years before Abraham Lincoln gave his Gettysburg address, Holy Family was welcoming immigrants through its doors,” wrote Tom Justic, a Holy Family parishioner for the past 15 years and a member of the church’s finance board for ten years, in an email. “It continues to welcome all. It aggressively reaches out to its neighbors and is financially stable. Its pastor speaks from his heart every Sunday and inspires us to become better Christians. Compromise should be the strategy. Do not eliminate our Sunday morning Mass.”

An email from Fr. Gabriel ended with a rhetorical question: “If you cut the roots of a tree, what happens?”