Notre Dame de Chicago hosts fundraiser for Cathedral of Notre Dame and Parisian homeless
July 5, 2019

Photos by Amy Rothblatt
Attending the tri-lingual liturgy at Notre Dame de Chicago Parish on June 2 were (from left to right): Guillame Lacroix, France’s consul general in Chicago, Jean-François Hould, Quebec’s government delegate in Chicago, Appellate Judge Jesse Reyes, 28th Ward Alderman Jason Ervin, and Rev. Kevin Hays, who served as
pastor at Notre Dame through the end of June.

By Nathan Worcester

Notre Dame de Chicago on June 2 hosted a unique trilingual liturgy in English, French, and Spanish to raise funds for the repair of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, France, which sustained severe damage during a fire on April 15. The event, which featured a reception in the church’s basement, also raised money for the homeless of Paris.

“The response has been very positive,” according the Rev. Kevin Hays, pastor at Notre Dame de Chicago, who served as pastor at Notre Dame de Chicago through June 30, and who noted that several thousand dollars “have been raised, and donations continue to be made.”

Prominent local attendees included 28th Ward Alderman Jason Ervin and Appellate Judge Jesse Reyes, who recently announced his candidacy for the Illinois Supreme Court.

“I think that there are striking similarities between what transpired in Paris and what actually happened here at this parish back in the late seventies in the rebuilding effort that has made this probably one of the most beautiful churches in the city,” said Ervin.

Ervin referred to the June 1978 lightning strike that destroyed the original statue of the Blessed Mother that adorned Notre Dame de Chicago Church and sent more than 500,000 gallons of water flowing into the structure. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Notre Dame de Chicago parishioners and friends raised more than $2.5 million to restore and renovate the outer envelope of the church and the interior worship space.

Through the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago’s Renew My Church process, Notre Dame de Chicago Parish has undergone a canonical suppression and merger with Holy Family Catholic Church. The new combined parish came into being on July 1, 2019, and is now known as Holy Family-Notre Dame Parish.

“The month of June was the last month of the existence of the Notre Dame de Chicago Parish after 155 years,” said Fr. Hays, who completed his term as pastor on June 30. “It was founded by people of the French culture and staffed by a religious order from France. The hope for the event was to recognize and celebrate the French roots of this parish. The French community in Chicago gathers for Mass at church in the DePaul area of the city. One of their music ministers assisted us, along with the French in Chicago who were present at the liturgy. The Hispanic community has been a part of the parish for more than 50 years as active participants, with a Mass in Spanish every Sunday. For these reasons the Mass was trilingual.”

In addition to conducting the Mass in three languages, organizers chose to feature musical compositions from a number of prominent French composers. Selections included Le Cygne (The Swan), by Camille Saint-Saens; Clair de Lune, by Claude Debussy; Ave Maria, by Charles Gounod and Johann Sebastian Bach; and Panis Angelicus, by Cesar Franck.

Dignitaries from France and Quebec

Jean-François Hould, Quebec’s government delegate in Chicago, and Guillaume Lacroix, France’s consul general in Chicago, delivered remarks during the service.

“The history of our Great Lakes region is intertwined,” said Hould. He praised Chicago’s Catholic community and the worldwide Roman Catholic church, including Montreal’s own Notre Dame Basilica, for coming together around something “that cannot burn down.”

“The Fathers of the Blessed Sacrament, the religious order which staffed the parish until the early 1990s, obviously had a base in France,” explained Fr. Hays. “With their departure and that of the ethnically French from the neighborhood, a direct link was lost. But that is why it is so important to remember the history. Cities in France and in the parts of the world that the French call home all seem to have a church named after the Mother Church in Paris. With its long history of Catholicism, France being called ‘the eldest daughter of the Church,’ all Catholics can feel a spiritual connection to France.”

In his speech, Lacroix said he was glad to be heard by “a community of people who share the same values.”

“I cannot hide my background,” he added, referring to the fact that his surname means “the cross” in English.

“The French people as a whole have been tremendously touched by the outpouring of support—in particular, here in Chicago,” Lacroix continued. “We will rebuild Notre Dame together.

“France and America have always been together,” he observed, citing the United States’ role in D-Day as that battle’s 75th anniversary—June 6, 2019—approached.

“We have to make sure that this does not happen again,” said Lacroix, stressing the need for a “thorough investigation” to determine what caused the fire. “We also have to be courageous,” he added.

Father Kevin Hays prepares to read the Gospel in English, French, and Spanish to Notre Dame de Chicago parishioners and other supporters of the restoration of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.

Inspiration from Chicago Fire

After saying that the French could find inspiration in Chicago’s resurrection after the Great Chicago Fire, Lacroix concluded the disaster and worldwide reaction had shown him and his country that Paris’s “Notre Dame is for everyone.”

Notre Dame “is a church—a cathedral—but it is also a place that is a landmark of Paris,” Lacroix elaborated in a later interview. “It has millions of visitors from all continents. People with a Christian background, but also people of different faiths and different denominations. And they all see Notre Dame as a home for them—a place where they are welcome. So, it gives responsibility for the church of France, of course, and the state of France, but also responsibilities for the French people as a whole because the rebuilding of Notre Dame will take a lot of energy, and we cannot get it wrong. The world is watching.

“This is not the first time Notre Dame is going through damage in the course of history,” added Lacroix. “The spire as we know it was built in the mid-19th century by a French architect named Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, but under the French Revolution, and when Napoleon, for example, was crowned emperor in 1804, there was no spire. Notre Dame is a kind of being that has been able to go through the different times—the good and the bad times—in Paris, and the towers remain as witnesses of the history of Paris and the history of France in general.”

“It was wonderful to see so many parishioners and friends of Notre Dame come together in such a special way to pray for the people of Paris and for everyone who wants to see the Cathedral of Notre Dame restored to its original splendor,” said Martha Alvarez, co-host of the June 2 event’s planning committee and a life-long Notre Dame parishioner.

“Those of us who have been part of Notre Dame de Chicago Parish since the 1970s remember how difficult it was when our church was struck by lightning and was closed for four years while the necessary repairs were being made,” Alvarez continued. “At this time, parishioners wanted to come together to show our support of the French community, which gave to Chicago this beautiful worship space in 1887.

“I want to acknowledge the volunteers who made the reception after the liturgy possible and our many sponsors who donated French and Spanish pastries,” said Alvarez. “Having a trilingual liturgy really added a special touch to the service, and everyone enjoyed the time together afterwards to meet and share stories about their connections to the Cathedral in Paris, to Notre Dame de Chicago, or to the French community.”

Other attendees shared Alvarez’s appreciation of the service and of Notre Dame de Chicago’s insoluble bond with the worldwide church.

‘Wonderful feeling’

“It was a very wonderful feeling to be unified with so many people,” said Lesia Panepinto as she left the church.

“At least we can get together on something,” said Tony Napolitano while standing near a coffee urn during the reception. “Being divided by so many little nuances and everything, it was great.” Named for his uncle, an American soldier who fought at the Battle of Anzio, Napolitano emphasized that Lacroix’s remarks about the 75th anniversary of D-Day resonated strongly with him.

Notre Dame parishioner Elena (Ellen) Cruz also expressed admiration for Lacroix’s speech.

“We love this church,” said Cruz, adding that multiculturalism is a strong value within its community.

“My donation was to the poor of Paris,” said Irene, a parishioner who would provide only her first name. “Why should there be any poor person on the streets of Paris that is living so close to that beautiful church?”

“Raising monies for the homeless of Paris meant a lot to us as well,” Alvarez added. “One of our core missions here at Notre Dame is to reach out and care for the homeless in West Garfield Park by preparing meals for Franciscan House. To extend our financial support to the homeless of Paris reinforces our motto of being ‘The Parish with Heart in the Heart of the City.’”

Notre Dame de Chicago is located at 1334 W. Flournoy St.  Call (312) 243-7400 or log on to nddc.archchicago.org. To make a donation, make your check payable to Notre Dame Church to the parish office at 1335 W. Harrison St., Chicago, IL 60607-3318.