Santa Lucia-Santa Maria Incoronata Parish holds last Mass; St. Jerome to be new home
December 6, 2019

Photos by Amy Rothblatt
A standing room only crowd participated in the last Mass at Santa Lucia-Santa Maria Incoronata Parish.

By Nathan Worcester

Hundreds of people on the morning of Sunday, Oct. 20, processed along South Princeton Avenue, led by the Rev. Ivica Majstorovic and the Rev. Antonio Musa. They had gathered together to escort a statue of St. Lucy, or Santa Lucia, from Santa Lucia-Santa Maria Incoronata Parish, also known as St. Lucy’s, 3022 S. Wells St., to her new home at St. Jerome Croatian Catholic Church, 2823 S. Princeton Ave.

The Archdiocese of Chicago canonically suppressed Santa Lucia-Santa Maria Incoronata—its hybrid name testifying to a 1963 merger between two earlier parishes—as of July 1. The parish’s school closed and merged with St. Jerome Croatian School as of June 30.

The processional added an exclamation point to St. Lucy’s tearful last Mass, during which parishioners and visitors had packed the small brick building. Occurring as part of Cardinal Blase Cupich’s Renew My Church initiative, the closure comes just months after the death of the parish’s former priest, the Rev. Nicholas A. Marro, a popular leader who also served as the Chicago Bears’ longtime team chaplain.

On her northbound trip, a Knights of Columbus honor guard protected St. Lucy.

“It’s sad,” said one of the knights, Al Milewski. “There are too many closings lately.”

Grief and acceptance

For many who attended, a sense of acceptance tempered their grief.

“I went to school here,” said Rich Tito, who was baptized in the church in 1954. “This is a great neighborhood and a great parish—but it was just time.

“We’re glad St. Jerome is taking us,” Tito continued. “The neighborhood’s changing—the Catholics aren’t here. Where’d the people go? They went to the suburbs.”

“This is a sad day, but it’s a happy day, because we are uniting friends and neighbors,” said Mary Fratto, who explained that St. Jerome would be her third parish following the previous closure of Santa Maria Incoronata. “As a matter of fact, this past month, eight members of my graduating class at Santa Lucia and I took a trip to Las Vegas for a birthday—and that’s how we are. We stayed connected no matter what. But it’s very hard to lose your parish. We have a strong Catholic faith, and I think that’s what’s most important here.

“I think we’ve all come to terms that we need to stand together,” added Fratto. “It’s a mixture of various cultures and various ethnic backgrounds, and I think that’s great.”

“I’ve been at Santa Lucia since I was born,” said Lisa Christiano. “It’s been a big part of my life.

It was an emotional day for parishioners to say farewell to their beloved Santa Lucia-Santa Maria Incoronata Parish after many decades.

St. Jerome welcomes new members

“We’ve been so welcomed by our St. Jerome family,” she added. “Knowing that our patroness is here and we can still see her and be part of the community helps a lot.”

Christiano noted her father and mother graduated from the school at St. Jerome, so she felt a connection with that community as well.

Others sounded a more pessimistic note.

“I’m very disappointed,” said Eluisa Lynn. “Come next Sunday, I won’t know what to do Sunday morning.”

“It’s sad it’s closing,” said Daniella Day. “I’m glad we’re all here to show support. I just wish this wasn’t happening.”

We know St. Lucy’s “is much more than a church building,” said Fr. Majstorovic, a Croatian Franciscan, in his homily during the final Mass at Santa Lucia-Santa Maria Incoronata. “I hope that you will find your spiritual home at St. Jerome’s.”

After the statue’s installation at St. Jerome, Fr. Majstorovic delivered a prayer calling on the intercession of St. Lucy.

The fate of St. Lucy’s church building remains unclear.

“It will be the decision of the newly formed parish regarding what to do with the closed church and school building, whether they are used for parish needs, events, and ministries, sold, leased, etc.,” said Anne Maselli, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Chicago. “Those decisions will be made in the coming months and years.”

Maselli said average weekly Mass attendance had declined sharply at Santa Lucia-Santa Maria Incoronata in recent years, falling from an average of 300 to 350 between 2010 and 2013 to 112 in 2018.

In an April 8, 2019, decree, Cardinal Cupich noted, “Santa Lucia-Santa Maria Incoronata Parish had significant decreases in Sunday Mass attendance over the past five years, and the parish posted operating deficits in each of the last two years.”

For more information about Renew My Church, log on to the archdiocese’s Renew My Church website at www.renewmychurch.org. St. Jerome Croatian Catholic Church’s website is at https://stjeromecroatian.org/splash/.