For the past several months, members of four west suburban Roman Catholic parishes have been working together with an archdiocesan facilitator on ways to streamline and reorganize.
Essentially, they’re working on how best to reimagine the parishes – St. Barbara in Brookfield, St. Louise de Marillac in LaGrange Park and Divine Infant and Divine Providence in Westchester — as one or two new congregations, putting the old parochial structure out to pasture.
Now all anyone can do is wait.
“It’s been difficult,” said Paul Sadowski, a Brookfield resident who was part of the St. Louise “discerning team” working with teams from the other parishes to provide recommendations to the archdiocese.
It’s something of a shock to preside over a radical reorganization of a structure that’s so ingrained and beloved, but it’s something every single parish in the Archdiocese of Chicago will confront in the coming years.
The local parishes simply happen to be in the vanguard of an archdiocesan initiative called Renew My Church, which seeks to realign faith communities by acknowledging that congregations are growing smaller and that there are fewer priests to lead them.
“We find that when parishioners keep this in the context of changes for spiritual renewal, they get it,” said Rev. Jason Malave, who is Cardinal Blase Cupich’s liaison for Renew My Church. “When they don’t keep in mind the spiritual renewal piece, it becomes a little trickier.”
Sadowski is in the former camp. A longtime Chicago southsider, Sadowski and his family joined St. Louise Parish five years ago. His son attends St. Louise School, and a recent job change gave him a chance to be more involved as a school parent last year.
As he worked with teams from the other parishes, Sadowski said he found that the parishes were more alike than different, and that their missions often overlapped.
“We share a lot of the same strengths,” Sadowski said. “We all share that sense of community, and all are very serious in our services and outreach. We’re finding out we share not just the same faith but the same ministries.”
Still, in June when two renewal recommendations from the archdiocese and three from the local discerning teams were presented to the cardinal, they were eye-opening.
“It was a shock when I got the initial scenarios,” Sadowski said.
Rev. Edgar Rodriguez, pastor of St. Barbara Church, outlined the final recommendations in a June parish bulletin.
“Pray that the process results in something that truly benefits our parishes and sets us on the path to renewal and growth,” Rodriguez wrote. “Let us trust that the Holy Spirit is guiding us as a Church to go where we need to go.”
In all five scenarios presented to the cardinal, the four individual parishes are “suppressed,” though each church would continue to function as a worship site. And it appears very unlikely that St. Louise School will continue to function as a PreK-8 school after the 2018-19 school year.
The scenarios proposed by the archdiocese were the following, according to Rodriguez:
St. Louise and St. Barbara form a new parish. St. Louise School closes, but retains a pre-school program. Divine Providence and Divine Infant merge and consider the viability of operating two schools.
All four parishes are suppressed and form one single parish. St. Louise School closes and the viability of keeping open both Westchester schools is considered.
The scenarios proposed by the discerning teams, informed by the results of an online survey, were the following:
St. Louise and St. Barbara merge to form a parish and Divine Infant and Divine Providence merge to form another. Divine Infant and St. Louise schools combine to form one schools. Divine Providence school remains open.
St. Louise and St. Barbara merge to form a parish and Divine Infant and Divine Providence merge to form another. All schools in the grouping merge to form one regional school.
St. Louise and Divine Infant become a new parish with a combined school. Divine Providence Church and School remain intact. St. Barbara becomes a mission of Divine Providence and a training site for future pastors.
“I anticipate change,” Sadowski said. “We want to make sure that change is welcoming.”
According to Malave, the cardinal will announce a decision on the future of the parishes by early November at the latest. After that, it will take some time to implement the changes, but the expectation is that the changes will be implemented in 2019, prior to the beginning of school that fall.
“I think there’s a difference between parishes closing and uniting,” Malave said. “Closing is more like a death, but in uniting we’re looking at integrating with the larger Catholic family.”