Going out ‘with our colors flying’

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Intercommunity Religious Network will celebrate its 25th anniversary with a May 1 Mass — and close its doors after a quarter-century of encouraging collaboration among religious congregations as they worked to house and care for aging members.

“It’s important for us to go out with our colors flying,” said IBVM Sister Jean Akroi, the network’s executive director.

The group came together as the Intercommunity Religious Project, growing out of discussions among members of the Leadership Council of Women Religious in the region about the difficulty some communities were having. Several, especially the smaller communities, could not afford dedicated nursing facilities for their infirm members. Others were facing issues providing housing for members whose convents had closed.

At the time, Akroi said, there were 8,000 women religious in Illinois, 5,000 of them in the Chicago area.

“That’s quite a bit more than we have now,” she said.

With help from St. Joseph’s Hospital in Chicago, which provided office space and help in planning, the group worked to share information through a directory, newsletter and educational programs; to establish collaborative arrangements for long-term health care; and to form a subcommittee working on housing issues The Archdiocese of Chicago’s Priests’ Retirement Mutual Aid Association joined the network in 1988, and the first men’s religious communities joined in 1989.

The group looked for an existing health care facility that could offer shared long-term space to members of religious communities; when no facility was found, the Resurrection Sisters developed Resurrection Life Center, which opened in 1997 in Chicago. One floor of the center is dedicated to priests and men and women religious, and an advisory board made up of members of religious congregations still participates at the center.

An offshoot organization developed Roosevelt Place, a senior living building that serves retired religious and laypeople near Holy Family Church on Roosevelt Road. The building, which has 68 units, opened in 2007.

Meanwhile, the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago opened Marian Village in Homer Glen in 2005. Six religious communities collaborated in the creation of Marian Village, which has independent and assisted-living facilities.

With fewer religious in the area, and those that remain aging, Akroi said it was time to bring the network to an end.

“All of our members are getting older,” she said. “We have issues with sisters being able to drive to meetings and things like that.”

She is proud that the Intercommunity Religious Network is the only group of its kind that exists independent of a specific hospital or health care facility, and she is proud that its members decided to stop on their own terms.

“We’ll have a celebration and do this with some dignity,” she said.

The 25th anniversary Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. May 1 in the chapel of the Congregation of St. Joseph Ministry Center, 1515 W. Ogden Ave., LaGrange Park.