Sports, education, child care will be part of new center at St. Aloysius Parish

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Sunday, July 3, 2011

By this time next year, parishioners at St. Aloysius (2300 W. LeMoyne St.) hope to be welcoming the community to their new parish center, to be constructed on the site of the parish’s former convent and school annex.

Construction is set to begin in July on the center. Ground was broken June 19 in a ceremony that included Auxiliary Bishop John Manz; Msgr. John Canary, the archdiocese’s vicar general; and Msgr. Michael Boland, president and CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Canary had words of high praise for the project. He said he had discussed it with Cardinal George the morning of the groundbreaking, and the cardinal told him it was the “most exciting and wonderful project going on in the archdiocese,” reported Father Nicholas Desmond, pastor of St. Aloysius.

The center will offer child-care services operated by Catholic Charities; after-school care and computer classes offered by St. Joseph Services; a gym that will house sports leagues for youths and adults; the parish food pantry, which already serves 500 families a month; an Ozanam second-hand store operated by the St. Vincent de Paul Society, a youth drop-in center, meeting rooms, classrooms for religious education, a prayer garden in a second-floor courtyard and a peace garden near the entrance.

“We really wanted to bring the community together,” Desmond said, noting the parish serves areas that include trendy Wicker Park and Bucktown, which have seen their population of young adults surge, and the predominantly minority Humboldt Park, which has been stricken by gang violence.

That’s one reason the peace garden is on the street, accessible to all. Praying for peace in homes, in the neighborhood and in the world is central to the mission of the church, Desmond said.

St. Aloysius Parish saw the use of such a center more than 10 years ago, when it did its needs assessment as part of the Millennium Campaign, a parish-based capital fundraising effort, Desmond said. At the time, the parish recognized the need for such a center — it had no hall big enough to hold a meeting of the whole parish — but there was not enough money to make it a reality.

When the parish merged with St. Fidelis in 2006, it had access to a hall at the St. Fidelis site, but that parish had inadequate parking and was located in a neighborhood seen as dangerous, so St. Aloysius parishioners did not want to attend meetings at night there.

The new $7.4 million project is becoming reality with money from the sale of property at the former St. Fidelis and Our Lady of Aglona parishes — both closed within the last six years — plus more than half a million dollars raised by St. Aloysius parishioners.

“We raised two or three times what we were told we could expect from our parishioners,” Desmond said.

Desmond said the parish is particularly pleased with the partnerships it has formed with Catholic Charities and St. Joseph Services, agencies that have much experience providing the services they will bring to the St. Aloysius community.

“They know what they are doing and what they need to make it work,” Desmond said. “It’s not something we have to try to learn to do.”