Newest parish: St. Mary Queen of Apostles

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Sunday, July 31, 2011

Lori Rooney serves as Father Alex Anaman prepares to bless the gifts during an evening Mass at the newly formed St. Mary Queen of Apostles Parish in Riverdale on July 23. The stations of the cross, tabernacle and Mary (see next photo) and Joseph statues were all brought from the building that housed the former St. Mary Church. (Karen Callaway / Catholic New World)

When parishioners at the new St. Mary Queen of Apostles Parish came together for its opening Mass June 26, they already felt like old friends.

The new parish was created by the combination of St. Mary of the Assumption Parish, 310 E. 137th St., Chicago, and Queen of Apostles Parish, 207 W. 145th St., Riverdale. It is housed in the former Queen of Apostles buildings.

“It went as smooth as silk,” said Father John Harvey, who had been pastor of both parishes before the merge and is now the pastor of the new parish. “We had some divine favor going in.”

According to the official decree that closed the former parishes and opened the new one, the moves were made because the number of Catholic faithful in the area had declined precipitously in the years since 1980, and the decision was made that they could be better served by one parish.

Indeed, the 2011 Archdiocesan Directory shows Queen of Apostles as having 125 registered families and St. Mary of the Assumption as having 234 registered families. However, only about 125 people showed up each weekend during the October count last year, Harvey said.

Parishioners were told of the merge last summer, business manager Brenda Griggs said, and have been invited to special events at both parishes all year long to get to know each other.

For example, when St. Mary of the Assumption hosted Lenten “soup and suppers,” parishioners from Queen of Apostles Parish were welcome to attend.

The result is that the two groups seem willing to come together.

“In the weeks since the merge, I think I’ve accounted for almost everybody from St. Mary at the new parish,” Harvey said. “It’s gone as well as it could.”

Harvey said he did his best to help the parishes come together after being part of a more difficult merge early in his ministry.

To help former St. Mary of the Assumption parishioners feel welcome in their new home, Harvey said the parish brought along the tabernacle in its marble setting, the stations of the cross, several statues and an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe that was especially beloved by the Latino parishioners of St. Mary of the Assumption.

Latinos made up about a quarter of the St. Mary of the Assumption congregation, Harvey said, with the rest a mix of white Anglo and African-American parishioners. The congregation at Queen of Apostles was made up mostly of retired white Anglo parishioners, Griggs said.

One difference in the two parishes’ populations is that there were more families with children at St. Mary of the Assumption, Griggs said, so the new parish includes the former St. Mary Director of Religious Education Ann Hilsen.

The new parish spent most of its first few weeks getting the new staff and clergy moved in. While Harvey had led both parishes, he resided at St. Mary of the Assumption.

Next on the agenda is bringing together members of the parish’s various ministries, Griggs said, going from having two groups running in parallel to a single, cohesive group. The plan was to start with the parishioners who count the weekend collections to make sure everyone was on the same page. The archdiocesan Office of Finance Services offers best practices guidelines for handling money in parishes.

Once everything is moved out, Harvey said, the archdiocese intends to sell the property at St. Mary of the Assumption.

That parish was founded in 1886, and its buildings were older and in need of more maintenance than the buildings at Queen of Apostles. The latter was founded in 1953 to accommodate the then-burgeoning Catholic population of the area, taking in some of the territory that had once belonged to St. Mary of the Assumption.

Uniting the two parishes together will bring the new parish a spark of new life, Harvey said, something that is welcomed by all members.

“They want to see things happen,” he said. “There’s an openness there.”