WTTW airing documentary about Old St. Patrick’s Aug. 21

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Sunday, August 10, 2014

Old St. Pat's Block Party, seen in this 2009 file photo, has been a visible part of the parish's role in revitalizing the community. (Brian J. Morowczynski / Catholic New World)

When Father Jack Wall took over as pastor of Old St. Patrick Parish back in 1983, there were only four registered parishioners. Wall, with some help from his friend Father John Cusick, launched an effort that focused on drawing in young adults and young professionals to the church, which is located at 700 W. Adams. The plan worked and today there are more than 3,000 households registered and Masses are packed.

The story of Old St. Patrick’s revitalization of not just the parish but the surrounding community drew the attention of WTTW. The station pitched the idea of doing a documentary on this part of Old St. Pat’s history to Mike Leonard, an Emmy-winning journalist who was also executive producer of Father Robert Barron’s “Catholicism” series.

That documentary, “Old St. Patrick’s Church: A Chicago Renaissance Story,” will air Aug. 21 at 7:30 p.m. on WTTW-11.

“It came from the interest of WTTW knowing that the parish and the community was so vibrant, knowing the history that it’s the oldest public building in Chicago and how it was really basically vacant in the early ’80s and how it came back,” Leonard told the Catholic New World. “It’s a really good story no matter what faith it involves.”

Leonard, who is a parishioner of Sacred Heart Parish in Wilmette, says he didn’t know much about the parish starting out.

Old St. Pat’s was founded in the West Loop in 1846 by Irish immigrants. Over time that section of Chicago became warehouses and factories. And the parish population dwindled.

Wall and Cusick had a unique idea to revitalize the urban parish.

“They decided to really address the issue of young adults and getting them back connecting to all of the meaningful, and they did.” Leonard said. “They got them to come to this section of town which was still pretty lousy and pretty bad.”

Three things formed the basis of their plan to attract people to the church: great music, great homilies and great hospitality.

They also wanted to tap into people’s natural desire to help others and so started many outreach programs to the community.

“With all those things the church just kept coming back and back and back,” Leonard said.

Mary Kay Wall, sister of Father Jack Wall, was part of the Leonard Films team working on the documentary.

Mary Kay Wall had first-hand knowledge of Old St. Pat’s history since her brother brought her on to work with him that first year — she ended up staying 10 years.

“His vision was such a magnificent reading of the times and what was going on in young adults’ lives at the time,” Mary Kay Wall said.

Early on, the parish started a speaker series for young professionals after work along with a block party. Eventually those folks made it upstairs to the church. Many of them married and the parish found itself doing lots of weddings and baptisms. Then a need for a school arose, Mary Kay Wall said.

There’s a lot of inspirational messages in the film, she said.

“I think in many ways the film exports the Old St. Pat’s experience to those who have not experienced it.”


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