In a Feb. 9 opinion piece in the Chicago Tribune titled “The future of the Archdiocese of Chicago,” Patrick T. Reardon wrote that the “Renew My Church” parish revitalization process recently announced by Archbishop Cupich, “signals a rebirth of the Chicago archdiocese.”
Reardon is a member of St. Gertrude Parish, 6214 N. Glenwood Ave., and a member of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council, an advisory group of laypeople that represents the parishes to the archbishop. He was an urban affairs writer for the Chicago Tribune for more than 30 years and continues to write books and articles.
He recently sat down with editor Joyce Duriga to explain why he wrote the opinion piece.
Catholic New World: In your opinion piece you wrote that this is an exciting time for the church. Why?
Patrick T. Reardon: The center of the whole reorganization is about mission vitality: how energetic, how strong are the beliefs and the actions of Catholics in Chicago through their parishes? The reorganization gives us a chance to refocus away from worrying about buildings and paying for buildings.
We can focus on what it is that Jesus calls us to, what it is that Pope Francis is calling us to and what it is that Archbishop Cupich is calling us to — all of which has to do with looking out rather than looking in.
CNW: You wrote that the process won’t be pain free. How?
Reardon: First of all, there will be some parishes that will close and some parishes will be put together in various combinations. The pain will come from closing down some of these beautiful buildings that were built by previous generations of Catholics who really scrimped and saved to erect these structures and to fill them with beautiful art and beautiful furnishings. These beautiful buildings have been filled with faith and with the faithful for decades or even a century or more in some cases.
But now some of them are going to be closed. Some of them will be renamed. The pain will be that these connections to the past will be cut and it’s going to be difficult for people to reorient themselves. The people are being asked to think of Catholicism as bigger than their own individual church, to think of their faith as something that is broader than the neighborhood faith community they live in.
They are also being challenged to open themselves to other people in other communities. As Chicago Catholics we don’t know what the names of the other parishes are. That is ridiculous.
We should have a map in every parish of where all the parishes are. You have that for the public schools. You should have one for the whole archdiocese but also one for the deanery and for the vicariate so people get to know the churches around them.
I go to St. Gertrude’s but maybe just up the street is St. Ignatius and down another street is St. Ita’s. It is ridiculous how isolated and fortress-like we have been.
CNW: You wrote that everyone in Chicago will benefit no matter what their faith. How so?
Reardon: To the extent that Chicago Catholics are more energized and the mission of Chicago parishes — when I say Chicago I mean the whole archdiocese — is heightened. For Catholics there is this strength of commitment and enthusiasm and actions to carrying the Gospel, not only within our own faith community, but out into the broader community, the broader city, the world. We can’t help but make things better for everybody around us.
Let’s say we are operating at 60 percent of our mission vitality now and if we go up to 80 percent we are that much more active in the world being Christians doing good stuff. That’s just got to help everybody.
It’s a reality that there isn’t a little world of Catholicism. Everybody who lives in Cook and Lake counties deals with Catholics at some point. The more spiritually charged we are the more we have this mission energy with us, and we can’t help but help other people.
CNW: You wrote a little bit about the priest shortage looming in the future.
Reardon: Essentially if you look out to 2030 there will be only enough pastors for about 240 parishes. There are different ways you can cut it but that is the best guess. There are 351 parishes now so that’s a difference of 111. That doesn’t mean 110 parishes get wiped away but it will mean that one pastor may be overseeing three or four parishes in some configuration.
Here is another part that is exciting. Laypeople or religious sisters or brothers or married men and women will be running these parishes. Welcome to the new world, really the brave new world. There’s so much talk about wanting more of a role for women, more of a roll for married people in the church and this is built into the reorganization.
If the archdiocese approached this by simply cutting out 110 parishes then you would still have one pastor for each parish but the role of laypeople would be a lot less than it’s probably going to be with all these different permutations.
CNW: How do you think laypeople should respond when they are going into this?
Reardon: I think this is a great opportunity for all people and for the archdiocese. We have to recognize there is going to be pain but try not to be afraid, try to trust. We are trained by American society to distrust things; we are trained to be afraid. Here is a place where you make a Christian choice — am I going to trust and hope or am I going to distrust and be afraid?
The second thing is this is opening up opportunities for everybody to have a hand in how this gets played out, even if you are not sitting at the tables that figure out what the new configurations of parishes will be. People will be able to step up and take important roles in helping to make decisions and carrying out actions and carrying out ministries.
You can focus on the loss or you can focus on the growth that will come.
CNW: Through your work as an urban affairs writer, you’ve seen how important the church is in the local region.
Reardon: First of all, you can start with Catholic Charities and all the charitable work the church does there. If you took that out of the equation, if suddenly all that work disappeared from the lives of hundreds of thousands of Chicagoans, people would be poorer, they would be in more misery, they would be suffering more.
Secondly, if you look at all of the good that Catholics do in the region it’s amazing. They do it out of their faith. Churches are the stabilizing force in the community and have been for over the past century and a half.
Somebody made a joke to me that I shouldn’t have written in the piece that the pastors were like alderman, but they were like aldermen in a good way. They were helping people and getting things organized. They helped people deal with the structures of the world. They helped immigrants make the transition to life in America. We still do that particularly with Hispanics.
The Catholic Church, for good or for bad, has stamped itself on the city.
CNW: Why is this the time for a project like this?
Reardon: There is no question it is about money, but more than that it is about “mission vitality,” a term Archbishop Cupich uses. We have some pretty sleepy parishes and we have some pretty sleepy attitudes out there.
You read Pope Francis’ stuff and it’s just so refreshing. He talks about essentially some people see the Catholic parishes as sort of a country club. It’s our club. It’s our place to hang out and see the people we like.
A lot of times when people walk into a parish that they haven’t been to before nobody wants to talk to them. They’re all talking to each other. Talking to each other is good and is important but we have to be welcoming.
“It’s a joyous day.” That’s how Nancy Lou Kelly, a parishioner at the new Sts. Joseph and Francis Xavier Parish in Wilmette described the June 30 Unity Mass that celebrated the coming together of the two churches into one parish.
Even though they won’t be activated as part of the Renew My Church process until 2022, seven churches in Tinley Park, Orland Park, Crestwood and Orland Hills came together in the spirit of the process and built part of a duplex that will house families in need.
Representatives from parishes across the Archdiocese of Chicago got an example of what a warm welcome feels like when they attended the first session of the Office of Evangelization and Missionary Discipleship’s Vitality Day: Hospitality and Welcoming.