Immaculate Conception, St. Joseph becoming one parish

By Michelle Martin
Sunday, March 6, 2016

Immaculate Conception Parish and St. Joseph Parish are finally making it official.

If all goes according to plan, the two parishes will become one on July 1, according to Father Larry Lisowski, who has served as pastor of both parishes since 2013.

The parishes, two of the oldest in Chicago, will continue as worship sites, with weekday and Sunday Masses, baptisms, weddings and other liturgies, but they will be a single canonical entity, provided their proposal is approved by Archbishop Cupich.

“The image I used was marriage,” Lisowski said. “When two people get married, they still have their individual identity and history, but they make something new together.”

Lisowski said he hopes coming together to create one identity will help the parish evangelize and market itself as its neighborhood redevelops. Thousands of new housing units are slated to be completed in the area around the former Cabrini-Green housing complex in coming years, and he wants the parish to welcome potential parishioners.

Last year, a total of about 525 people attended weekend Masses at both parishes, and he wants that number to grow.

“How do we position ourselves for new people coming into the community?” he said.

Being one parish also will make it easier for school families, some of whom did not want to have to choose one parish over the other, he said.

The move has been recommended by the parishes’ joint Parish Transformation Committee, and is a recognition of a decade and a half of collaboration. The two parishes have cooperated to support Immaculate Conception St. Joseph School since 2002, and have one parish staff, one pastoral council, one finance committee and one website and bulletin.

But as separate canonical entities, they have been required to maintain separate bank accounts, which increases costs, and parishioners had to choose which parish to join.

The parishes first came together under the leadership of Father Pat Lee, who was already pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish, 1431 N. North Park Ave., when he also became pastor of St. Joseph, 1107 N. Orleans St., in 2001. The following year, the new Immaculate Conception St. Joseph School opened with preschool and kindergarten classes on the Immaculate Conception campus, adding a grade every year.

In 2012, middle-school campus for grades four through eight opened at 363 W. Hill St., across from St. Joseph Church.

Meanwhile, the two parishes combined nearly all their other functions, from religious education to the finance council.

That doesn’t mean the decision to consolidate was easy for everyone, said Jon Dante, a member of the Parish Transformation steering committee. People were committed to and identified strongly with their own parishes, and they didn’t want to lose those connections. They especially wanted to make sure they could continue to worship in their home churches.

“There was an inherent sense of giving up something they held precious,” said Maureen Williams, an archdiocesan facilitator who worked with the Parish Transformation committee.

Dante said there was also concern about combining the parishes’ debt, especially since St. Joseph, which was renovated in 2006, owed more money.

“Some people (from Immaculate Conception) didn’t see why they should pay for that,” he said.

Williams said the group’s members, who came from both parishes, came to understand that they had similar issues. Neither was operating in the black, and both felt they could do a better job of welcoming people and marketing themselves.

“The process got people together, and they found out that we were more alike than different,” she said.

Combining parishes came to be seen as a way to be more sustainable, especially as parishioners became aware of plans to look at the parish configurations across the archdiocese, she said.

The transformation committee shared the decision with parish leaders and then announced the decision to merge on Feb. 7, the day after a Chicago Tribune story about the archdiocesan planning process.

Since then, Parish Transformation Committee members have been available after Masses each weekend to answer questions, and the parishes set up a voicemail box for people to share concerns or ask for information. There is an article about the process in the parish bulletin, along with a list of questions and answers. Information will continue to be published over the coming months.

None of the comments after Mass have been negative, and the voicemail box remained empty, Dante said.

“We couldn’t have timed it better,” Dante said. “We never got a message. When people came up to us after Mass, they said things like, ‘I thought this was done four or five years ago.’”

Despite that, many parishioners had never even visited the other church, despite their ongoing collaboration and proximity. Driving distance is a mile between the churches, Lisowski said.

“It’s a 13-minute walk, or three minutes on a bike,” he said.

Lisowski said that it might have made sense to combine the parishes back in 2001, but it could have been more difficult.

“In hindsight, they didn’t ask the questions we are asking now,” he said. “But the situation evolved. Fifteen years ago, the environment was different at Division and Orleans from how it is now.”


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  • parish transformation
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  • conception st. joseph school

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