Renew My Church is already bearing fruit

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Pastors and staff members from parishes in the second wave of groupings to start Renew My Church meet at an information session at St. John of the Cross Parish in Western Springs on Aug. 11. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

Renew My Church has really just started, but it’s already paying dividends with parishes and other Catholic communities such as shrines and missions collaborating more closely in ways big and small to bring the Gospel to their communities.

Two pilot groupings — one with three parishes and the Mission of Our Lady of the Angels on the West Side of Chicago and one with five parishes in the North Shore suburbs — started the process of discernment last spring with Cardinal Cupich’s final decisions on what they will look like going forward due by the end of 2017. 

Another five groupings with 17 parishes or other communities are starting the process this fall, and nine groupings with 39 parishes and communities have been activated to begin discernment in January.

But across the archdiocese, parishes — as well as missions and shrines — are not necessarily waiting to get the call to start working together.

“A lot of this has been going on for years,” said Bishop Francis Kane, episcopal vicar of Vicariate II. “In some ways, I think it might be a little more intentional now.”

Cardinal Cupich announced the Renew My Church initiative in September 2015 as a way to align the resources of the church with its mission of evangelization. It will undoubtedly mean difficult decisions as the process moves forward, leaders say, because there will not be enough priests or enough financial resources to keep the structures that the archdiocese has now.

As the groupings begin the process, the parish vitality coordinators and lifelong formation coordinators from each vicariate, or each of six geographic divisions of the archdiocese, are bringing together catechetical and pastoral leaders from the parishes to foster that cooperation. 

Anne Chrzan, the archdiocese’s lifelong formation coordinator for Vicariate II, said many of the vicariate’s 68 parishes have cooperated on events such as parish missions and reconciliation services for years. Some have hired staff members together.

One grouping — Immaculate Conception-St. Joseph, St. Vincent de Paul, Old St. Michael and St. Teresa of Avila Parish — joined together to offer Theology on Tap programming for young adults, even though the group will not start formal discernment until January.

Father Larry Lisowski, pastor of Immaculate Conception-St. Joseph, said his parish also “buddied up” with St. Teresa of Avila for RCIA, and last year joined with both St. Teresa and Old St. Michael’s for confirmation.

The parishes have gotten their parish councils together for dinner, and the pastors are trying to get to know one another better, Lisowski said.

There have already been benefits, he said.

“I think people have bigger sense of church,” Lisowski said.

Having parishes work together also reflects the way many young adults —and some older adults — interact with the church, he said.

“People here in this Near North area, they’re pretty flexible about parishes,” he said. “They really do float around.”

Parishes have been working to develop relationships among leaders and parishioners, crossing parish lines.

That’s different from before, Bishop Kane said.

“Over the years, we have had a very good parish structure,” he said. “Individual parishes chiseled out their own identity.”

In the process, neighboring parishes sometimes saw themselves as competitors rather than companions.

“Now we have to look at the larger church,” he said. “The idea is collaboration, not competition.”

To that end, four parishes on the West Side — St. Martin de Porres, St. Agatha, Our Lady of Sorrows and St. Malachy-Precious Blood — have been bringing their leaders together to discuss evangelization, according to James Erler, the parish vitality coordinator for Vicariate III. On the near Southwest Side, catechetical leaders from several parishes got together for a retreat, he said.

Bishop John Manz, episcopal vicar for Vicariate IV, said it’s important to note that many collaborative efforts predate Renew My Church. Perhaps what’s different now, he said, is that parishes won’t be able to easily opt out.

That’s important, he said, because while all the pastors accept that the church must restructure in some way, it gets much harder when it hits close to home.

“When the tire hits the pavement, that’s when you start looking more closely,” Bishop Manz said. “That’s when people become more reluctant.”

Bishop Manz, who helped lead the process that led to 10 West Side parishes becoming three parishes in 2004, said that some changes will be difficult, and some people likely will walk away, but that doesn’t mean the changes are not necessary.

“To have a resurrection, there has to be a death,” he said. “And that can be painful.”

The ultimate goal is for any restructuring to help the church better fulfill its mission of evangelization, Bishop Manz said, and the church must remain focused on that.

“I don’t think it’s automatic by any means,” he said. “I think this gives us an opportunity to evangelize better.”

If parishes focus on that, the church will come out stronger, Bishop Kane said.

“If we get the mission right, the structures will be just fine,” he said.

For more on Renew My Church, visit


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