Renew My Church: West Humboldt Park group becomes one parish

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Fourth-graders at Maternity BVM School participate in a class in this 2013 file photo. The school will remain as the parochial school for the West Humboldt Park Catholic community. Chicago Catholic/Karen Callaway

The first pilot grouping for Renew My Church is starting its journey of becoming a force for evangelization in the West Humboldt Park neighborhood.

After months of meetings, the three parishes in the grouping learned Nov. 10 that they would move forward as one parish with one pastor and all three churches remaining open as worship sites. 

Maternity BVM School, the only parochial school in the grouping, will serve as the school for the new combined parish, and the Mission of Our Lady of the Angels will continue to serve the neighborhood as it does now.

The change in canonical status will take place July 1, 2018.

Then, said, Father Jason Malave, the cardinal’s liaison to Renew My Church, “They need to get ready to evangelize, big time.”

Evangelization — the kind of evangelization that can only happen with vital, strong parish communities — is the goal of Renew My Church, he said.
Those who participated in the process in West Humboldt Park over the past several months said they were surprised — pleasantly — with the news.

“There was a lot of anticipation over what the result would be,” said Christine Molina, principal of Maternity BVM School, 1537 N. Lawndale Ave.
“Now I am able to offer quality Catholic education to a bigger community than I was able to do before,” Molina said. 

She may have gotten a head start, she acknowledged. With the Renew My Church process well under way last spring, she started marketing the school to families at St. Francis of Assisi, 932 N. Kostner Ave., and St. Philomena, 1921 N. Kedvale Ave., for this school year, and some of them did choose to enroll their children.

“That has helped reinforce this kind of decision,” she said.

Every parish in the archdiocese is part of a grouping, and all of them will go through the process.

The other pilot grouping, in the North Shore, should find out what its future configuration will be in January, Malave said. Five more groupings — the “ramp up” group — have started the process, and another eight have been activated.

Members of each grouping meet with facilitators and discuss their existing situation, both in terms of material resources and ministry, and look at possible outcomes. They give their feedback to the Renew My Church commission, which makes recommendations to Cardinal Cupich. 

The cardinal makes the final decision for each grouping.

Malave said the Renew My Church team has learned from the pilot groupings.

“We’ve learned that people love their parishes,” he said. “We knew that, but we’ve learned it in a new way. We’ve learned that it’s hard to think about a new structure. We’ve learned to be patient in the transition time, from the struggle to discerning the new reality. We’ve also learned that no matter when we present possible scenarios — earlier or later in the process — it’s difficult.”

Yolanda Guzman, a member of the Renew My Church team from Maternity BVM Parish, said she initially thought it was a foregone conclusion that one of the three parishes in the group would close. Working with the facilitators and with Sister of St. Joseph Kathy Brazda, the archdiocese’s pastoral accompaniment leader, helped.

“At the beginning, I felt that the cardinal already knew what he wanted to do, and this was just a protocol for the parishes to share their thoughts, even though the diocese already made up its mind,” Guzman said. “Spiritually, Sister Kathy helped me to understand that it’s a new opportunity. It’s the Holy Spirit. That kind of lifted my initial thought.” 

Myrna Uribe, who was on the team from St. Francis of Assisi Parish, said she understood the need to reconfigure.

“The reality is you can’t sustain a parish without funds,” said Uribe, who experienced the closure of St. Peter Canisius School when her children were students and, later, the closure of St. Peter Canisius Parish.

The decision to not close any of the churches was good, she said, because closing churches can cause some people to turn away from their faith.

David Hernandez, a parishioner at St. Philomena, said he is concerned that the outcome will not do enough to conserve financial resources.

While the West Humboldt Park grouping will not have to face the closure of any churches or schools, that will not be the case for every grouping, Malave said.

he archdiocese entered the process as a way to better realign its resources — not financial, but human and spiritual — with its mission to go and make disciples.

A hundred and eighty archdiocesan priests are expected to retire in the next decade, and there will not be enough to staff the 344 parishes the archdiocese has now.

Molina said she has received calls from other Catholic school principals whose parishes are starting Renew My Church, asking her what they should expect.
“I tell them to have faith, this is God’s will,” Molina said. “This is the path to provide a vibrant church going forward.”

Guzman pointed out that there are still unanswered questions, including how or whether the new parish will bring together groups that exist in each of the three existing parishes.

“We all have our prayer groups, our Guadalupanos,” she said. “There is charismatic renewal at each parish. Will there be three groups or only one?”

Omero Jimenez, from St. Philomena Parish, said that at 21, he might have been the youngest participant in the Renew My Church discussion. He was surprised, he said, by the time it took to come to a conclusion, but he was happy with the final decision.

“The fact that they didn’t close any parishes, that’s what we all wanted,” he said. “It’s a good start. Now we all have to work together.”

One thing they can work on together?

“St. Philomena doesn’t really have a youth group,” he said. “St. Francis has a big one. Maybe we can come together. It’s just a first step.”

For more about Renew My Church, visit


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