Renew My Church: New round of unified parishes began July 1

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Parishioners watch Mass from a cellphone resting in a tree outside of Transfiguration of Our Lord Church June 28, 2020. St. Hilary and Transfiguration of Our Lord parishes celebrated a unification Mass for the two parishes that day. As part of the Renew My Church process, effective July 1, the two churches were unified as one parish, named St. Pio of Pietrelcina (or “San Padre Pio”). Following Mass, parishioners processed in a car parade with statues and other important church assets from Transfiguration to St. Hilary. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

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July 1 ushered in big changes to wave 3 of the Renew My Church process, with unifications and other structural changes happening across the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Thirteen new parishes were created through unification. Most of the unified parishes will get new names later, although two already have new names.

In every case, the former parishes have been “extinguished” under canon law and new ones have been created, explained Father Jason Malave, the cardinal’s liaison to Renew My Church.

In three situations, a smaller parish joined a larger parish, as was the case with St. Clare of Montefalco becoming a part of St. Rita of Cascia Parish. In those situations, the smaller parish became a worship site of the larger one.

Those situations are not technically unifications, and while the distinction seems small, Malave said, it makes a big difference in practice, and it came out of suggestions from the parishes.

In a separate case in this wave of Renew My Church, St. James-Sag Bridge Parish became a mission of Sts. Cyril and Methodius Parish.

In the cases of many of the 13 unifications, there is another step that will occur in the coming months.

“In many of these cases, there will be another canonical action that will canonically close a location. That hasn’t happened yet,” Malave said. 

After July 1, the parish operations and ministries began the process of combining. Following that, the parishes will start the new reality phase, in which they look at evangelization efforts to make the parishes more vital.

The combining of parish operations has gotten off to a quick start at the new St. Elizabeth of the Trinity Parish, which unified St. Cornelius, St. Tarcissus and St. Thecla.

“It’s starting to come together,” said Father Michael Grisolano, the pastor. “Things are going in a positive direction even with some of the grief of loss.”

He was the pastor of St. Tarcissus before the unification and believes the archdiocese made the right decision merging the three parishes and two schools into one parish and school.

“At least in these three, none of them alone were strong enough to be a stand-alone parish anymore,” Grisolano said.

The new parish is located at the site of the former St. Tarcissus, 6020 W. Ardmore Ave.

The two schools have become the new St. Elizabeth of the Trinity School on the north campus of Pope Francis Global Academy. The south campus of Pope Francis Global Academy, which is located on the campus of St. Pascal Parish, is part of a grouping in a future wave of Renew My Church.

The archdiocese told the parish that the last Masses at the other two sites should happen before the first Sunday of Advent, but COVID-19 has had such a financial impact on the churches that St. Elizabeth of the Trinity has moved those up to Aug. 15-16.

“There’s going to be a lot of honoring of the past traditions of the parishes so that there is some sense of closure that was not able to be received before July 1,” Grisolano said.

In the meantime, the other sites are being used for first Communions, baptisms, weddings and confirmations that weren’t able to happen during the COVID-19 shutdown.

To help the process, the parish has embraced the new identity of St. Elizabeth of the Trinity and has signs on the parish and school with the new name. COVID-19 has slowed some of the unification process, he said, but “the goal will be in the near future to unify the people, the ministries.”

“The real thing is we have to rebuild as a people and be one in Christ for real,” Grisolano said.

While the process wasn’t easy and there has been pain in the journey, Grisolano offered some advice to parishes preparing to go through Renew My Church.

“The more we tell people and are honest about the decision-making, even if it’s hard, they will at least know that they can trust you,” he said.

Now that wave 3 structural changes are official, wave 4 parishes are ramping up to begin the discernment process, Malave said.

“Wave 4 is about 14 groupings. Right before COVID-19, all of those pastors were able to gather with the cardinal and he was able to walk them through his hopes and dreams for renewal for the archdiocese,” Malave said.

Those 14 groupings include approximately 55 parishes. Archdiocesan officials have met with pastors and principals to help them to prepare for the upcoming process.

All of the parish grouping teams — about 450 people — will meet virtually with Cardinal Cupich on Aug. 27 and then again on Aug. 29 for a retreat experience.

The process isn’t slowing down due to COVID-19, Malave explained, because archdiocesan officials want to help the parish teams prepare well for the process. The grouping teams for wave 4 will begin gathering in September, either in person, virtually or a combination of the two.


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