2020: When things closed down, Catholics reached out

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, January 6, 2021

2020: When things closed down, Catholics reached out

The year 2020 was unlike any in recent memory with the pandemic changing life for everyone. But when things closed down, Catholics across the archdiocese reached out to help their neighbors in need. Here is a look back at some of the happenings around the archdiocese in 2020. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
A message to parishioners in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and churches being closed says "We Miss You Too" and hangs outside St. William Church, 2600 N. Sayre Ave., on April 1, 2020. The school also displayed a sign saying "We Are E-learning." (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Signs communicating that large gatherings are prohibited could be seen at the entrance of Maryhill Catholic Cemetery in Niles throughout the pandemic. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, burials and visits at the cemetery looked different in 2020. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Mothers and clergy from St. Agnes of Bohemia Parish (Little Village), St. Agatha Parish (North Lawndale) and other community organizations marched for peace on June 5, 2020. Mothers led two groups of 50 starting from each parish separately to meet at 2100 S. Lawndale in front of a mural of César Chávez and Martin Luther King, Jr. They were marching in response to city-wide rioting and looting following the murder of George Floyd. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
St. Agatha Parish, located in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood, co-sponsored the “In the Spirit of King” Westside peace march June 12, 2020. The multicultural, interfaith march gathered Christian, Catholic, Muslim and Jewish community members, clergy, law enforcement, health service providers, business leaders, educators and students. Marchers called for better schools, housing, health services, employment and business opportunities. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Staff from the archdiocese’s Office of Radio and Television record a Mass at Holy Name Cathedral on March 13, 2020. Throughout the pandemic, the office has recorded Sunday Mass at the cathedral that can be viewed on the archdiocesan YouTube channel and on ABC-7 on Sunday mornings. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Kathleen Ingram, principal and Maria Ochoa, assistant principal at Our Lady of Tepeyac High School hand out lunches to school families at Our Lady of Tepeyac Elementary School in Little Village on April 17, 2020. While schools were closed for the pandemic families could still receive free lunches. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
One thousand pre-packed boxes of non-perishable food were distributed by volunteers at St. Mary of the Lake Parish, in Chicago’s Buena Park neighborhood, on April 19, 2020. In collaboration with the Greater Chicago Food Depository, the pop-up food pantry, which was held for many weeks, served the needs of at-risk residents, especially immigrants. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Tim Surges, IT staff at Mount Carmel High School checks over the process of the 3D printer on April 4, 2020. Mount Carmel High School STEM teachers used the school's 3D printers to create protective masks for senior home workers. The school began the effort after schools were closed due to the pandemic and there was a shortage of PPE equipment for first responders and hospital workers. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
St. Thomas the Apostle student Darius Mason assembles packages of protein snacks on his front porch on May 2, 2020. He gave the packs to emergency room workers at area hospitals. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
A student from St. Celestine School in Elmwood Park smiles as he holds a sign out of the sunroof during the school’s “reverse parade” on May 1, 2020 where teachers and staff stood outside the school, spaced six feet apart holding signs for their students. Families were invited to drive around the block to honk and wave at their teachers and the school’s priests, all of whom wore face masks. Schools across the archdiocese held car parades so students and teachers could see each other during remote learning. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Carl Grebenor takes the temperature of a woman coming for Mass. His father, Thomas Grebenor, is standing off to the left checking people in. St. Elizabeth Seton Parish in Orland Hills welcomed people for Mass June 13, 2020. A team of volunteers sanitized the church between Masses and helped maintain other regulations like taking temperatures of parishioners upon entry and safe social distancing during the service. Volunteers also distributed Communion to parishioners in their pews. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Students at Queen of the Rosary School in Elk Grove Village make their way through the first week of school while being safe following the Archdiocese of Chicago's guidelines for COVID-19 on Aug. 17, 2020. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Students at Queen of the Rosary School in Elk Grove Village make their way through the first week of school while being safe following the Archdiocese of Chicago's guidelines for COVID-19 on Aug. 17, 2020. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Volunteers and staff at Most Blessed Trinity Parish in Waukegan prepared and served hot meals to people in need on Aug. 28, 2020. The parish soup kitchen has been operating continually during the pandemic. With social distancing measures in place, the soup kitchen offers a hot meal, a drink and dessert plus a "goodie bag" to each person who comes to the kitchen door. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Franciscan Sister of the Eucharist of Chicago Stephanie Baglia runs on a treadmill in the basement of her community's convent on Aug. 15, 2020. On Aug. 23, Sister Stephanie ran a marathon on the treadmill to raise money for the Mission of Our Lady of the Angels and set a world record for women's treadmill marathoning. She decided to do the treadmill marathon after the Chicago Marathon was cancelled due the pandemic. Sister Stephanie organizes Team OLA, a group of people who run the Chicago Marathon to raise funds for the mission each year. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Father Michael Bradley, a 67-year-old resident priest at St. Gertrude Parish, takes a practice run around the parish grounds on Oct. 9, 2020. Since the cancellation of the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 11 he ran a do-it-yourself-marathon 26.2 miles through the streets of Edgewater. It was his 49th marathon in 25 years. Bradley ran to raise funds for St. Gertrude’s Heart to Heart Ministry that serves vulnerable senior citizens in Edgewater. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
A young volunteer pushes a cart of food during a COVID-19 drive-thru food giveaway the Quinn Community Center at St. Eulalia Parish in Maywood on July 28, 2020. The drive-thru event has replaced a weekly soup kitchen at the center. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
The Black Catholic Deacons of Chicago, in partnership with priests, deacons and clergy of the Archdiocese of Chicago, hosted the 10th Annual Sunrise Prayer Service for Nonviolence and Peace on Sept. 12, 2020 at 6:30 a.m. Due to COVID-19, the annual service moved from the lakefront to the parking lot of St. Katharine Drexel Parish as a drive-in ceremony where worshipers gathered together to pray for peace, the healing of families, schools and communities. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
The newly ordained Auxiliary Bishops Kevin Birmingham, Jeffrey Grob and Robert Lombardo, CFR, share a lighthearted moment after the sign of peace during their ordination Mass on the feast of St. Francis Xavier Cabrini, Nov. 13, 2020, at Holy Name Cathedral, 735 N. State St., Chicago. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Volunteers at St. Mary of the Lake Parish lit 231 candles that represented the 231,000 lives lost to COVID-19 in the U.S. in front of the church on All Souls Day, Nov. 2, 2020. The candles were lit each night for seven days to burn overnight to honor those that have died. Given COVID19 restrictions, in lieu of a prayer service, printed prayers in English and Spanish were placed around the fence and people could stop by and pray quietly. The idea was to create a place where people who are Catholic and not from the neighborhood could publicly mourn the loss everyone has all suffered as a neighborhood and as a country. People of all faiths and of no faith were encouraged to stop by and bring flowers to lay in the lawn. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was temporarily removed from the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines on Friday, Dec. 11 at 10 a.m. Only the Shrine clergy, staff and some volunteers, led by Father Esequiel Sanchez, were present for the solemn removal of the image followed by a short procession to the Marian Chapel. A bouquet of roses was left in place where the image rested. The image of the Virgin was returned on Dec. 13 at 7:30 a.m. during a morning prayer service. The previous week, Cardinal Cupich, Sanchez and Mexico City’s Cardinal Carlos Aguiar Retes asked pilgrims, because of the ongoing pandemic, to celebrate this feast day in the safety of their own homes. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

Many people are glad to see 2020 in the rearview mirror.

It was a year the likes of which most people have never seen, a year when one story — the COVID-19 pandemic — dominated every news outlet for months. In one weekend in March, stores, offices and restaurants and even schools and churches closed their doors for months. When they reopened, it was with protocols requiring people to wear masks and maintain distance from one another.

But as soon as things closed down, Catholics of all ages around the Archdiocese of Chicago reached out to help their neighbors who were affected by the virus. They made masks, organized food drives, created gift bags for first responders and more. It was an inspiring witness of faith in action that continues in 2021.

Parishes and schools turned to technology to connect with their parishioners and families, streaming Masses and holding classes on videoconferencing platforms. Fundraisers and benefits went online as well, and in-person events often moved outdoors with drive-in Masses, drive-by birthday parades and drive-thru distributions from food pantries.

For hundreds of thousands of American families, the empty chairs at the table are permanent. By Jan. 5, COVID-19 had killed more than 350,000 Americans, at least 16,500 of them in Illinois. Some of them could not have funeral Masses at all; others had attendance limited by COVID-19 protocols, which also meant mourners could not embrace one another.

Economic and financial pain was even more widespread, as workers were laid off or had their hours cut. The hospitality industry was hit especially hard.

The arrival of vaccines offering protection against developing severe illness from COVID-19 offered a bright spot before Christmas.

The pandemic was not the only event to grab headlines.

The murder of George Floyd in Minnesota sparked protests across the country and calls for a reckoning on racial justice. The election of the second Catholic to be president of the United States came with nearly unprecedented polarization of the country.

COVID-19 formed part of those stories as well. Racial disparities in the suffering caused by the pandemic offered a window into the health effects of racism and disinvestment in marginalized communities, while the handling of the pandemic became a major campaign issue.

Here’s a look back at the year that was, month by month:


• An expanded March for Life Chicago drew thousands of people Jan. 11, despite cold and blustery weather. The event included the march and rally, a youth rally and a pro-life expo.

The Archdiocese of Chicago and the Big Shoulders Fund committed to providing more than $90 million to support 30 mostly South and West Side Catholic schools over the next 10 years. Under the agreement, the Big Shoulders Fund is to provide $47.5 million to the schools, with the Archdiocese of Chicago committing $44.9 million to the same schools. The agreement also calls for the Big Shoulders Fund to take a leadership role in helping principals manage everything from academic programming to marketing.


Bishop Alberto Rojas, an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Chicago since 2011, became the coadjutor bishop of the Diocese of San Bernardino, California.

Little Company of Mary Hospital joined Springfield, Illinois-based OSF Healthcare System.

• Chicago Catholic mentioned the novel coronavirus for the first time, in a Catholic News Service article about Catholic Relief Services’ response to the virus outbreak in Asia. The story ran on page 23 of the Feb. 23 issue.


Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, president of the Centre for Child Protection at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, met with seminarians, clergy, members of religious congregations and others to talk about child protection in the church.

All public liturgies were suspended due to COVID-19 beginning with the vigil Masses of March 14. All Catholic schools were closed for in-person instruction beginning March 16. The archdiocese began streaming daily and Sunday Masses on YouTube and broadcasting Sunday Mass on TV.


• Archdiocesan officials announced a financial plan that included cutting costs and working to stabilize offertory income by, among other measures, encouraging parishioners to participate in online giving and setting up an online donation page for parishes and for the archdiocesan emergency fund.

Parishes and schools began using social media platforms to stay connected, whether by posting daily videos and reflections or hosting online game nights.

• Catholic organizations and institutions from homeless shelters and soup kitchens to schools and religious ed programs adapted to the new reality by changing protocols and procedures, and, where possible, moved communication online. St. Mary of the Lake Parish began hosting a pop-up food pantry, which would later become a permanent weekly event housed at the nearby Lakeview Pantry. Mount Carmel High School was among several area facilities with 3-D printers that used them to make masks, and ongoing efforts such as Renew My Church continued with online meetings.

Father Michael McGovern, pastor of St. Raphael the Archangel Parish in Old Mill Creek, was named as the next bishop of the Diocese of Belleville, Illinois.


• High schools and colleges worked to find ways to make the end of the academic year meaningful for their students, especially those who were graduating.

• Individual Catholics searched for ways to be useful, from sewing masks to assembling protein packs for first responders and health care workers.

• The archdiocese launched a phone line staffed by volunteers for people who wanted someone to accompany them in prayer. It also started online bereavement groups for those who have lost loved ones.

• Kolbe House, the archdiocesan jail ministry, worked to help people released from incarceration during the pandemic.

• Archdiocesan leaders began making plans to reopen parishes. Phase I of reopening included sacraments of baptism and reconciliation and funerals as well as eucharistic adoration, with no more than 10 people in attendance.

• Sally Blount was named the first lay president and CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

• Father Louis Tylka, pastor of St. Julie Billiart Parish in Tinley Park, was named the next bishop of the Diocese of Peoria.

• Protests erupted in Chicago in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25. While most protests were peaceful, some were exploited by looters.


Parishes that met archdiocesan guidelines could begin reopening for daily and Sunday Mass June 6. Requirements included having trained teams of volunteers to set up the worship space to allow for social distancing, greeters to check people in and people to disinfect the space following use. Participants were required to make reservations to ensure that capacity limits were followed and to facilitate contact tracing in case someone later tested positive for COVID-19. They also were required to wear masks.

• Parishes began rescheduling first Communions and confirmations that had been planned for the spring, usually holding multiple Masses with smaller congregations. Pastors were authorized to confer confirmation in their parishes as liturgies were scheduled into the late summer and fall.

Cardinal Cupich ordained seven new priests for the archdiocese on June 29.

Parishes responded to the call for racial justice by participating in peaceful protests, prayer and discussions.


• The Office of Catholic Schools on July 10 announced plans to reopen all archdiocesan schools for in-person instruction in the fall. Required protocols included, among other things, having all staff and students wear masks except when outdoors or distanced at lunch, keeping students in learning cohorts and distanced in class, and checking temperatures and asking students about symptoms every day. Schools also offered distance-learning options.

• Individual students, classes and sometimes whole schools turned to online learning when they had to quarantine because of COVID-19.

• Officials announced an acceleration of the Renew My Church discernment process because of the financial and structural challenges posed by the pandemic.

Bishop Ronald Hicks, the archdiocese’s vicar general, was named bishop of the Diocese of Joliet.


Students returned to classes in archdiocesan elementary schools and high schools. Most Catholic high schools, which are independent of the archdiocese, opted for hybrid schedules, with students having some days in the building and some at home, so that only a portion of students were in their building at any given time.

Colleges and universities opened with a variety of in-person and remote plans. Loyola University Chicago and DePaul University opened with nearly all classes online; Dominican University and St. Xavier University offered a blend of in-person and remote classes.


Pope Francis on Sept. 11 named Fathers Kevin Birmingham, Jeffrey Grob and Robert Lombardo, CFR, to be new auxiliary bishops for the archdiocese.

Eight Catholic schools in the archdiocese were announced as National Blue Ribbon winners on Sept. 24.

Twenty-seven new permanent deacons were ordained for the Archdiocese of Chicago in two Masses Sept. 26.


Pope Francis issued “Fratelli Tutti,” an encyclical on “fraternity and social friendship.” It was signed Oct. 3 in Assisi, Italy, and published the following day, the feast of St. Francis of Assisi.

• On Oct. 25, Pope Francis named Washington, D.C., Archbishop Wilton Gregory, a former priest and auxiliary bishop of Chicago, as the first African American member of the College of Cardinals. Cardinal Gregory was among 13 men who became cardinals at a Nov. 28 consistory.


Bishops Birmingham, Grob and Lombardo were ordained Nov. 13.

Catholic Charities and the Archdiocese of Chicago announced they had collected $20 million for pandemic relief.


• The Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe canceled its in-person feast day festivities because of COVID-19 and removed the image of Our Lady from the outdoor grotto for the feast day to discourage people from coming.


  • covid-19
  • pandemic

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