St. Gregory’s Hall part of parish’s unique evangelization effort

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Wednesday, September 14, 2022

St. Gregory’s Hall part of parish’s unique evangelization effort

St. Gregory’s Hall, a new ministry of Mary, Mother of God Parish based at St. Gregory Church, welcomes parishioners and community members to a Mass on Sept. 3, 2022, celebrating the feast of its patron, St. Gregory the Great. Kevin Allen, artist in residence at St. Gregory’s Hall, led a choir in Gregorian Chant for the Mass. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Kevin Allen, composer, conductor and artist in residence at St. Gregory's Hall, sings while he conducts the choir. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Parishioners of Mary, Mother of God Parish, joined the celebration for the feast day of St. Gregory the Great. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Allen conducts the choir. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Young girls watch the Mass from the aisle. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Conventual Franciscan Father Robert Cook, pastor of Mary, Mother of God Parish, elevates the Eucharist. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
The backs of choir members as seen from the choir loft. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Choir members sing during Mass. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Before Mass, a woman kneels in prayer before a side altar. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

Parishioners at Mary, Mother of God Parish filled St. Gregory Church on Sept. 3 for a liturgy to celebrate that church’s patron, St. Gregory the Great. But it was not just any Mass, because the new St. Gregory’s Hall artist-in-resident Kevin Allen was conducting the choir in singing Gregorian chant in homage to the church’s patron.

St. Gregory’s Hall, housed at St. Gregory the Great Church, 5545 N. Paulina St., is one of two unique geographically based ministries to emerge in Mary, Mother of God Parish through the Renew My Church process.

Mary, Mother of God united the parishes of St. Gregory; St. Thomas of Canterbury, 4827 N. Kenmore Ave.; and St. Ita, 5500 N. Broadway Ave.

St. Thomas of Canterbury Church is now the social justice outreach hub for the parish and home to a small intentional Catholic community loosely modeled on the Catholic Worker movement. The church has long offered a soup kitchen and food pantry for those living in Uptown.

St. Ita is the main parish church.

“The vision is to create a parish that  is geographic in nature. It’s not a destination parish,” said Conventual Franciscan Father Robert Cook, pastor of Mary, Mother of God Parish. “The only way to create community in a polarized, fractured world is you have to first claim place. We do have place. We have parish boundaries. The idea is how do we create a parish that responds to the needs of our parish boundaries.”

St. Gregory the Great has a long tradition of celebrating the relationship between art and faith through its artists-in-residence program, where painters, an iconographer and musicians produced programming and art for the parish. It reflected its neighborhood of Andersonville, which draws more creative residents.

In Uptown, there is a great need for social services. St. Thomas of Canterbury Church is also offering eucharistic outreach by increasing eucharistic adoration, which feeds the soul, and that relates to feeding body through the soup kitchen and food pantry, Cook said. The church will offer liturgy of the hours and some programing.

The goal is to build community around eucharistic spirituality.

Cook said that there are other groups in Uptown, largely fueled by young people doing outreach, who may not realize they are eucharistic and will be drawn to the ministries and life at St. Thomas.

“There are many kinds of groups in Uptown that are seeking the same type of thing,” he said. “It’s really a way to evangelize the young people who are pouring in because they are really seeking communion and that’s what the Catholic Church offers in service, prayer and fellowship. It’s a eucharistic outreach in Uptown, a cultural outreach in Edgewater and Andersonville and the parish church is St. Ita.”

St. Gregory’s Hall evangelizes through the arts, said Mark Franzen, director and a longtime parishioner, formerly of the Lumen Christi Institute at the University of Chicago.

“Here, what we’re trying to do is to promote a sense of Catholic culture through a lived engagement in our faith with the traditions of sacred music, sacred art, beauty, the intellectual life, but also engaging it with the actual life of faith,” he said.

St. Gregory’s Hall offers opportunities to build community and always in conjunction with the liturgy and prayer. Franzen acknowledges it is a grassroots effort.

“Because this church is itself so beautiful, and it has a rich history of evangelization through the arts with music and artists-in-residence, the pastor wanted to find a new way to carry on that legacy and to do something new,” Franzen said.

St. Gregory’s Hall has a visual artist-in-residence, painter Sarah Crow. She will keep a studio, offer classes and seminars and lead church tours. The musical artist-in-residence, Kevin Allen, will direct the music for seven liturgies throughout the year and also offer concerts and workshops. The scholar-in-residence, Scott Moringiello, will develop seminars and workshops related to the long tradition of Catholic thought.

“We’re trying to bring in the talent that Chicago already has and have it benefit a parish community,” Franzen said. “We’re hoping this will draw new people into the parish but also help to invigorate and cultivate community for parishioners who already here.”

Following the Sep. 3 Mass, Allen said he is excited for the opportunity to share sacred music with Catholics through St. Gregory’s Hall.

“I’d like to open up the box of treasures of the Catholic Church — the old and also the new,” he said. “There are lots of composers, I should say more composers these days, who are composing in the traditional style, in a style that the saints centuries ago would recognize as Catholic. That’s a new and wonderful thing that’s happening here, so I hope to highlight that and bring that right to the pews here at St. Gregory.”

Through his work as a musician, Allen sees a clear connection between art and the elevation of worship.

“We are seeking God, and to seek God is to seek truth and to seek truth is to seek beauty,” Allen said. “Who knows what starts first under this cycle of seeking beauty and seeking truth? Having that as part of your regular prayer life can only elevate your spirituality.”

Allen is planning workshops and concerts, especially around Catholic composers who may have written songs for the church on Sundays, but in their regular jobs wrote string quartets or songs for entertainment. It is a way, “to have a fullness of Catholic culture,” he said.

In the end, Allen hopes to introduce people to the Catholic culture that exists in a largely Protestant country, and offer a way to incorporate that culture into their daily lives.

“It’s nice to have this little pocket of Catholic culture that we can call our own and to grow in and to learn more about,” Allen said.

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