Vacant rectory sees new life as an emergency shelter

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Vacant rectory sees new life as an emergency shelter

During a press conference on Jan. 4, 2023, St. Catherine of Siena-St. Lucy and St. Giles Parish unveiled the new temporary emergency shelter at the vacant rectory on the St. Catherine-St. Lucy campus. (Karie Angell Luc/Chicago Catholic)
Father Carl Morello, pastor of St. Catherine of Siena/St. Lucy and St. Giles Parish listens to a speaker. (Karie Angell Luc/Chicago Catholic)
Lynda Schueler of Oak Park, executive director of Housing Forward, addresses the gathering. (Karie Angell Luc/Chicago Catholic)
Beds are stacked and ready for use. (Karie Angell Luc/Chicago Catholic)
The kitchen at the shelter. (Karie Angell Luc/Chicago Catholic)
A tote with supplies for guests. (Karie Angell Luc/Chicago Catholic)

The rectory at the St. Catherine of Siena-St. Lucy church site at 38 N. Austin Blvd. now has a new purpose. Since Jan. 4, it has served as a temporary emergency shelter for men, women and families who need a roof over their heads for a night.

Since the merger of St. Catherine of Siena-St. Lucy parish with St. Giles in Oak Park last year, the rectory had sat empty. So Father Carl Morello, pastor of the newly unified parish, thought converting the space was a great idea when he was approached by the local organization Housing Forward.

Morello and the organizers unveiled the shelter space during a press conference and tour on Jan. 4, before it welcomed its first guests.

“We decided that we would give it a shot and have further conversations about using this space as a temporary shelter,” Morello told those gathered, including officials from the Oak Park community who regularly work to help people find shelter.

He called the effort an opportunity and a challenge.

“The opportunity, I felt, was it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “At the heart of who we are as a Christian people … is following a person who said, ‘Make sure you pay attention to the hungry, to those who need clothes, to those who need shelter because whatsoever you do for them you are doing for me.’”

The challenge was in getting the space ready for occupancy. The parish received various donations of items and money to help get things started.

St. Catherine-St. Lucy School, located next to the rectory, has given the shelter its full support. Shelter guests will arrive at 7 p.m. and will leave at 6:30 a.m., before school begins. All guests will receive a hot dinner along with breakfast and a lunch to go.

“This is really a demonstration of a community coming together and harnessing the power of a parish, a non-profit, the tremendous support that we continue to receive from the Village of Oak Park,” Lynda Schueler, executive director of Housing Forward said.

“We will be here seven nights a week, continuously. It is overnight only, so there will be no programming here during the day,” she said, adding that the organization already had people on a wait list to use the shelter. “Fifteen beds is really not enough to support all of west Cook County, so this is really a drop in the bucket for the real demonstrated need that is out there.”

By using the vacant rectory for the emergency shelter, the parish has the opportunity to think creatively about how to do ministry, Morello said following the press conference.

“My hope is to expand this in some way,” he said. “The unification of Sts. Catherine, Lucy and Giles gave us all new opportunities for a deeper commitment to the Gospel message of serving the needs of the homeless and the poor.”

Father Rex Pillai, pastor of Ascension-St. Edmund Parish in Oak Park, said his parish also supports the temporary shelter.

“We talk so much about sharing our faith with people,” he said. “I think this is how we do it in concrete terms. We go to Mass, go to church and then we go out and share that with one another. This is living your faith in action.”

Many people in the Chicago area need shelter, Pillai said, so he hopes that the effort inspires other parishes who may have vacant buildings to think of new ways to do ministry.

“I hope and pray this is just the beginning, … that other parishes would follow suit. It doesn’t have to be another shelter, but something else they can do,” Pillai said. “I think this is what our world needs today. This is what the church needs today in a special way.”


  • homelessness

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