Old St. Patrick’s welcomes ‘extended family’ for in-person visit

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Old St. Patrick’s welcomes ‘extended family’ for in-person visit

Old St. Patrick’s Parish in Chicago’s West Loop, hosted a homecoming for its online community at the parish’s new "Extended Family Weekend" from May 19-21, 2023. For eight years, Old St. Pat’s has livestreamed Masses and, during the last three years with the COVID-19 pandemic, its ministry has expanded across the United States. The parish hosted nearly 75 Catholics from suburban Chicago, Arizona, North Carolina, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Florida to meet in-person and experience a weekend of events. These photos are from the parish’s May 21 breakfast held in the parish hall. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
A sign and name tags await people coming for the family breakfast. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Ignatian Volunteer Corps member and parishioner Maureen Kennedy Barney greets Marge Schmitz and Marge Sevening during the May 21 breakfast.
Keara Ette, director of ministries at Old St. Patrick’s Parish, visits with families attending a breakfast. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
A volunteer from the parish visits with Nicole, Olivete and Nancy Stephanie at the breakfast. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Doreen Oleszczuk looks over breakfast choices during the event. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

When church doors were closed all over the country during the COVID-19 pandemic, Old St. Patrick’s Parish, 700 W. Adams St., saw a marked increase in people viewing its livestreamed Mass. Over time, the parish’s ministers began to see that there was a large group of people tuning in from other parishes, cities and states.

Out of that experience was born an extended family that grew into other encounters, such as online faith sharing groups, through the parish.

From May 29 to 31, the parish invited people who participate online to come in person for its first Extended Family Weekend, which included Mass, a dinner, a church tour and performances by its Broadway on Adams group. 

“Over the last few years, we’ve just heard from people who send us letters, who write us emails or even people who put comments in our livestream that it’s meant a lot to have our livestream liturgies as a resource. But over time we were hearing from people that they also see this as their community,” said Keara Ette, director of ministries at Old St. Pat’s.

This group started calling itself the extended family of the parish.

“We took that and said, ‘Alright, let’s just pick a weekend. Let’s invite people,’” Ette said. “We know not everybody has the resources to come into town for that, but just what we’re trying to share with people, even in Chicago, is that something extra. It’s a feeling. It’s hard to describe. We just created space for people to connect.”

It worked, she said, with people coming in from the suburbs and also New York, Ohio, Arizona and other states.

“It’s been beautiful to pray with them and celebrate with them,” Ette said.

They also heard from people who could not come in for the weekend but said that it made them feel seen, she said.

Nancy and Jeff Stephani came in from Ohio for the weekend. Their daughter lives in Chicago and attends Old St. Pat’s, but the couple said they became acquainted with the parish in the 1970s through conferences it held.

“It’s home. It’s a community,” Nancy Stephani said. “It’s been wonderful.”

“This is just a really neat idea. It’s cool,” Jeff Stephani said. 

Carol and Joe Valaitis from Rockford first learned about Old St. Pat’s livestreamed Masses a year before the pandemic through Joe’s sister in Michigan who watched them.

“Since COVID came along we’ve been religiously coming here,” Joe Valaitis said. Their son lives in Chicago and also attends the parish, and their grandchildren were baptized there.

“We feel like we’re part of the parish,” Carol Valaitis said. “I like the idea that this is called the Extended Family Weekend because we really feel like family.”

“It’s a lifeline for us spiritually,” she added about the livestreamed Masses. 

Maureen Kennedy Barney, a member of the Ignatian Volunteer Corps and a longtime minister at the parish, said the weekend was a success.

“We don’t have parish boundaries, and this is the perfect example of that,” she said. “We are the community of Old St. Pat’s. So to have people back and for us to be able to break bread with them and then have a meal with them has been wonderful.”

The online community is important to people, Kennedy Barney said.

“I’ve been hearing from people that if this didn’t exist for them — many of them came from parishes where there was nothing, and by finding this, it’s kept them in church,”  she said “It’s kept them really being Catholic in a lot of ways. And they were just so glad and they just wish that there was an Old St. Pat’s everywhere.”


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