For more than 70 years, a credit union has operated out of the former St. Gregory the Great Parish, now part of Mary, Mother of God Parish, in the city’s Andersonville neighborhood.
It opened in 1950 and anyone in the parish can set up accounts.
The goal of the credit union is to help those who cannot receive financial assistance through banks.
“It was started by a group of people in the parish,” said Christopher Grant, chairman. “They thought it was a good idea to do something for the community where people could share their savings. Then we could loan the money out at reasonable interest rates to people in the parish who needed things like a new car or a home repair or wanted to go on vacation.”
According to mycreditunion.gov, “a credit union is a not-for-profit financial institution that accepts deposits, make loans and provides a wide array of other financial services and products. Deposits are insured by the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund, which is managed by the National Credit Union Administration, commonly referred to as NCUA.”
Credit union members own and control the non-profit entities. Savings deposits are used to finance loans to members and dividends are paid back to members.
With offices in the former St. Gregory Elementary School, 1609 W. Gregory St., the credit union is open with an all-volunteer staff on Wednesdays from 7 to 9 p.m. and Sundays from 9:30 a.m. to noon.
The credit union offers savings accounts and loans, but does not offer mortgages. It is regulated by the State of Illinois and the National Credit Union Administration, which is similar to the FDIC for banks.
At its peak, the credit union had almost $1 million in assets with 350 members. Today it has almost $400,000 and just over 100 members, Grant said.
Grant started volunteering at the credit union more than 30 years ago at the prompting of his father, who was a board member. But his involvement with it dates back to his childhood, when he opened his first savings account.
He started volunteering as a teller, then became interested in technology and automating the credit union’s tasks, and he is a certified loan officer. He has been at the helm for over 20 years.
There have been ups and downs over the years, he said.
“We’ve kind of been holding our own, thank God,” Grant said. “For a while there, because we are a small church credit union there was a point in time when a lot of people weren’t paying their loans. Because we’re different, we weren’t sending them to collections. We’d work with them and try and lower their payments or waive some of their payments for a time period.”
Eventually, regulations became stricter and the credit union could not continue to operate that way.
Change at the parish through Renew My Church has also affected the credit union, he said.
St. Gregory the Great, where the credit union started, merged with St. Ita and Thomas of Canterbury parishes to form Mary, Mother of God Parish. But the Conventual Franciscan Friars who staff the parish support the credit union, he said.
“Our mission is to help people who are underserved,” Grant said. “People that probably couldn’t get accounts or loans from a regular financial institution in Chicago.”
Going forward, the credit union hopes to do more outreach to let parishioners know about them and tap into more of the Catholic Church’s teachings on social justice, he said.
“It’s been a great thing for St. Gregory’s,” Grant said. “We’ve helped tons and tons of people who hadn’t been able to get a loan themselves or wanted to get a loan for their first car and didn’t have credit built up.”
There is a family and community feel to the credit union, he said. People even stop by for coffee and donuts on Sundays.
“It’s bringing people who are part of the same communities, groups or organizations together in a shared purpose, trying to help others who maybe couldn’t be helped other places. That is the concept,” said Grant who attended the now-closed elementary school and high school and lives just blocks from the church. “It’s a wonderful thing. It’s something I’ve enjoyed my whole life.”
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