St. Edmund Church | Photo by Eric Allix Rogers

Members of Oak Park’s four Roman Catholic parishes were given a handout last weekend outlining the next step in the ongoing Renew My Church process being implemented by the Chicago archdiocese.

The strategy is aimed at addressing decades of attendance decline, aging and declining numbers of priests and weakening financial support for aging physical facilities. The stated goal of Cardinal Blase Cupich is to attempt to use the situation as an occasion for renewed vision and energy in the archdiocese.

The handout repeatedly stated that no final decisions have been made on how the four parishes might be merged or potentially shuttered. Instead, the working document outlined five scenarios for members to comment on at upcoming meetings in each of the four parishes — Ascension, St. Giles, St. Edmund and St. Catherine-St. Lucy.

While the decision-making processes of the Catholic Church are often characterized as hierarchical and top-down, Rev. Carl Morello, currently the pastor at St. Giles and the administrator at Ascension, said the Renew My Church process is also bottom-up.

  “It is the desire of the Cardinal that folks from the communities should be involved in giving feedback on the scenarios that have been created. When folks have some input and see the reality of what is happening, they are more ready to accept something may change, something has to change,” he said.

The confusing part is that the five scenarios each have multiple sub-scenarios making a total of at least 14 options, depending on how you count them. Additionally the scenarios use certain Catholic terms such as “canonical parish” or “worship site” that can make it difficult to discern exact intentions.

Among the options:

  • Any steps taken by the archdiocese will leave schools at St. Catherine-St. Lucy, Ascension and St. Giles open, though possibly with some form of shared leadership.
  • The number of fully independent parishes is likely to be reduced from four to either three or two as the result of mergers.
  • There is an option to craft a single united parish in Oak Park that would maintain multiple worship sites but share a clerical and lay leadership structure.
  • The parish most likely to close is St. Catherine-St. Lucy though the church may or may not be retained as a “worship site.”

Here are possible combinations among the scenarios:

  • Three parishes remain: Ascension, St. Giles, and a merged St. Edmund and St. Catherine-St. Lucy.
  • Two parishes remain: Ascension and St. Catherine-St. Lucy merge into one parish. St. Giles and St. Edmund merge into one parish.
  • Two parishes remain: Ascension, St. Catherine-St. Lucy and St. Edmund merge. St. Giles remains freestanding.
  • A single Oak Park parish with one existing parish designated to hold all sacramental records, some form of shared leadership and with the church at St. Catherine-St. Lucy either remaining as a worship center or being shuttered.

In a message to members of St. Giles where he is pastor, Morello wrote: 

“We invite you to lend your voices and efforts to the possible ways in which our communities are being called to the Renew My Church Process. Renewal requires envisioning, planning and creating new ways to bring Jesus Christ to others. To that end, we are sending you some offered scenarios showing potential models of how our parishes could be configured.

“These scenarios are being shared with you for your review and will be discussed at meetings scheduled for each parish community.”

Reflecting criteria set by the archdiocese, Morello said the scenarios need to be evaluated considering:

  • Needs of the parish
  • Parishioner count and Mass attendance (800 minimum per weekend)
  • Pastoral manageability — structures need to be realistic to manage.
  • Parish financial stability and facilities safe and accessible

In a Monday email to Wednesday Journal, Morello said,  “One of the joys for me, in working with the teams from each of the four parishes, is seeing the dedication each parishioners have for their parish and the wisdom and talent that we have to offer, together, for our larger community. I am thinking ‘stronger together!’ This has been a joy and a blessing, as well as just getting to know some people from each parish on a deeper level.”

Upcoming parish meetings

  • St. Giles: Monday, Oct. 4 at 7 p.m., McDonough Hall
  • St. Edmund: Monday, Oct. 4 at 7 p.m.
  • St. Catherine-St. Lucy: To be announced
  • Ascension: Monday, Oct. 4 at 7 p.m. in the Pine Room

Church locations

  • Ascension, 808 S. East Ave.
  • St. Catherine-St. Lucy, 38 N. Austin Blvd.
  • St. Edmund, 188 S. Oak Park Ave.
  • St. Giles, 1045 Columbian Ave.

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