The Children’s School, Oak Park, has called the St. Edmund School building home for the past five years. | Amaris E. Rodriguez

A group of St. Edmund Church members recently posted a petition online, introduced with the words, “We … have lasting concerns that the voices and interests of the St. Edmund faith community have not been heard or considered as decisions impacting our campus and our faith community were made, including the use of the McGivern Parish Center, the lease to the Children’s School, and the timeline of repairs to our storm-damaged church building.”

Tom Nelson has been a member of St. Edmund, off and on, for 45 years. In the old days, he said, the attitude among the laity was “Pay, pray and obey” but “we don’t do that anymore.” 

When St. Edmund and Ascension Catholic Churches were united a year ago by the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Renew My Church Initiative, many members of both parishes thought of it in terms of a marriage.

In most marriages there are things, times and spaces that are “mine, yours and ours.” Technically all of the property on the campus located at 188 S. Oak Park Ave. belongs to the Archdiocese of Chicago, but many St. Edmund members still consider the church building, Murphy Social Hall and McGivern Hall (formerly the rectory) as “mine.”

Tracy Van Duinen, for example, accompanied her signature on the petition, among 285 others, with a comment: “This church belongs to the faith community of St. Edmund’s. This church is a treasure and should have been repaired right after the storm hit on April 4th!”

“As a homeowner,” wrote Jennifer Lambrett, “I am appalled that the Archdiocese of Chicago didn’t take quicker action to get St. Edmund’s repaired.”

Others complained that Murphy Hall, which is a separate structure adjoining the church, should have been allowed to be used for things like Mass immediately after the April 4 storm.

The loudest and most frequently voiced protest came from members who heard that plans were being made to use the former rectory, now called McGivern Hall, as a Center for Lifelong Learning and Faith.

What angered many is their perception that the decision on the use of the old rectory had been made without their participation. In an interview with Wednesday Journal, Mari Hans, a St. Edmund member for 43 years, explained that 456 families had pledged $1.6 million over 10 years to refurbish the building which was rededicated just a year ago.

Jim Leonard, a member for 16 years, said, “Nobody consulted anyone. So many put blood, sweat, tears, and wallet into it. We should have something to say about what happens to it.”

That has been the main point of contention by many who signed the petition — that they would not care if the facility eventually became a learning center if those who invested so much into renewing the building were included in the decision-making process.

“The uniting of St. Edmund and Ascension,” Hans declared, “is not a unification. It’s a takeover. We [St. Edmund members] have been marginalized and treated like second-class citizens. All decision-making has taken place by ‘other people.’”

Rev. Carl Morello, the parish administrator, responded to these concerns in an email interview. He said he was recently appointed [by the archdiocese] as the pastor of both Oak Park Catholic parishes [i.e. St. Edmund-Ascension and St. Giles-St. Catherine/St. Lucy].

He acknowledged that the Renew My Church process has been “challenging” and that he is “aware of the many concerns they carry at this time.”

Maria Allori, director of development for the newly formed parishes, added more detail to Fr. Morello’s response in a letter to parishioners dated June 29.

“This is an update,” she wrote, “on the construction progress at St. Edmund Church from our parish leadership and the Archdiocese of Chicago (AOC). 

“We are expecting a report from Wiss, Janney and Elstner in mid-July which will give us a clearer picture of the necessary church repairs. 

“In July, we will be taking the necessary steps to begin a phased re-opening of Murphy Hall and the McGivern Parish Center on the St. Edmund campus. As part of this process, we will be consulting with our representative from the Archdiocese of Chicago, our parish staff, the facilities advisory committee and parishioners. 

“Your patience is greatly appreciated. We recognize this has been a slow process but we have had to deal with time constraints and busy schedules on the part of the companies the AOC is currently working with.” 

Regarding Fr. Morello’s role in the combined parishes, Hans said, “Prior to Fr. Morello becoming pastor of both parishes, he took it upon himself to take over without any consideration or communication with the people of St. Edmund’s!”

Concerning the delay on the work on the church, she added, “When I-95 collapsed in Philadelphia recently due to a tanker catching on fire and damaging the highway, it took only 12 days for the highway to be fully repaired and opened. This shows me that the people in charge of this project cared about their residents and took care of this issue immediately!”

In marriage counseling, the two parties involved have separate perspectives on the reality of the situation. 

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Tom's been writing about religion – broadly defined – for years in the Journal. Tom's experience as a retired minister and his curiosity about matters of faith will make for an always insightful exploration...