A series of public forums are under way to discuss how to move forward with a plan to create a social services hub uniting Oak Park and the West Side.

The Archdiocese of Chicago began its Renew My Church initiative almost six years ago, eventually combining Oak Park’s four Catholic parishes into two. Ascension joined with St. Edmund’s and St. Giles was united with St. Catherine-St. Lucy. According to Father Carl Morello, pastor of the Oak Park Parishes, an expressed outcome of the process was “to use St. Catherine-St. Lucy campus as a base for powerful ministry outreach to the West Side of Chicago.”

As part of this outreach, Morello launched a feasibility study to determine if the St. Catherine- St. Lucy rectory could be repurposed into a social service center to address critical, unmet needs of underserved families in the Austin neighborhood. Recently, the second floor of the rectory has been used by Housing Forward as a nightly shelter, but the feasibility study looked at longer term uses of the space.

Led by volunteers from both of Oak Park’s Catholic parishes, St. Giles/St. Catherine-St. Lucy and Ascension/St. Edmund’s, a feasibility team was divided into three committees: community-based needs, assessment, and business plan development; facility needs, assessment of the rectory and convent; and fundraising, designed to generate the resources to launch and sustain the new project.

Dan Doody and Jack Crowe co-chaired the feasibility study and the community outreach committee as well. As the part of the feasibility study, the team started with St. Catherine-St. Lucy’s school, which enrolls 200 students, 85% of whom are from Austin and 100% of whom are eligible for the federal foods program.

Doody emphasizes that as the feasibility study committee talked with school families and then enlarged its scope to talk to other Austin families and existing not-for-profits serving the community, the underlying principle was that the group had a lot to learn.

They set out to learn what services are currently being provided and what gaps exist in services. The group was determined to build services from the bottom up, through learning from grassroots work what the members of the Austin community said they needed and responding appropriately to those needs.

As the group formed an idea of what kind of community social services hub could be helpful in the area, they presented the feasibility study to Bishop Birmingham. The next step of their work is to explain the social services center to the community and gauge community support for the center.

The dates for the public forums are:

Sunday, Sept 10, 11:30 a.m. – St. Giles School Gym after Family Mass
Sunday, Sept 17, 11:30 a.m. – St. Giles McDonough Hall
Sunday, Sept 24, 12 noon – Ascension Pine Room
Sunday, October 15, 12 noon – St. Edmund Murphy Hall
Tuesday October 24, 7 p.m. – St. Luke’s School Waldron Room
Thursday, November 2, 7 p.m. – St. Bernardine Cafeteria
Sunday, November 12, 11:30 a.m. – Oak Park Temple

Please register for the meetings convenient for you to attend by signing up online. Pre-registration will enable the group to prepare each venue for the number of people expected to attend. The group anticipates additional attendees due to last-minute scheduling changes, so please come even if you were unable to register.  Questions? Please contact me at dan@doody.com.

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