Over the last two months, volunteers from the Oak Park Catholic parishes have been sharing the results of a feasibility study they conducted into how best to use a former rectory that sits on the border of Oak Park and Austin as a base for a social ministry outreach to Austin residents.

More than 350 people attended nine public forums to hear what the group had learned in its investigation into repurposing the underutilized rectory at the St. Catherine-St. Lucy campus as a hub for needed services. The campus, at Washington and Austin boulevards in Oak Park, includes St. Catherine-St. Lucy School, which educates 200 students from PK3 to eighth grade, 85 percent of whom are from Austin and all of whom are eligible for federal food programs. 

“At the forums we heard enthusiastic support of the vision for an outreach to Austin residents, and we added more than a dozen new volunteers who will lend their expertise and skill as the project moves forward,” noted Dan Doody, who co-chairs the feasibility study committee with Jack Crowe.

Members of the committee started by talking with St. Catherine-St. Lucy School families and then spoke to other Austin families and existing nonprofits serving the community to learn what services are currently provided and where the gaps are. 

“The focus is on what the members of the Austin community say they need and responding appropriately to those needs,” Doody said.

Although the effort is led by volunteers from the two Oak Park Catholic parishes, St. Giles/St. Catherine-St. Lucy and Ascension/St. Edmund, other faith communities in Oak Park have expressed interest in this outreach and are hosting several upcoming forums for their congregants.

Encouraged by the initial response of the community, the committee will continue to host public forums throughout Oak Park to share its findings through the end of the year, while launching public forums at schools and church congregations in Austin. 

There is much work ahead, Doody said. “Incorporating as a nonprofit, appointing a board, determining what services will be offered and who will offer them. And fundraising, of course,” he noted.

In the interim, the rectory is not sitting idle. The second floor is being used by Housing Forward as a nightly shelter, and more recently it has been used on Tuesdays and Thursdays by migrants staying at the Austin District police station to shower, use the kitchen to make their own food, and select clothes, blankets and other necessities that have been donated.

To learn more about this initiative, plan on attending one of these upcoming forums:

Wednesday, Nov. 8, 7 p.m. – St. Bernardine Cafeteria, 7246 Harrison, Forest Park

Thursday, Nov. 9, 7 p.m. – St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church, 545 S. East, OP

Sunday, Nov. 12, 11:30 a.m. – Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church, 744 Fair Oaks, OP

Thursday, Nov. 16, 7 p.m. – Pilgrim Congregational Church, 508 Lake, OP

Please register for the meeting you wish to attend by signing up online. This enables the committee to prepare each venue for the number of expected attendees. The group anticipates additional attendees due to last-minute scheduling changes, so please come even if you are unable to register. 

Questions? Please contact Dan Doody at dan@doody.com.

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