Based on the questions and comments I heard after Mass last Sunday, quite a number of you had taken the time to read the stories in the weekend Tribune and Sun Times concerning the “radical overhaul” slated for the Archdiocese of Chicago, that could result in as many as 100 of the 351 parishes closing within the next fifteen years. The big question was “Could Assumption be closed?” The answer is, “Yes, it could be closed. No, that is not likely.”
When I became pastor of Assumption, I thought of this as a small parish. And compared to many suburban parishes, it is very small. However, when I took a careful look at the self-reported attendance figures for all the parishes in the Archdiocese (the October counts), I realized that with about 700 Sunday churchgoers we were actually a medium sized parish. An astounding number of churches were reporting fewer than 400 people coming to Mass on an average Sunday. While much of the news coveragehas centered on the expected decline in the number of priests available to serve as pastors, there really would be ways of keeping all the churches open if they were all considered essential (e.g., lay administrators, two priests serving four parishes, etc.). The real problems are the expense of keeping all these parishes operating (about a fourth of them receive a subsidy from the Archdiocese), the enormous amount of deferred maintenance on many parish buildings that eventually will have to be addressed, and the lack of people in the congregation to carry out the mission of the church.
Assumption is one of only a handful of parishes in the Archdiocese for which the property on which the church sits is actually owned not by the Archdiocese but by the Religious Order that staffs it (the Friar Servants of Mary). While the decision by the Order to sell the parking lot was not greeted with a lot of enthusiasm by membership, the positive side of this is that the Servites have chosen to invest in renovating and expanding the parish rectory/office—which is a clear signal that Assumption will continue to be staffed and maintained. We also have an active and slowly growing congregation. So, Assumption is not likely to disappear any time soon. Closing Assumption would not help the Archdiocese financially and would simply add to some other priest’s workload. It should be pointed out, however, that were it not for the continuing presence of the Servites here, Assumption might well have been closed by the Archdiocese decades ago when this church had no resident parishioners whatsoever.
So, while Assumption Church is unlikely to close in the near future, we will certainly be impacted by this process of reorganization. As reported in the newspaper, Archbishop Cupich and Archdiocesan officials have held three day-long sessions with Archdiocesan priests and Religious Order pastors and one session with lay pastoral staff and lay parish leaders in order to refine the process of reorganization. Archbishop Cupich has emphasized that the real objective is not downsizing but enabling the Church to carry out its mission more effectively. For that to happen, all the parishes will have to be involved in the process in some way. The next step in the plan is for all the parishes to be assigned to regional groupings. Leaders of these churches will then come together to work on a proposal for how the Catholic Church will be present in that area.
As you may know, in the area just north of Assumption, change is already well underway. The old St. Dominic Church on Locust near Orleans (closed twenty years ago) has now been demolished and a condominium building is rising in its place. St Joseph (at Orleans and Hill) and Immaculate Conception (North Park) have had a single pastor for a number of years. Now the two parishes are being merged into one, with both worship sites being retained. Assumption could eventually become part of some sort of consolidation, but it is also possible that a group of parishes would remain separate but share certain programs. For example, last year we explored the possibility of starting a religious education program for children. The response was minimal. But that might be the kind of thing that could be effectively handled on a regional basis (Children could attend instruction at one location, but return to their parishes for sacraments, etc.). I promise to keep you posted.