CHICAGO — Cardinal Blase Cupich is set to announce more parish and school closings Wednesday, as the Archdiocese of Chicago plans further consolidation to address aging infrastructure and priest shortages.
While kids play outside St. Barbara’s in Bridgeport Tuesday evening, the adults in the parish are preoccupied with the issue of survival. The church is one of eight in the Chinatown, Bridgeport and Canaryville neighborhoods that could be closed, according to a list released by the archdiocese.
With not as many people attending as there once was, longtime parishioner Arlene Whitehouse says she fears St. Barbara School and Church will be closed.
"I’m really sad about the situation; they gave us some input, but I think that have already decided what they’re going to do," Whitehouse said.
Possible closures on the list include: All-Saints St. Anthony, St. Barbara, St. Gabriel, St. Jerome Croatia, Santa Lucia-Santa Maria Incoronata, St. Mary of Perpetual Help, Nativity of our Lord and St. Therese Chinese Catholic. St. Barbara, St. Gabriel, St. Jerome, Santa Lucia-Santa Maria and St. Therese all have elementary schools.
In a letter home to parishioners in advance of Wednesday's announcement, the principal and pastor of St. Barbara are asking for patience and understanding.
"Let us meet together, open our hearts and remember we are a diverse parish. We have to work together to make this transition smooth," they wrote.
Whitehouse understands the dwindling enrollment and overall shifting neighborhood demographics, but said she also can’t help but wonder how much of the financial strain in Archdiocese as a whole can be attributed over the years to payouts in the clergy sex abuse scandals.
One scenario has St. Therese merging with All Saints and St. Barbara, which could close.Another potential merger involves St. Gabriel and Nativity of our Lord. Nativity of Our Lord is the longtime church home of the Daley family that has birthed two mayors, with a second brother now seeking the office.
The restructuring is a concerted effort by the Archdiocese to not only save money, but also revitalize the church. With changes slated to begin with the next academic year, Cardinal Blaise Cupich told an audience at the City Club of Chicago earlier Sunday that closings are inevitable.
"It’s also the case with the public schools. We suffer from demographic changes. Populations erode in neighborhoods that we once there where the school was vibrant before and so we have to make some hard choices," Cupich said. "We have to be real about it."
The official announcement will happen Wednesday night at 7 p.m. at St. Barbara in Bridgeport.