Church celebrates legacy of diversity as it faces merger

CHICAGO — Holy Family Parish's connections to the black community span more than 100 years, but it may have held its last Black History Month celebration ever Sunday, as it's slated to merge with Notre Dame Church later this year.

The city’s second oldest Catholic church has been a staple of faith for generations, but last month Cardinal Blase Cupich announced that the Near West Side church would stop its weekly masses and merge with nearby Notre Dame by July 1.

Longtime parishioner Jerrilyn Young grew up in the church. She said she doesn't think Cardinal Cupich is being fair to the parishioners. Her answer goes back decades to when St. Joseph Mission, a church started for black congregants on the West Side, closed in the early 1960s.

"When St. Joseph closed they told us we had a choice to go to Notre Dame or come to Holy Family. Notre Dame didn’t want people of color there back then," Young said. "We chose to come here."

That experience decades ago is part of why many in this multi-cultural, multi-racial congregation don’t like the archdiocese's plan. The church building itself is property of the jesuits, and is leased to the archdiocese for a dollar a year.

"It’s not an issue of money, we have a balanced budget, we have very large bank account… it’s an issue of priests being available to serve all the parishes in Chicagoland," Young said. "They don’t want to, the archdiocese doesn’t want to allocate an extra priest to this Jesuit-owned church."

For the faithful, it’s a delicate matter. One they hope will turn in their favor.

"Here, at this place, we have a holy spirit that’s all ethnicities," Odell Gordon said.

Throughout its long history, the church has fought to keep its doors open. Now in the present, they're calling on their faith for guidance.

"God will find a way though. I have a feeling that we’re going to hang in there just like before," parishioner Janice Williams said.

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