It was Christmas day 105 years ago when St Matthias Church on Chicago’s North Side opened its doors to a community of largely German-American Catholics who were making a life for themselves in the city.
Today, the diverse congregation is regretfully counting the days until the Archdiocese of Chicago closes the church’s doors for good.
The church is located at 2310 West Ainslie Street in Lincoln Square and parishioners, who have seen generations of their family married, buried and baptized, are celebrating their last Christmas inside the church that means so much to them.
But they haven’t given up yet. They are suing the Archdiocese and hoping and praying the Vatican in Rome will agree to take their case and save their church.
Gerry Winters is a 3rd generation member of St Matthias. His wife received first communion here. So did his daughter. They have baptized their children and celebrated many weddings together.
“We are the underdogs hear clearly, we’re not the favorites,” he said. “It’s a longshot.”
Winters is president of The Committee to Save St. Matthias Church.
“We want to hear that this church is not going to close,” he said. “It doesn’t deserve to close. It doesn’t have the standard required within canon law for it to close.”
Twice the Archdiocese has denied their appeal to stay open. Yet Winters said there is only one real reason a church can be forced to lock its doors and lose the keys.
“There needs to be grave financial reasons which basically says there’s no money anywhere in the community to support the church going on,” he said.
So they are raising money, one penny at a time, to show their commitment to keeping it open.
The Archdiocese sites a steady rise in retiring priests, a rise in Millennials less religious than generations before them, a decline in marriages and baptisms as reasons to reassess churches as a whole.
They also said weekend mass attendance, specifically at St. Matthias, is down 54% from 20 years ago.
All this is just three years after a major capital campaign project raising $350,000 to refurbish the church.
“For three years later – for them to come in and tear everyone’s heart out and just say. ‘We’re going to close this church,’ – people felt it was fraud,” Winters said. “They felt ripped off by the archdiocese.”
As for The St Matthias School, kindergarten through 8th grade, it is expected to remain openfor now. And events hosted by the school like masses and graduations are supposed to continue there until the school is told otherwise.
“We feel like separating out the school itself is going to make it even harder for it to compete within this neighborhood where there a lot of other Catholic schools,” Winters said.
Current St Matthias parishioners will be asked to join Queen of Angels Church beginning Jan 24, 2021.. That means, if the Vatican refuses to hear the small church’s case, this is the last Christmas to be celebrated here.
There are three masses for the holiday with reserved seating only.
As emotions run high, this churchgoing community is praying for a Christmas miracle this year.
“It started with anger, sadness,” Winters said. “But there’s hope, absolutely definitely hope here. … All we want is for someone to work with us, talk about the future with us.”
WGN News spoke with the Archdiocese of Chicago and officials here have received no notice from Rome yet regarding St. Matthias’ request for review. Parishioners pushing to keep the church open are praying hard the Supreme Tribunal will consider it.
For more information on saving the church or to donate, visit https://www.savestmatthiaschurch.org/donate.