The Chicago Roman Catholic Archdiocese has given the city some of its greatest sacred landmarks: St. Mary of the Angels and St. Hedwig in Bucktown, Holy Name and Old St. Pat's downtown. Many neighborhoods in Chicago, particularly on the South Side, are known more by their local parish than their official name. But a new report from the weekend should have preservationists worried — the archdiocese is forecasting a perfect storm of a declining number of priests and a large bill for deferred maintenance. The solution could be to close up to 100 churches in the next 14 years.
Preservationists have been in a seemingly constant conflict with the Archdiocese in recent years, waging pitched battles that have ended with dubious results. In the loss column, St. Laurence in Greater Grand Crossing was demolished in 2013 along with St. James on Wabash in Bronzeville. And with an estimated 251 priests available in 2030 to staff 351 parishes, the new Cardinal Blase Cupich faces some tough choices.
"Demographics have shifted dramatically," Cupich wrote in the archdiocesan newspaper last week. "Some of our parish buildings are in disrepair. We have fewer priests to pastor our faith communities. The result is that we end up spreading our resources too thinly ... I would be less than honest if I did not acknowledge that by the time this consultative process is complete, we will mourn together the loss of some parishes."
Preservationists have fought the archdiocese to a standstill on St. Boniface in West Town, but its future is far from certain. The Shrine of Christ the King/St. Gelasius, one of a few designated Chicago Landmark Catholic churches, was recently damaged by fire and the archdiocese has sought permission to demolish it on safety grounds. Preservation Chicago announced yesterday that they'd received $450,000 in pledges to stabilize the structure but its future also remains uncertain. The future of St. Adalbert is Pilsen, a landmark for the Polish community, is also in question as the congregation and archdiocese eyes major repairs to the two towers flanking its front facade. Pilsen is home to six parishes that are currently working on recommendations that could include consolidation and serve as a blueprint for other neighborhoods.
Spokespeople for the archdiocese told the Tribune that it's unlikely 100 churches will close. That would only be the case if they applied a "one priest, one parish" formula which would likely be too generic with some parishes sharing a priest.
No matter what, the next decade or so is likely to witness some radical restructuring of the Chicago Archdiocese and more than a handful of vacant churches for the archdiocese.
— Andrew Schneider