THREATENED: Petition Drive to Oppose Holy Family Catholic Church Consolidation

Parishioners Sign Petition at Holy Family Catholic Church, 1080 W. Roosevelt Road, Dillenburg & Zucher, 1857. Photo Credit: Holy Family Church

On January 23, 2019, the Chicago Archdiocese announced the decision to consolidate Holy Family Catholic Church on July 1, 2019. The well-attended Sunday morning mass would be ended, and the parish would be merged with Notre Dame de Chicago Church.

“They want to renew the church? Well, this 9:45 mass has more vitality than all the other masses and this is the one they’re getting rid of?” said life-long parishioner Tony Palos. (Lowe, WGN, 1/27/19)

The decision to consolidate the church both shocked and deeply upset parishioners who are now mounting a campaign to save their church. At Sunday mass, hundreds of parishioners signed a petition to Cardinal Blase Cupich. The petition is posted on the Holy Family Church website, and all who support the effort are welcome to sign.

Preservation Chicago Executive Director Ward Miller is also a parishioner. He told WGN that the building has been preserved, but the spirit inside must also be saved. “It’s a remarkable building as we all know – the second oldest in the city. These buildings belong to all of us collectively; they were built by the faithful and given to the Archdiocese to maintain, staff and shepherd.” (Lowe, WGN, 1/27/19)
Ironically, Holy Family Church and the adjacent St. Ignatius College Prep are both owned by the Jesuit Provincial (the Society of Jesus) and the church is leased to the Archdiocese of Chicago. Nearly all of the costs of operation are assumed by the Jesuit community and others. The Archdiocese of Chicago is only responsible for costs associated with providing a priest and a receptionist and other small incidentals.

Additionally, Holy Family Church operates within budget and has a substantial endowment. The church was recently restored to its 1890 appearance with all building systems updated, a new slate roof installed, and complete tower, façade and sanctuary restoration. Many parishioners are strongly questioning the decision to consolidate and close such a profitable, successful, and multicultural parish and church.

Designed in 1857 by Dillenburg & Zucher, Holy Family Catholic Church is the second oldest Catholic Church in Chicago and was “built with the nickels and dimes of poor people.” It famously survived the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 which started only a few blocks away. “Patrick and Catherine O’Leary, owners of the world’s most famous cow, were parishioners.” (Holy Family

In 1990, Holy Family Church survived a more recent brush with tragedy and the successful outcome is referred to as the “Miracle on Roosevelt Road.” In 1984, the main sanctuary was closed due to damaged ceiling plaster falling due to unrepaired roof leaks. During Christmas of 1987, parishioners of Holy Family were told that the historic church building would be demolished and replaced with a new, small structure. Parishioners, Father George Lane, S.J., Father Jack Lane, S.J., and Father Robert Wild, S.J. organized an effort to save the church and created the Holy Family Preservation Society. In summer of 1990, the Chicago Archdiocese announced that unless $1 million could be raised by the Holy Family Preservation Society by December 31, 1990, the church would be torn down.

“A prayer vigil was held from December 26 until December 31. The motto and plea was to ‘Say Prayers and Send Money.’ The money came pouring in, but it was obvious that a more dramatic gesture was needed. An open house was held on Sunday, December 30th, the Feast of the Holy Family. The media were told of the open house and from 12 noon until 5 p.m., between 2,000 and 3,000 people came to see the church. Each one had a story – my grandparents were married here, I was baptized here, etc. -and each one had a check or a cash donation. By the midnight deadline, a total of $1,011,000 had been received. The people had saved their big old church through the intercession of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.” (Holy Family

Preservation Chicago is alarmed by the coming tidal wave of Catholic church closing and consolidations. One initial estimate is that approximately 70 Catholic churches will be closed or consolidated over the next 10 years. Tragically, many of the churches initially targeted for closure are the oldest and largest buildings due to their higher operating costs. Not surprisingly, this includes many of Chicago’s most extraordinary churches. Due to a 1987 amendment introduced by then Alderman Burt Natarus requiring owner consent to designate a Chicago Landmark, only a handful of Chicago churches have that designation.

Additional Reading
Holy Family Church Petition

Parishioners petition cardinal to save Sunday services at historic church, Mike Lowe, WGN-TV, 1/27/19

Historic Near West Side parish to close, move into nearby church this summer, Madeline Buckley, Chicago Tribune, 1/24/19

Sunday morning Mass to end at Chicago’s second-oldest Catholic church, Nader, Issa, Chicago Sun-times, 1/23/19


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