Massive overhaul slated for Chicago archdiocese

by Tom Gallagher

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A story in today's Chicago Tribune (subscription needed) has as its lede, "A radical overhaul in the nation's third-largest Roman Catholic archdiocese could shutter many of the Chicago church's houses of worship by 2030 as it reckons with dilapidated buildings and an expected shortage of priests, sources say."

The Tribune story went on to say:

Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich told priests and advisers in meetings in recent weeks that the shortage -- an estimated 240 priests available in 2030 for Chicago's 351 parishes -- could necessitate closings and consolidations, according to the sources.

Based primarily on those projections and on future capital needs, the priests who attended the meetings say a large number of churches could close over the next 14 years. Several of those priests who attended the sessions with the archbishop shared details about the reorganization process with the Tribune, some requesting anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the discussion and because they didn't have permission to speak on behalf of the archdiocese.

Officials at the archdiocese, contacted Thursday, said they could not answer any of the Tribune's questions.

Under Cupich's predecessor, Cardinal Francis George, the archdiocese did not address in any meaningful manner the urgent needs of consolidation. It's been left for Cupich.

In his archdiocesan newspaper column titled "'Renew My Church': Dreaming Big about the Archdiocese of Chicago," Cupich outlines what a successful parish looks like. It possesses at least these seven characteristics: 

  1. We bring people to Christ: The parish strives to evangelize its members to live more fully as intentional disciples. In turn, the parish's intentional disciples are continuously evangelizing others by making known the presence of the Church and Christ's mercy in the midst of the community.
  2. We support each other in knowing Christ more deeply: The parish enables a lifelong process of formation for deepening one's faith and relationship with Christ by passing on the church's teaching and Tradition to parishioners of all ages.
  3. We encounter Christ and receive nourishment through prayer and worship: The parish is intentional in developing a culture and tradition of prayer, devotion, and well-prepared liturgy, with the Eucharist as the "Source and the Summit."
  4. We build bonds among each other to sustain our life in Christ: The parish represents a genuine Catholic community that is conscious of its solidarity in Christ with the entire church of Chicago and the Universal Church. It is inclusive and harmonious, respecting and appreciating diversity in all its forms as an asset in worship and community life.
  5. We transform the lives of others through service as Christ's missionary disciples: The parish prepares and sends parishioners as missionary disciples into the world to transform society with the joy and truth of the Gospel. The parish is a beacon of faith and an advocate for justice and peace, reaching out in love to all who are in need, on the margin of society, or who live in fear and loneliness.
  6. We respond to the call to holiness by journeying together with Christ: The parish accompanies the baptized on life's journey to become more Christcentered, resistant to sin, merciful, continually attentive to building a mature, well-integrated adult spirituality, and committed to charity, peace, prayer, and virtue.
  7. We take responsibility for administration and leadership of the parish as good stewards of the gifts Christ has entrusted to us: The parish thrives under the visionary leadership of the pastor, who works in collaboration with his associates, staff, and the laity to ensure that the parish's mission can fully flourish as a result of proper administration. The parish fosters a culture of stewardship and a spirituality of gratitude that inspires parishioners to generously share the gifts Christ has entrusted to them in support of the mission of the church through the parish, the archdiocese and in the world. 

Cupich goes on to invite all Chicagoans to join in a multi-year planning process.

Cupich writes:

This is the dream I have for all our parishes, and why I am inviting everyone in the Archdiocese of Chicago to join me in a multi-year planning process to make it a reality. Just as our ancestors responded in faith to their dreams and built the church we have today, it is our time to dream big and to take up this work. It will take a steady faith -- a faith that is imaginative, that strengthens us in the knowledge that Christ is leading us. This faith will keep us together. It will steel us to make the bold decisions that will shape the Church for generations to come.

Cupich, in following the example and words of Pope Francis, concludes his column with these words:

"I hope that all communities will devote the necessary effort to advancing along the path of a pastoral and missionary conversion which cannot leave things as they presently are," Pope Francis wrote in "The Joy of the Gospel." "'Mere administration' can no longer be enough. Throughout the world, let us be 'permanently in a state of mission.'"

Now that is what it's like to dream big.

[Tom Gallagher is a regular contributor to NCR and lead writer for the newspaper's Mission Management column.]

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