PILSEN — Donned in Cubs attire, Jaime Echeverria and his wife Diane left the steamy Cubs game in Wrigleyville Saturday and slogged through traffic to get to St. Ann’s final mass in Pilsen.
The couple, who now lives near Midway, said it was one mass they couldn’t miss.
“It’s sad,” the 48-year-old Jaime Echeveria said. “St. Ann was a big part of my history. I went to St. Ann school from kindergarten to eighth grade…I needed to make one more stop before it closed.”
Diana Echeverria, 54, echoed her husband’s thoughts calling the closing “an end of an era.”
The two were among more than 150 parishioners who came to bid farewell to the church that many in the neighborhood have relied on decades. Current and former parishioners trickled in throughout the service, filling the pews of St. Ann Catholic Church at 1840 S. Leavitt St. one last time.
The final service comes more than two years after the Archdiocese of Chicago first announced plans to merge six Pilsen churches into three.
St. Ann’s opened in Pilsen in 1903. In June 2016, The archdiocese announced plans to merge the church with St. Paul, 2127 W. 22nd Place, about a half a mile away.
The Archdiocese of Chicago cited changing demographics, low Mass attendance and a decline in the number of priests as reasons for the merger.
Last summer, Providences of God at 717 W. 18th St. ended Mass services and was merged with St. Procopius, 1640 S. Allport St. St. Adalbert Catholic Church was set to close due to the high costs of repairing its 185-foot towers in 2016, but Masses continue today at the site.
During St. Ann’s final service, Bishop John Manz discussed the waves of European immigrants who settled in Pilsen in the early 1900s. In that time, the neighborhood became home to 15 Catholic churches as each enclave built their own place of worship. The majority of which have since closed their doors.
Bishop Manz expressed his gratitude to the parishioners, priests and the community “who invested their time in the church.”
He acknowledged the “hurt, anger, and resentment” resulting from the closing, but said their was an opportunity in the merger to “bridge the gap and connect the parishes.”
“This doesn’t have to be the end, this is just a transition,” Manz said.
St. Paul parishioner Angela Adams, 50, expressed sadness over the closing of St. Ann. The lifelong Pilsen resident came to offer support and “to welcome St. Ann parishioners to St. Paul.”
“We want to let St. Ann know that we are all one,” she added.
The service seamlessly alternated between Spanish and English readings, and hymns, as well as a final song in Polish.
Cindy Perales, 50, a lifelong parishioner of the church, was brought to tears during the ceremony.
“It hurts that [St. Ann] is closing. It’s been my whole life,” Perales said, recalling events revolving around the church from baptisms, first communions, confirmations, weddings, funerals, and attending grade school at the church.
“There’s been so many lived experiences. It’s home.”
Blanca Torres, who has been fighting to keep St. Adalbert a sacred site, came to the final St. Ann service to pay homage to the church and offer comfort to St. Ann parishioners.
“I wanted to be here for [St. Ann parishioners],” Torres said.
Torres attended Catholic school at St. Ann for three years and still has fond memories. Even as time has passed, these “connections have remained very strong.”
St. Ann’s school will remain open, according to an Archdiocese spokeswoman.
For Barbara Kwit, the final service was a significant chapter in her life. The lifelong Pilsen resident, who was born and raised nearby said she’s been attending services since “day one” as a baby.
“It’s sad,” Kwit said. “It touches the heart because I was a student, a teacher at St. Ann, and also put in time cleaning around the church.”
“It’s going to be missed,” she said looking down the aisle at the pulpit.