BRIDGEPORT — Change is coming for the Bridgeport area’s eight Catholic parishes after the Archdiocese of Chicago announced a series of mergers intended to preserve the church’s vitality in one of its oldest enclaves.
In an effort to consolidate resources and position churches for future success, the archdiocese announced Wednesday night that six Bridgeport-area Catholic schools will become three. Four churches will be merged to two parishes and the fates of four area churches remain up in the air.
St. Gabriel’s school in Canaryville will merge with Bridgeport Catholic Academy, the school that shares a site with Nativity Of Our Lord church. St. Barbara school will merge with St. Therese Chinese School, and Santa Lucia school will merge with St. Jerome school.
As for churches, St. Gabriel’s will merge with Nativity of Our Lord and Santa Lucia will merge with St. Jerome.
The fates of St. Mary of Perpetual Help, All Saints-St. Anthony, St. Barbara and St. Therese churches will be determined by mid January, according to the archdiocese.
Though the schools and churches will merge, most campuses and churches will remain open. The only facility that will be shuttered is Santa Lucia.
In the other cases, merged churches will likely share one pastor, who will hold masses and lead church and service groups at both churches involved in the merger, archdiocese officials said.
Similarly, the merged schools will share one principal and administrative team while still operating multiple campuses.
For example, St. Barbara’s school will effectively merge with St. Therese Chinese School in Chinatown. St. Therese will operate a campus at St. Barbara’s, and St. Therese’s principal will stay in her role, while St. Barb’s principal will come on as an administrator.
St. Therese is the only school in the cluster with growing enrollment and an active waiting list. For one St. Barbara’s family, the news that their school would be taken over by St. Therese was a welcome change.
“I feel good because that’s a blue ribbon school,” said Luz Perez Kwiatkowski, who has three kids enrolled at St. Barb’s and two at Mount Carmel High School. “It’s a win.”
But she said she is less enthused with the status of St. Barbara’s church, whose fate will be decided by the archdiocese in January.
“As a parishioner, it stings,” Perez Kwiatkowski said. “We still have to fight for our church.
The merger decisions were announced to a packed house at St. Barbara. The decisions come a year after the archdiocese announced the plans to look at mergers for the Bridgeport-cluster of parishes, and congregations have spent the year meeting and rallying to save their parishes.
Demographic changes, as well as morphing views on religion and a shortage of available priests has caused the archdiocese to consider merging and closing some parishes, an effort called “Renew My Church.” The Bridgeport cluster of parishes is the largest cluster being considered under the “Renew My Church,” and it’s also one of the oldest Catholic enclaves in the city, with the churches still factoring heavily into the identity of many ethnic communities.
Ivanka Paraga and her daughter, Ozana Paraga, went to the meeting to learn the fate of their beloved St. Jerome. Ivanka grew up in Bridgeport but has since moved to Oak Lawn, though like many Croatian-Americans, she ventures back to the old neighborhood to go to the historic church.
“Over half the parishioners don’t live here,” she said of St. Jerome’s. “That shows how much support there is.”
St. Jerome’s is one of the parishes that will remain open, as it will absorb Santa Lucia church, which is closing, and Santa Lucia school, which only has 42 students enrolled.
The news was warmly received by the Paragas.
“We’re happy about that,” Ozana said. “We look forward to merging with the school and church to make an even better parish.”
But some were not happy about the mergers, a fact that is not lost on the Rev. Jason Malave, Cardinal Blase Cupich’s liaison for the Renew My Church initiative that is considering how to position the Archdiocese moving forward.
He said he hopes that area Catholics understand that the moves are being made to make sure the church is well positioned for the future.
“It’s a very sad moment” for some, he said. “People have been a part of these churches for a long time. The invitation is to dig very deep into the core of the faith.”