UPTOWN — Two Catholic parishes in Uptown will merge this summer, calling into question the fate of Our Lady of Lourdes church and its cherished grotto.
The Archdiocese of Chicago announced its latest round of church consolidations last week, saying Our Lady of Lourdes will be merged into St. Mary of the Lake in Buena Park.
St. Mary of the Lake, 4220 N. Sheridan Road, will serve as the main campus for the combined parish, now named St. Mary of the Lake and Our Lady of Lourdes Parish.
The archdiocese will list Our Lady of Lourdes’ vacant school building for sale. The future of the Lourdes church will be reviewed on an annual basis with a focus on “supporting the pastoral presence and importance of the Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto, while also balancing what is financially sustainable,” the archdiocese said in a statement.
The merger is effective July 1, but both parishes will continue hosting mass beyond that date, said Mike Shanahan, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes, 4640 N. Ashland Ave.
“The intention is to unite these resources that we have in order to do a better job of being present in the community,” Shanahan said.
The Uptown church merger is just the latest in the archdiocese’s Renew My Church effort, which seeks to consolidate parishes to address declining church resources. In some consolidations, churches have been closed or sold off, though in others the fate of merged churches was left in flux.
That is the case with Our Lady of Lourdes, a 127-year-old Uptown church that is home to a replica of a famous French grotto and one of the area’s only perpetual adoration chapels.
The chapel within the church is designed to resemble the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes in France, which is a cavernous holy site for Catholics. In 1992, the Uptown church’s grotto was made a perpetual adoration site, meaning it is open 24/7 as a place of worship.
Catholics from across the area come to visit the grotto at all hours of the day, Shanahan said. It is currently closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s a very, very special thing to the community, and it is to me, too,” Shanahan said. “We have lots of people that come. We’d love for it to still be available.”
The combined parish will be led by Manuel Dorantes, who is the pastor of St. Mary of the Lake. It is unclear what Shanahan’s next assignment will be, he said. His current term as Our Lady of Lourdes’ pastor is technically up, he said.
As part of the archdiocese’s consolidation efforts, Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Mary of the Lake were clustered with Lakeview’s St. Andrew and North Center’s St. Benedict. Those parishes will remain separate because they have two “large school communities,” but their future will be assessed on an annual basis, according to the archdiocese.
Of the four churches in the cluster, only Our Lady of Lourdes is without an affiliated grammar school. Lourdes’ school, which is on the opposite side of Ashland from the church, closed in 2004.
Merging Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Mary of the Lake will strengthen the two churches’ Hispanic ministry, the archdiocese said in its announcement. Proceeds from the sale of the Lourdes school building will go to boosting the merged parish’s finances.
Our Lady of Lourdes held its first mass in October 1892 on the southwest corner of Ashland and Leland avenues. A larger church was built in 1916 on the east side of Ashland, but it was manually lifted and moved back to its original site in 1929, when the city decided to widen Ashland.
The church should remain a community asset beyond the merger because of its history and the popularity of its grotto, Shanahan said.
“We’re trying to keep the church,” he said. “That’s a big deal.”
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