Evanston Catholic parishes to be consolidated in July

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St. Mary’s Catholic Church, located at 1012 Lake Street, will merge with St. Nicholas Church into a single parish with two places of worship in July. (Photo by Nancy McLaughlin)

Evanston’s four Catholic parishes will merge into two this summer, but the structure of Northwestern University’s Sheil Catholic Center will remain unchanged, according to an announcement Saturday morning by Bishop Mark Bartosic, representative of Cardinal Blase Cupich.

Bartosic spoke in an online presentation that also included remarks from the Reverend Jason Malave, the cardinal’s liaison, as well as local pastors. About 350 community members tuned in to learn about the plight of religious institutions that are being restructured as part of the Archdiocese of Chicago’s ongoing Renew My Church initiative.

Bartosic indicated that on July 1, Saint Athanasius and Saint Joan of Arc will unite into a single parish with two places of worship and a parish priest. Reverend Kenneth Anderson, current pastor of Saint Joan of Arc, will serve as the parish priest of the mixed parish. Reverend Hernan Cuevas, current pastor of St. Athanase, will work with Anderson on the transition before his reassignment.

“I’m very excited to pick up where Fr. Hernan left off,” Andersen said. “One hundred years of celebration for the inhabitants of Saint Athanase and 70 years for Saint Jeanne. So now we’re coming together, and I’m really looking forward to working with both communities.

Both churches will continue to host a regular program of Masses.

Sainte-Marie and Saint-Nicolas will also unite into a single parish with two places of worship in July. Each church will continue to host regular masses, but the pastor for the new parish has not yet been named. Reverend Kevin McCray, current pastor of St. Mary’s, whose new assignment has not been announced, expressed optimism about the future. “One thing that Evanston has always been is a great little town,” McCray said. “We worked so well together collaboratively.”

After the announcement, Bartosic shared some thoughts on the transition process for parishes in Evanston. “We know that change is not easy. We started Renew My Church six years ago and if we think it’s going to end, we don’t know the history of our church. The church has been renewing itself since the apostles met in Jerusalem nearly 2,000 years ago. We are a family of families, and families reinvent themselves all the time.

The two new parishes will be renamed based on suggestions from the community, according to Bartosic, but the four separate churches will retain their original names. No changes to the operation of parochial schools or St. Joan’s Academy, which is governed by an independent board, are planned.

The decision to keep all four churches open will likely be welcomed by many parishioners, but several online participants questioned the economics of that choice.

“That’s a really good question,” Malave said. “This is something that united parishes will have to look into. There will certainly be economies of scale with the staff. It’s really about asking pastors to step in and serve larger communities of people with a staff that serves both places.

He stressed that evangelism will be an essential element if mixed parishes are to thrive. “Friends,” he said, “(evangelism) must really accompany unification.”

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