Christ on the Cross and a tabernacle adorned with a “Lamb Triumphant” design are two centerpieces of the sanctuary at St. Joseph Church. The current church at 7240 W. 57th St., Summit, was built in 1969. It featured a modern, inclusive design that reflected the post-Vatican II openness. That itself was a source of controversy among many in the parish, since it replaced a church building with a considerably more traditional cathedral-style design. --Supplied photo

Christ on the Cross and a tabernacle adorned with a “Lamb Triumphant” design are two centerpieces of the sanctuary at St. Joseph Church. The current church at 7240 W. 57th St., Summit, was built in 1969. It featured a modern, inclusive design that reflected the post-Vatican II openness. That itself was a source of controversy among many in the parish, since it replaced a church building with a considerably more traditional cathedral-style design. --Supplied photo

St. Joe’s closing for good

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Once was the largest Catholic parish in the area

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By Tim Hadac

More than a century of service to Roman Catholics in the westernmost section of Garfield Ridge, as well as suburban Summit, comes to an end this month as the lights go out for good at St. Joseph Church, 7240 W. 57th St.

The final Mass is set for 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 26. It will be in a bilingual (English-Spanish) format.

While news of the coming shutdown was cause for sadness among many parishioners, it was not much of a surprise. St. Joseph School was shut down by Cardinal Blase Cupich in 2021. At the same time, the parish was ordered to merge with St. Blase, its neighbor to the south, 6101 S. 75th Ave., Summit.

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Christ on the Cross and a tabernacle adorned with a “Lamb Triumphant” design are two centerpieces of the sanctuary at St. Joseph Church. The current church at 7240 W. 57th St., Summit, was built in 1969. It featured a modern, inclusive design that reflected the post-Vatican II openness. That itself was a source of controversy among many in the parish, since it replaced a church building with a considerably more traditional cathedral-style design. –Supplied photo

What is a bit of a surprise is the timeline. When changes were announced in 2021, the Cardinal said the fate of St. Joseph Church would not be decided until after a comprehensive review in 2024.

The changes came via Renew My Church, an Archdiocesan effort its supporters view as a “right-sizing” of church facilities with an eye on evangelization and long-term growth—but which its critics sometimes view as nothing more than a financial downsizing camouflaged with happy talk.

“We knew all this would happen,” said one parishioner who asked that his name be withheld. “We saw the numbers start to fall at the school and the church years ago, when the child molestation scandals were uncovered across the Archdiocese.

“Then when it reached the financial breaking point, we saw our school closed and the merger happened,” he continued. “The Archdiocese told us that in a merger of parishes, there are no winners or losers, and that both churches would remain open. But when it was announced that all sacramental records would be kept at St. Blase and not at St. Joe’s, we knew we’d lost and St. Blase had won. So that’s that, I guess.”

In an unsigned statement in its Nov. 19 bulletin (presumably penned by the pastor, the Rev. Wojciech G. Kwiecień), the writer acknowledges that the merger has been a “difficult transitionary period.”

“Starting Nov. 27, the St. Joseph Church and School spaces will go into a ‘closed campus project’–which means that the space will be directly under the Archdiocese of Chicago supervision,” the writer continued. “This transition will unfortunately greatly affect us, since we will no longer be able to utilize any of the spaces–parish halls and rooms–for any sort of events, church activities or group meetings.

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In recent years, Marian devotions played a greater role at St. Joseph Parish, fueled mostly by the influx of Catholics of Mexican descent. The piety around the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe was the most obvious example. –Supplied photo

“We will do our very best to try and accommodate everyone at St. Blase Church and provide availability of spaces. That includes moving the 9 a.m. English Mass and 1:30 p.m. Spanish Mass to St. Blase Church starting Dec. 3.”

The statement did not say what will become of the convent next to the church and school—as well as the historic grotto on the property’s northeast corner, a focal point of Marian reverence.

After the final Mass on Nov. 26, there will be a social gathering in Centennial Hall, 5641 S. 73rd Ave. Parishioners are asked to bring something to share (desserts, drinks, disposable plates and cups). The hall is not accessible to wheelchair users.

Once mighty, now feeble

Founded in 1902 as a mission of St. Mary Parish in west suburban Riverside, St. Joseph for many years was the largest Catholic parish south of the Sanitary and Ship Canal and west of Cicero Avenue. It was sufficiently large and successful to spawn missions that in time became their own parishes, such as St. Blase and St. Camillus.

While Mass attendance at Catholic churches has dwindled greatly in recent years, the decline at St. Joseph has been stunning. In 2009 the average number of people attending weekend services (five Masses) was 1,634. By 2023 that number was down to 335 at two Masses, with a similar decline in the collection baskets.

What will become of the rectangular property (one block north to south, a half block east to west) remains to be seen. Talk in the neighborhood is that there may be homes built on the parcel. A request for clarification from the Archdiocese resulted in this response from an Archdiocesan spokeswoman: “The parish campus remains the patrimony of the recently unified Blessed Martyrs of Chimbote Parish.
The parish has not yet finalized its future plans for the property.  The convent is not owned by the Archdiocese.”

St. Joe’s, as its faithful have long called it, is not the first Catholic church serving Garfield Ridge to be shut down. St. Camillus was ordered shut down by Cupich in 2020, also as a result of the Renew My Church process. According to a speaker at the November meeting of the Midway Chamber of Commerce, the church and school at 55th and Lockwood will be bulldozed in 2024 to make way for a self-storage facility.

4 Comments

  1. Kathy Simack on November 22, 2023 at 11:01 pm

    This truly is a shame. I belonged to St Joseph until I moved and graduated in 1972. The problem is.nuns and priest don’t teach anymore and tuition has sky rocketed. This is the reason for so many Catholic schools and Churches for closing. Just shameful



  2. Robert Lewandowski class of 1966 on November 23, 2023 at 9:47 am

    What a sad day this is to read that the church I grew up in and worshipped since 1952 is closing. Don’t understand the problem . Maybe it starts at the top of the diocese !



  3. Marianne Devo Green on November 24, 2023 at 9:22 pm

    I grew up in the old church, was married in the new church and volunteered many years in the Spred program. Closing the schools will not encourage children to learn their faith. Closing the churches does little to recruit new disciples. Little is being done to recruit young people to the Catholic faith. As the old church supporters such as myself die out, so will this wonderful Archdiocese. Maybe if we all pray hard someday St. Joe’s can reopen!



  4. Mary K Cronin on November 26, 2023 at 7:04 am

    My siblings and I all went to St. Joe’s, graduating between 1964 and 1970. My mom even went to St. Joe’s (from Willow Springs!) from 1926 to 1933. A lot of memories. Very sad.



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