The crucifix from St. Bernadette Church was put up outside on an Evergreen Park Fire Department truck before a procession to take it to St. Gianna Parish on Sunday. (Photos by Joe Boyle)

The crucifix from St. Bernadette Church was put up outside on an Evergreen Park Fire Department truck before a procession to take it to St. Gianna Parish on Sunday. (Photos by Joe Boyle)

Large gathering attends final St. Bernadette Mass

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Ushers and parishioners assist in taking out the statue of Jesus that appeared on the cross above the altar at St. Bernadette Church. The statue was placed on the cross on an Evergreen Park Fire Department truck that led the procession to St. Gianna Parish. 

Emotional parishioners say their final goodbyes

By Joe Boyle

They arrived from the nearby neighborhood and from communities far away to attend Mass for the final time Sunday morning at St. Bernadette Church in Evergreen Park.

The closing of St. Bernadette Church, 9343 S. Francisco Ave., was announced in January of 2022 as part of the Renew My Church directive by the Chicago Catholic Archdiocese to consolidate churches that had seen dwindling participation.

However, the Rev. Benedykt Pazdan, who has served as pastor of St. Bernadette Parish since 2012, was able to convince Cardinal Blase Cupich to allow parishioners time to grasp the situation and provide a fitting final goodbye to St. Bernadette over a two-year span.

Many of the parishioners were thankful that Pazdan allowed for time to heal as they come to terms with the closing of the church.

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The Rev. Benedykt Pazdan (right) observes members of the Evergreen Park Fire Department taking down the crucifix that was on the altar at St. Bernadette Church. The crucifix was taken down at the conclusion of the final Mass at St. Bernadette Sunday and taken to St. Gianna Parish. 

“We thank Father Ben for all he has done and allowed us time to say goodbye,” said one parishioner who preferred to remain anonymous.

St. Bernadette and Queen of Martyrs merged on July 1, 2022, and are now referred to as St. Gianna Parish. St. Bernadette Church was founded in 1947 on land previously owned at the time by Little Company of Mary Hospital.

The church was built in the next decade after numerous fundraisers. The first new St. Bernadette Mass was celebrated on Feb. 5, 1958, at its present location.

OSF Little Company of Mary Medical Center has purchased the St. Bernadette Church and rectory property. Hospital officials have yet to indicate what they are going to do with the land.

“We come here today with tremendous sadness,” Pazdan said at the beginning of Mass. He was joined by priests from throughout the southwest suburbs and even from Ireland.

“We have followed the Lord through this church,” Pazdan added. “So, we are experiencing sadness. But we realize that our faith is more than a building. But we know there are many memories here. But this is also a day we focus on our faith and we are the living body of Christ.”

During the relegation ceremony, Pazdan blessed various spaces in the church where sacraments have been celebrated. Several speakers who were longtime parishioners said that generations have passed through this church and St. Bernadette School, which closed in 2014.

Several parishioners also brought up to the altar mementos from the school and church, including sports trophies, a volleyball, school T-shirts, and bingo cards.

While the archdiocese decided to close St. Bernadette due to falling attendance at church services, that was not the case on Sunday. The pews were filled and parishioners stood in the back and throughout the church.

Many were attentive as Pazdan blessed certain spaces of the church. And more became emotional as Pazdan looked on as remnants of the altar were carefully packed and taken out by the Evergreen Park Fire Department for a procession that would lead to Queen of Martyrs Church of St. Gianna Parish, 10233 S. Central Park, Evergreen Park.

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A variety of mementos from St. Bernadette Church and School were taken up to the altar during the final Mass at the church on Sunday.

Tears were shed as the crucifix was taken down, along with the statue of Jesus, and slowly placed on a fire department truck for the car procession to St. Gianna.

Some of the officials who attended the final Mass were former Evergreen Park Mayor Jim Sexton, Village Clerk Kelly Duffy, and Trustee James McQuillan.

Pazdan said after the Mass that the main cross, statue of Jesus, tabernacle, and Stations of the Cross from St. Bernadette will be placed in a new location at St. Gianna Parish.

“We don’t forget about our heritage but we welcome the future,” Pazdan said.

One parishioner who spoke at the service pointed out while their faith is more than a building, many memories are linked to St. Bernadette. Students who attended St. Bernadette School later became lawyers, firefighters, police officers, and public servants, she said.

“With this closing of the church, we have so many wonderful memories. Thank you, Father Benedykt,” she said.

Another parishioner noted that after moving into St. Bernadette Parish, they were told, “welcome to Mayberry.” The parishioner soon realized what they meant, that St. Bernadette was a like a close-knit family.

Betty O’Connell said that St. Bernadette Parish was special.

“I experienced God’s love through so many of these people,” O’Connell said.

She recalled when her 48-year-old daughter died that many parishioners were so kind during her time of grief.

“I was touched by so many parishioners who would call me or would come over to visit,” recalled O’Connell. “This has been like my home for over 30 years. My heart is filled with gratitude to St. Bernadette Parish.”

A long procession of vehicles slowly followed the fire department truck and firefighters in the procession to St. Gianna Parish.

As of Monday, all Masses, liturgies and funerals will now take place at Queen of Martyrs Church of St. Gianna Parish exclusively. The church and rectory at St. Bernadette are now permanently closed.

“It is a day of sadness but it is a new day,” Pazdan said. “We take these memories from St. Bernadette to St. Gianna Parish. We are like family.”

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The pews were all filled and many others were standing for the final Mass held Sunday at St. Bernadette Church in Evergreen Park. 

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