What Happens When Churches in Pilsen Close?

An audio survey of churchgoers shows how the changing neighborhood has affected longtime residents.

City Bureau
Apr 22 · 4 min read

by Malik Alim, Jenny Casas, Juanpablo Ramirez, Irene Romulo

In 2016, the Archdiocese of Chicago decided to reconfigure six Pilsen churches. News was delivered to parishioners that St. Ann would be merging with St. Paul and Providence of God with St. Procopius. It was also announced that St. Adalbert, which needed millions of dollars worth of repairs, would be closing down. The Archdiocese cited demographic changes in the area, decreasing Mass attendance and a lack of priests as reason for these changes.

These churches are only a few blocks away from each other. Still, long-time parishioners are committed to their churches and remain upset that the archdioceses decided to scale back the six churches to three in 2016

Most services at these churches have stopped, but Sunday Mass is still celebrated at St. Adalbert’s where parishioners have staged a legal battle against the Archdiocese to save the church. St. Procopius still holds regular service and also runs a dual-language elementary school as well as a food pantry for people experiencing homelessness. Similarly, St. Pius continues to hold regular services, a school and a variety of social service programs for the community.

We went out to St. Pius, St. Adalbert and St. Procopius to talk to community members about their fondest memories of these churches, their thoughts about the closures and the changing demographics in Pilsen.

See below for a transcription of the audio piece.

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Irene (City Bureau): Cuál es su nombre?
Rafael Viera: Rafael Viera
Dolores Sullivan: Dolores Sullivan

Irene (CB): And your age again?
Dolores Sullivan: 79

Juanpablo (CB): Cuál es su nombre?
Teresa: Teresa

Juanpablo (CB): Y cuánto tiempo llevas en la comunidad?
Teresa: Recién desde el 2000. Pero anterior de eso vivía yo aqui en Chicago

Irene (CB): What’s your name?
Carlos: Carlos
Irene (CB): Do you live in Pilsen?
Carlos: Yeah, I do.
Irene (CB): How long?
Carlos: Probably about 20-plus years

Virginia Mendoza: Virginia Mendoza
Irene (CB): Usted vive acá en Pilsen?
Virginia Mendoza: Si, tengo 8 anos de vivir aquí, y 8 años de estar viniendo a mi iglesia de San Procopio.

Lupe Hernandez: My name is Lupe Hernandez, I’m 61 years old — I’ve been living in Pilsen for about 51 years.

music out

Teresa: Pues este, que los sacerdotes tienen que dar más servicio porque quieren que los laicos están haciendo todo. Y el sacerdote pues casi ni lo vemos. Y yo no sé porqué. Porque ellos son los que deben dirigir a toda la comunidad. Y no los ayudantes, o los laicos.

Dolores Sullivan: Well, there’s not enough people. So it doesn’t, we don’t even have our own priest anymore.
Irene (CB): Oh, I didn’t know that.
Dolores Sullivan: No, so we have visiting priests. And we have, we are combined with St. Paul, it’s that way. You can see the twin towers. So, there’s not enough priests. That’s, well, that’s one big problem why there’s- churches are closing because we don’t have the priests to run them.

Irene (CB): Ha notado usted algunos cambios en Pilsen en los últimos años?
Rafael Viera: Sí, sí que todo lo modernizaron, ya no hay gangas. Está bien, hay muchos restaurantes, hay mucho güero. También los güeros traen problemas pero no, no igual que nosotros los Mexicanos.

Lupe Hernandez: And now, you know, they look at us like we’re the visitors, that’s what I’m saying.
Juanpablo (CB): Who’s they?
Lupe Hernandez: I mean all the white people. They look at us like, you know, what’re we doing here. Like, little by little, like, they sneak in at night or something like that. The next morning you see more and more of them, you know.

Carlos: So, like I pretty much grew up in a Catholic church.
Irene (CB): How did you find out that they were going to close them down and what did you think about that?
Carlos: Knowing that so many churches closed down is just like, it just pushes a lot of people. Like I don’t agree with the fact that it’s pushing a lot of people out from the community to go to other churches which they’re more comfortable with, but at the same time if, you know, they can’t financially support it to keep it up, you know, I mean you can’t do nothing but close it down.

Asia: I have, first of all I never forget how I open door this church and I can’t even breathe. I am travel everywhere and I saw so many churches and I stopped breathe. How people not take care this church? How Chicago is a city not thinking what kind history we have? Not just only the Polish people, Mexican people, Irish people etc., etc., etc.

Lupe: What is it? Sixteenth place by Paulina, I don’t know why they closed that one down. Now they’re sending everyone to St. Paul’s or over here to Providence of God. You know people are used to going to that church, you know? That’s the church they’ve been going to, you know, even their kids. And now they gotta go somewhere else. They don’t really feel comfortable I don’t think, going somewhere else. It’s just like they gotta go out their neighborhood now. It’s still Pilsen but it’s you know, couple of blocks away and stuff. It’s still not the same.

Virginia: Pues yo le pido a Diosito que siempre nos ayude para tener nuestra santa casa. Qué es lo único que tenemos para vivir felices y contentos. Y que la paz del señor esté con todos aquí en Pilsen y en el mundo entero. Gracias Dios.

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We're a civic journalism lab focused on reviving our media landscape - follow us as we create a media outlet built on people-power in Chicago.