St. Bernardine's, Forest Park's Catholic church, has now been joined into a group of seven local Catholic parishes by the archdiocese. The ostensible purpose of the "Renew My Church" group is to find ways to collaborate and seek efficiencies among these churches serving Forest Park, Oak Park and River Forest.
That's a fine thing in an age when priests are aging and Mass attendance is badly sagging. Rev. Stanislaw Kuca, St. B's pastor, told the Review's Tom Holmes that his church already works with its neighbors on offering the sacraments of confirmation and reconciliation, on staging retreats and other programs.
However, all but the most faithful acknowledge that a necessary purpose of the Renew My Church clusters will eventually be to ease the merging and closing of some parishes. Simply, it is inevitable and in this particular cluster, St. Bernardine's would appear to be at considerable risk.
While weekly attendance at Mass is notably off everywhere, the decline at St. B's is nearly by half over just a decade and that loss is off of a small initial base — 650 people in 2006, 350 this year. An additional disadvantage for St. B's, and Oak Park's St. Edmund, is the closure of their parish schools.
Providing financial support to operate and repair large and lovely physical plants is also an increasing burden as the base of active parishioners declines.
We support the approach of Cardinal Blase Cupich in implementing this extended and incremental approach to gathering contiguous parishes into working groups. By fostering relationships among both clergy and laity over the course of years, it has the potential to make the tough but inevitable hard choices feel less arbitrary and unexpected.
Good for St. B's devoted members for actively participating in this process while most of them honestly assess an eventual outcome that might be unhappy.
Grabbing hold at D209
It wasn't too far back that an administrator at the District 209 public high schools told the Review privately that offloading 300 of the most troubled students in the district would go a long way to fixing the district's challenges.
Trouble is, public schools don't have the option of ditching the troubled and the failing. Instead, our schools are expected to reach out and grab hold of the kids in the most trouble and those causing the most trouble. That's what makes it "public" education.
Now, just one year into its determined and headlong turnaround effort, D209 is remaking "small wings" of space at East and West for what it calls "personalized learning centers." Two hundred kids who are in academic distress will receive added services, counseling and support.
Good for this district, its leaders and its board for leaning in to solve a serious problem. Now it is up to these second-chance students and their families to step up and take full advantage of this added investment.