Once a cultural and spiritual center of Forest Park, it becomes clearer that the days of St. Bernardine’s Catholic Church are numbered. With attendance at Sunday Mass withering, donations dropping and the parish school long closed, it seems more than likely that the archdiocese’s touted Renew My Church program will renew St. B’s out of existence when final decisions are made in March.
Right now, in a moment referred to as Discernment and Decisions, St. Bernardine’s and its castmate, River Forest’s St. Luke parish and school are offering feedback to a committee downtown. The committee, of course, is headed by Cardinal Blasé Cupich. The final decision on consolidations and closing will be his. Cupich seems to be a good-hearted man in a real pickle. Across all parishes, attendance at sacramental services is falling. COVID-19 has killed donations. And these lovely church buildings, constructed a century back by immigrant communities, as is Forest Park’s St. B’s, are aging and the fixes are expensive.
It is hard to overstate the core role that St. Bernardine played in the community’s life during the glory years of Italian and Irish ethnicities in Forest Park. A hub for Mass, for school, for baptisms, weddings and funerals. The place to gather for potlucks and bingo and graduations.
We won’t fully prejudge the outcome here. But in ways it would be kinder and more forward thinking to find the ways Catholics in Forest Park and River Forest could forge a new identity within St. Luke than to watch St. B’s continue to scuffle.