Rev. Ed Fialkowski presided over his first Mass at St. Bernardine Catholic Church on June 6. That was about a month before Forest Park’s St. Bernardine and River Forest’s St. Luke Catholic churches formally united to form one new parish under the direction of the Chicago Archdiocese’s Renew My Church program.
For now the joined churches are called St. Luke and St. Bernardine Catholic Parish.
Fialkowski is the associate pastor of the merged parishes, the same role he has held at St. Luke since October 2019. Rev. Stanislaw Kuca is now officially the pastor of the twinned parishes having previously served as pastor of St. Bernardine.
Fialkowski, a diocesan priest for 43 years, said the months ahead will focus on members of the two parishes getting to know each other and working to form a trusting relationship.
He spent 22 years as pastor of Our Lady of the Wayside, a church in the northwest suburbs with a registered membership of 3,200 families. Having earned an M.B.A. from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Business, combined with having served as the pastor of a large parish, gives him broad knowledge and experience in administration.
He grew up on the Northwest Side of Chicago and has five siblings, 12 nephews and 13 grand-nieces and -nephews. He enjoys spending time with that extended family and friends and enjoys sports and watching old movies.
St. Bernardine members who have spoken to the Forest Park Review over the long process which led to the consolidation often frame the merger in terms of a loss. Fialkowski is trying to look at it as an opportunity, focusing on two aspects of merging the two faith communities into one parish.
He resisted any language about St. Bernardine or St. Luke as individual parishes and kept repeating that they are two church locations in one parish. When asked, for example, if he will be in effect the pastor of St. Bernardine and Kuca the pastor of St. Luke, he said they are both priests of the one parish called St. Luke and St. Bernardine.
While acknowledging that both faith communities have their own narratives of the past, Fialkowski said, “All of us are looking forward to the future with optimism. Whatever happened in the past happened in the past. All of us — the parish staff, the priests, and the archdiocese — are saying that we’re going forward with this new parish with optimism. We are going to make this new parish a great success.”
For now, the Mass schedule at the St. Bernardine location will remain the same as it has been in the past, and when you call the phone number for that location listed online, someone physically at the Forest Park church will answer.
Members of St. Bernardine who served on the Community Discernment and Planning team leading up to the merger, along with seven people from St. Luke, were Kuca, Michael O’Brien, Della DeSonia, Julia Doloszycki, Deb Michalak and Mary Richie.
After doing their research, the team proposed two scenarios to the archdiocese, each of which would “focus on the future, but also build on the strengths of the past and present.”
Scenario 1 was eventually adopted: It established St. Luke and St. Bernardine as one parish “while continuing to maintain both churches so that liturgies would continue to be offered at both locations.”
Scenario 2 would have created St. Luke and St. Bernardine Parish but shift all liturgies to St. Luke Church.
The team’s report reasoned, “Merging St. Luke and St. Bernardine parishes presents us with two decidedly different communities, each with strengths that should not be forfeited in the merger since they hold the roots of our faith. Though the demographics of the two parishes, which serve a 4.5 square mile area, are different, the faith commitment of parishioners served by each parish is a strong foundation for the future.”