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St. Mary Catholic Church, at 1012 Lake St., will merge with St. Nicholas Church as one parish with two worship sites in July. (Photo by Nancy McLaughlin)

Evanston’s four Catholic parishes will merge into two this summer, but the structure of the Sheil Catholic Center at Northwestern University will remain unchanged, according to an announcement made Saturday morning, Jan. 29, by Bishop Mark Bartosic, representative for Cardinal Blase Cupich.

Bartosic spoke during an online presentation that also included remarks by the Rev. Jason Malave, the cardinal’s liaison, as well as local pastors. Approximately 350 community members tuned in to discover the fate of the religious institutions that are being restructured as part of the Archdiocese of Chicago’s ongoing Renew My Church initiative.

Bartosic indicated that on July 1 St. Athanasius and St. Joan of Arc will unite as one parish with two worship sites and one pastor. The Rev. Kenneth Anderson, current pastor of St. Joan of Arc, will serve as pastor of the combined parish. The Rev. Hernan Cuevas, current pastor of St. Athanasius, will work with Anderson on the transition before his reassignment.

“I’m very excited to pick up where Father Hernan left off,” Anderson said. “One hundred years of celebration for the people of St. Athanasius and 70 years for St. Joan. So now we come together, and I’m very much looking forward to working with both communities.”

Both churches will continue to host a regular schedule of Masses.

St. Mary and St. Nicholas also will unite as one parish with two worship sites in July. Each church will continue to host regular Masses, but a pastor for the new parish has yet to be named. The Rev. Kevin McCray, current pastor of St. Mary, whose new assignment has not been announced, expressed optimism about the future. “One thing Evanston always has been is a big small town,” said McCray. “We’ve worked so well together collaboratively.”

After the announcement, Bartosic shared a few reflections about the transition process for Evanston parishes. “We know that change isn’t easy. We began Renew My Church six years ago and if we think it’s going to end, we don’t know our church history. The church has been renewing itself since the apostles gathered in Jerusalem almost 2,000 years ago. We are a family of families, and families reinvent themselves all the time.”

Both new parishes will be renamed based on suggestions from the community, according to Bartosic, but the four separate churches will retain their original names. No changes to the operations of parish schools or the Academy at St. Joan, which is governed by an independent board, are planned.

The decision to keep the four churches open will likely be welcomed by many parishioners, but several online attendees questioned the economics of that choice.

“That’s a really good question,” said Malave, the cardinal’s liaison. “That’s something the united parishes will have to take a look at. There will be some economies of scale with the staffing for sure. It’s really asking pastors to step up and serve larger communities of people with a staff that serves both locations.”

He emphasized that evangelization will be a critical component if the combined parishes are to flourish. “Friends,” he said, “[evangelization] really does have to accompany the unification.”

Nancy McLaughlin

Nancy McLaughlin is an Evanston-based freelance writer who has a fascination for the everyday events that shape our community in extraordinary ways. She covers human interest stories for the RoundTable.

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