Latest Chicago Archdiocese mergers impact two Waukegan parishes

By Gregory Harutunian For Chronicle Media

St. Dismas Parish in Waukegan will become the main church, where the parish records will now be kept. (Photo by Gregory Harutunian/for Chronicle Media

The Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago recent announcements that nine new groupings, a consolidation measure comprised of 23 individual parishes throughout its jurisdiction, has now included the two Waukegan parishes of St. Dismas and St. Anastasia, as well as the latter’s grade school.

The Feb. 6 round of eight mergers under the “Renew My Church” initiative will take effect July 1, coinciding with the Archdiocese budgetary fiscal year.

Round Lake’s St. Joseph School was an early casualty with its closure announced Jan. 13, due to a 2019-20 deficit of $525,000 and a declining enrollment base. Fundraising efforts and outside donations were not enough to forestall the school’s June 30, 2020 end date, at the completion of the academic year.

While the Archdiocese has stated the Waukegan parish records will now be kept and maintained at St. Dismas, misinformation has started spreading that St. Anastasia will be closed. The school opened in 1926 and is located at 624 Douglas Avenue in Waukegan. Prior to the construction of the main church in 1963, Sunday mass services were conducted simultaneously in its gymnasium-auditorium and basement auditorium to accommodate the parish congregation.

“The confusion lies in that both churches will continue to hold masses within the new parish,” said Susan Thomas, the Archdiocese’s media relations representative. “St. Dismas will be the designated parish church, and the St. Anastasia School will continue to operate. This past spring our ‘Feedback and Discernment Team’ met with parishioners for input, and were looking at the lack of priests, parish enrollment … how to revitalize the parishes with all these factors. It’s a multi-year initiative.”

The Archdiocese explained the program on its website, stating, “The Renew My Church process will transform the archdiocese over the next several years by working with groupings of parishes to determine how they will achieve the goal of having vibrant, life-giving faith communities accessible to all Catholics.” It outlines a “Dream Parish” as containing a “Culture of Evangelization, Ongoing Formation and Discipleship, Vibrant Worship, Rich Community Life, Commitment to Service, Passion for Vocations, (and) Faithful Stewardship.”

St. Anastasia Parish was established in 1926, and built around the original facade leading to the auditorium at the grade school. (Photo by Gregory Harutunian/for Chronicle Media)

The Archdiocese team came to St. Anastasia Church Feb. 6 to discuss the merger, following an open call to its parishioners although many were unable to attend the session. They also came to St. Dismas Church, located at 2600 Sunset Ave. in Waukegan and founded in 1963. The discussion was noted by its pastor, the Rev. Xamie Reyes, in the Feb. 9 newsletter.

“As we form this new reality between St. Anastasia and us … change will be steady and gradual and there may be times that we will feel frustrated … . We are forming a new family. It is no longer them and us. It is only us now, one family of faith, one parish,” he said. “We are excited to get to know each other and thus begin to work together for the good of the church.”

St. Anastasia Head Pastor, the Rev. Dennis Zalecki, also spoke at one of the previous St. Dismas Church meetings, the newsletter said, and “used the image of the well where everyone puts in their gifts, talents and history. What is drawn from that well is much richer.”

When contacted later, Reyes said, “Certainly, this will be challenging … there is work ahead, but this is like a marriage. When that happens, the union is stronger, and as time goes by, the family gets bigger and enlarges and you have one strong community with our new children.”

The St. Anastasia Parish was contacted, and Zalecki was not available for comment.

In a separate Feb. 6 press release, the Archdiocese referred to the Waukegan merger: “The parishes will unite to form one, new parish, effective July 1, 2020. The leaders and parishioners of the new parish will discern possibilities for the name of the new parish within guidelines provided by the archdiocese and will submit their candidates to (Archbishop Cardinal Blase Cupich) for his decision on the permanent names.

“St. Dismas will be designated the parish church, where the parish records are kept. St. Anastasia School will serve as the parish school.”

Thomas said, “All this information was shared Feb. 6 at St. Anastasia, and came out of the Archdiocesan Renew My Church Commission meetings, last spring. The Archdiocese fiscal year, from July 1-June 30 annually, is another of the factors for the start date. There have been 23 groupings of parishes, to this point.”