Changes in Bucktown
Jezu ufam Tobie! These words summarize what our Lord taught St. Faustina—Jesus I trust in you—and are now displayed on the base of our statue of the Heart of Divine Mercy and Love! Throughout our history St. Mary of the Angels parishioners have responded to the call to place out trust in Jesus.
The current church of St. Mary of the Angels was built in the Bucktown neighborhood of Chicago just over 100 years ago. A lot has changed in the Bucktown neighborhood since then. One hundred years ago the area was predominately Catholic—perhaps 90% Catholic—with large families of 8 to 10, and very Polish, with a small parish for the Irish and another for the Lithuanians just down the block—a mile to the SE was St. Stanislaus Kostka (Polish); a mile to the NE was St. Josaphat (Polish); a mile to the NW was St. Hedwig (Polish); and a mile to SW was St. Aloysius (German).
But Chicago is always in flux, including the Bucktown neighborhood. Building the Kennedy freeway knocked down the houses of about one-third of our parishioners. While the freeway changed the neighborhood; in the end, the freeway has been a real Godsend to St. Mary of the Angels, bringing us 80 to 90 percent of our parishioners to Mass each Sunday.
The Polish people of the area started moving out to the suburbs in the 1960’s through to the present, first replaced by the Latin and African Americans, then by the gentrification of the 2000’s. The current demographic is probably about 5% Mass-going Catholics. Most homes have decreased in occupancy, from the average of 10 to 15 per city lot, to 2 or 3.
This means that the number of practicing Catholics in the neighborhood has diminished to 1% of what it was 100 years ago (= 5/90 [% of population churchgoing Catholics] x 2/10 [Household size changes] x 2/3 [freeway knockdowns]).
So, if St. Mary of the Angels had 6 to 7 Masses on Sunday in Polish the church with a capacity of 2,000 could easily serve 10,000 people on Sunday. Now with 4 Sunday and 2 Saturday vigil Mass we serve barely 1,000 people each Sunday—and that is better than our neighboring parishes. On the average, 25 persons currently attend our 6:30 pm Saturday vigil Mass in Polish.
This trend of low Polish Mass attendance is seen in the neighboring parishes too. For this reason it has been decided—under the guidance of the Archdiocesan Polish Council—to reduce the number of parishes with Polish Masses in this immediate area from six parishes to three. On August 21, St. Mary of the Angels, St. Helen, and Holy Innocents will discontinue their regular Sunday Polish Masses, but we ask our Polish Mass-goers to support St. Hedwig, St. Stanislaus Kostka, and Holy Trinity Polish Mission and their continued efforts to offer Polish Masses on Sundays. As St. Mary of the Angels was spun off to support these three parishes in order to meet the needs of the neighborhood 120 years ago, may we now support them in their efforts to continue the Polish legacy in Bucktown.
We can never show enough gratitude to God and to the great faith of the Polish Catholics who built this parish. To acknowledge this legacy, we will continue offering Polish Masses at Christmas, Easter, and the feast of Czestochowa, as well as host weddings, baptisms, and funerals in Polish upon request.
May we take up their legacy of faith and look for ways to pass that faith on to younger generations and to all who have hearts searching for God and the truth.
Najswietsza Maryja Panna Anielskiej, módl się za nas.
Yours in Christ,
Fr. John Waiss