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The Rebirth of Rogers Park’s St. Ignatius Parish

St. Ignatius Church. Photo by Rob Gilmore

The popular St. Ignatius Parish of Rogers Park is embarking on a nearly half million dollar plan to update and repair the church, including stunning glass windows, as part of a renovation campaign announced this past fall.

“These repairs are highly necessary to the structural viability of our church, and I know people understand that,” said the Rev. Joe Jackson, pastor of St. Ignatius Parish since 2001.

Peggy Cusick, a Loyola University Chicago retiree and St. Ignatius regular, agrees that the necessity of the repairs outweigh the high costs.

“This building is nearly 100, and a building that old cannot remain standing without some basic maintenance like tuck-pointing,” she said.

The most dire of the ailing structure’s problems are portions of the interior that are falling apart, exposing white plaster at some points. Dubbed Celebrating our Faith, Building our Future, the campaign includes a $150,000 repair to its patriotic window, so named for its elaborate depiction of Mary holding an infant Jesus.

An additional $300,000 will pay to hire Fresco Art, a Chicago-based company that specializes in church restoration. They will complete repairs to the remaining stained glass windows and the rest of the tuck-pointing, to prevent further decay of the joints between the roof and walls.

Fresco Art was the same contractor that repaired the parish’s chapel in 2001. The parish completed a $200,000 partial tuck-pointing procedure as part of a different project in 2011.

These additional projects also include replenishing church finances. They were depleted for repairs to the patriotic window, “one of the church’s most beautiful and elaborate treasures,” according to a church pamphlet released about the improvements.

St. Ignatius Parish was originally staffed and operated by the Jesuits. Founded in 1906 and opened in 1907, many families have been coming to St. Ignatius for generations.

“Well, I’m 90. I just wouldn’t know any other way than to come to St. Ignatius,” said Joan Crowley, a parishioner since childhood.

St. Ignatius remained a Jesuit parish until 2000, when for financial reasons, the Jesuits left and the church was staffed by priests of the Diocesan Order.

Today, like many Catholic churches across Chicago and the nation, the church’s finances are bleak.

“The economy has been a big influence on us. Most of the money is coming from large donors,” Jackson said. The church has only $20,000 in its general account, which is separate from accounts for the campaign and ministerial purposes. Most of the $20,000 is from collections during Sunday Mass.

The church may lack in devoted financial contributors, but Jackson said that the church is blessed with many people serving in the church and its surrounding Rogers Park neighborhood. While Jackson estimates his total congregation at only 2,500 people, the parish regularly serves over 500 at the Spanish Sunday mass.

There has been a 10 percent increase in church attendees from September 2011 to September 2012. Most parishioners are from the Rogers Park area, with some students using St. Ignatius as a pleasant reprieve from the chaos of Loyola’s chapel on Sunday nights.

“A lot of that growth has been in the Hispanic population, with a slight increase in the numbers of English speaking,” Jackson said.

There are three main groups of St. Ignatius’s congregation, the Hispanic population, white people who are moving into the area and descendants of the parish’s founding families. The cultural diversity is “both a challenge, but also a blessing, in the sense that we enjoy different cultural traditions,” Jackson said.

Even the desired arrangement of flowers can cause controversy. What is aesthetically pleasing to one group might be appalling to another. But most importantly, Jackson said, faith in Christ binds these three communities.

“We say that the church is universal, so the fundamentals of experiencing the manifestation of Christ are the same,” Father Jackson said.

In the past, the church lacked in ethnic diversity, but a wealthy Rogers Park kept the parish financially strong. In the 1950s and 1960s, Rogers Park was a rich neighborhood, with affluent families that contributed actively to parish finances.

In a cash strapped neighborhood of Chicago, the church is asking each family to do its part for the campaign. Each parish family is requested to contribute $3,000 to the church, over a three-year period. A pamphlet about the campaign lists pledge amounts ranging from $1,000 to $75,000 but highlights the $3,000 option as the most desirable compromise between the church’s needs and the average parishioner’s capacity to give.

Asked whether $3,000 was too much, Cusick said, “Well, it depends on the parishioner. Some people give more that. You give what your means and conscience tell you to give. Thats what I did.”

Another parishioner disagreed. “I mean, I’m only 24, so that sounds like a lot. I give $10 per week, and that’s already over $500 a year,” said Dan White, a young member of St. Ignatius.

Congregants are encouraged to make a 10 percent down payment of their chosen pledge amount, with monthly installments thereafter for three years. Jackson expects the campaign to be successful, especially with so many devoted families that are members of the parish.

“I think at the end of the day, people are just going to give what they can. The church has always been very thankful for that,” Jackson said.

St. Ignatius is located one block west of the Loyola L station, at 6559 N. Glenwood Ave. Congregants celebrate English Masses at 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. with Spanish Mass at noon.

Through all the financial wrangling, churchgoers say St. Ignatius is still a great place to experience the faith.

“I love the Catholic church,” said Daniel Szetela, a middle-aged parishioner since his early childhood. “The experience here makes the sacraments so full.”


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