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Friday, May 20, 2022

Archdiocese Announces St. Irenaeus and St. Lawrence O’Toole to Close

Church front with tall steeple
St. Irenaeus Church in Park Forest (Photo John Hudzik)

Park Forest, IL-(ENEWSPF)- On Monday evening, as part of its Renew My Church initiative, the Archdiocese of Chicago announced multiple parish consolidations and mergers throughout the Chicagoland area. Locally, the parishes of St. Irenaeus in Park Forest will close and St. Lawrence O’Toole in Matteson will close and merge with the parish of Infant Jesus of Prague in Flossmoor. The Flossmoor church will be the location of the consolidated parish and will also house the parish grade school.

front of church with church steps
St. Lawrence O’Toole Church in Matteson (Photo St. Laurence O’Toole website)

In a similar move, the Archdiocese announced that St. Anne Parish in Hazel Crest and St. Emeric Parish in Country Club Hills will merge with St. Joseph’s Parish of Homewood. St. Joseph will be the site of the consolidated parish.

The consolidations, and the apparent date when Park Forest’s St. Irenaeus will close, are effective July 1, 2022, and both parishes will be renamed although the actual churches will retain their current names. The exact timeline for transitioning services to the new structure has not yet been determined. Each new parish will have one pastor and one pastoral team. According to Father Jason Malave, the Cardinal’s Liaison for Renew My Church who made the announcements via a webcast to parishioners, selections of the new pastors should be made within the next 4 to 6 weeks.

The Renew My Church initiative was begun six years ago by Cardinal Blase Cupich in response to the rapidly changing environment in which fewer people attend Mass on a regular basis, and a clergy experiencing a significant reduction of priests.

homeless man at St. Irenaeus PADS in November 2017
A homeless man at St. Irenaeus PADS shelter in November 2017. (Photo: Gary Kopycinski)

According to the Archdiocese’s Renew My Church website, Mass attendance dropped 27% over the past 20 years while the number of active and retired priests in the diocese fell from 1261 in 1975 to 749 in 2018. As a result, the Archdiocese needs to restructure itself to effectively serve the needs of its smaller congregation in a cost-effective manner.

According to figures released by the Archdiocese, at the end of 2019, St. Irenaeus had 438 members, St. Lawrence O’Toole had 266, and Infant Jesus had 583.

Both St. Irenaeus and St. Lawrence O’Toole have long roots in the south suburbs. St. Irenaeus was founded in Park Forest in 1948 at its current location, 78 Cherry Street. St. Lawrence O’Toole opened its doors in Matteson in 1961 at 4101 St. Lawrence Avenue.  Originally both parishes had associated grade schools but, like many private schools, they closed years ago as enrollment declined.

The current administrator of St. Irenaeus and the pastor of St. Lawrence O’Toole is Rev. Michael Novick.

The iconic church in Park Forest stands at the corner of Indianwood Boulevard and South Orchard Drive. The parish is home to a regional Food Pantry run in conjunction with Catholic Charities. South Suburban PADS also uses St. Irenaeus Church as a co-ed shelter for the homeless every Thursday night.

Public Liturgy is at St. Irenaeus every Sunday at 9:30 AM. Masks are required.

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