Last Mass at Our Lady of Peace

Bit­ter­sweet ser­vice ‘al­most like a fu­neral’ but a ‘cel­e­bra­tion, too’

Chicago Sun-Times - - NEWS - BY TOM SCHUBA, STAFF RE­PORTER tschuba@sun­times.com | @TomSchuba

Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church in South Shore held its fi­nal Mass Sun­day, just a day shy of its 101st an­niver­sary.

As part of the Arch­dio­cese of Chicago’s on­go­ing con­sol­i­da­tion ef­forts, Our Lady of Peace is among three Catholic churches on the South Side whose con­gre­ga­tions will join St. Philip Neri, an­other par­ish in South Shore.

Long­time parish­ioners and oth­ers who were bap­tized and mar­ried at Our Lady of Peace came to­gether one last time to wor­ship and share mem­o­ries of the church and its long-shut­tered ele­men­tary school. Be­cause state COVID-19 guid­ance lim­its church at­ten­dance to a max­i­mum of 100 peo­ple, oth­ers with con­nec­tions to the church watched via Zoom.

For many church­go­ers, the ser­vice was bit­ter­sweet.

“It’s al­most like a fu­neral. But it’s a cel­e­bra­tion, too, be­cause all fu­ner­als are par­tial cel­e­bra­tions,” said Va­len­cia Ryas-Win­stead, a South Shore res­i­dent who co-chaired a com­mit­tee to or­ga­nize the fi­nal Mass. “You get to see peo­ple that you haven’t seen in a long time.”

Eileen Lan­gan, of Oak Lawn, grew up in South Shore and was bap­tized at the church in 1954. She brought a photo of her first com­mu­nion class to Sun­day’s ser­vice, show­ing her and other kids pos­ing in front of the church’s al­tar.

“It’ll al­ways be my home church. That’s the way I think of it,” Lan­gan said as she fought back tears.

An­dre Row­ell, who started com­ing to the church as a child in 1966, raised con­cerns about the closures and ques­tioned why St. Philip was cho­sen as the new home base for all four con­gre­ga­tions. He claimed Our Lady of Peace ac­tu­ally gar­nered the most sup­port in a vote lead­ing up to that de­ci­sion.

Row­ell said he and other parish­ioners sent let­ters to Car­di­nal Blase Cupich and Pope Fran­cis seek­ing clar­ity on the de­ci­sion but never heard back. A spokes­woman for the Arch­dio­cese didn’t im­me­di­ately re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

“Half the mem­ber­ship’s not go­ing to St. Philip’s be­cause we don’t think it’s fair,” said Row­ell, who grad­u­ated from Our Lady of Peace ele­men­tary school in 1972 and now serves as head of the alumni com­mit­tee.

When Row­ell started at the school, which closed in 1999, he was one of less than 10 African Amer­i­can stu­dents. Af­ter decades of de­mo­graphic change to the neigh­bor­hood, the fi­nal makeup of the church and its lead­er­ship was largely Black. As Row­ell sees it, parish­ioners like him are now be­ing pushed to an “all-white church.”

Amid the con­cerns over what comes next, Our Lady of Hope’s for­mer priest pas­tor, Fa­ther Mark Kalema, of­fered a mes­sage of hope to the flock.

“In the end, ev­ery­thing shall be all right,” Kalema said. “So if it’s not all right, thank God it’s not the end.”

“IT’S AL­MOST LIKE A FU­NERAL. BUT IT’S A CEL­E­BRA­TION, TOO, BE­CAUSE ALL FU­NER­ALS ARE PAR­TIAL CEL­E­BRA­TIONS. YOU GET TO SEE PEO­PLE THAT YOU HAVEN’T SEEN IN A LONG TIME.” VA­LEN­CIA RYAS-WIN­STEAD, who co-chaired a com­mit­tee to or­ga­nize the fi­nal Mass at Our Lady of Peace

TOM SCHUBA/SUN-TIMES

The fi­nal Mass at Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church in South Shore on Sun­day.

TOM SCHUBA/SUN-TIMES PHOTOS

Eileen Lan­gan dis­plays her first com­mu­nion photo at Our Lady of Peace. “It’ll al­ways be my home church. That’s the way I think of it,” she said.

An­dre Row­ell grad­u­ated from Our Lady of Peace ele­men­tary school in 1972. Its con­gre­ga­tion now is to join St. Philip Neri. “Half the mem­ber­ship’s not go­ing to St. Philip’s be­cause we don’t think it’s fair,” he said.

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