St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta Parish: Two Worship Sites, One Shared Community
On January 19, 2019, the Archdiocese of Chicago announced the consolidation of St. Barbara and St. Therese Chinese Catholic parishes, effective July 1, 2019.
One parish with two worship sites. One school with two campuses.
In August 2019, the Archdiocese presented the name of the new combined parish as St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, with the individual church buildings retaining their names as the St. Barbara worship site and the St. Therese Chinese Catholic worship site.
Fr. Francis Li was assigned as pastor of the new St. Mother Teresa parish. Bishop Robert Casey presided at the formal installation Mass held October 27, 2019.
Fr. Li brought familiarity from both locations, located only two miles apart. He served as an associate at St. Barbara from July 1, 2006 to June 30, 2010. On July 1, 2010, Fr. Li took up duties as administrator to St. Therese Chinese Catholic and was installed there as pastor in June 2012.
The St. Barbara and St. Therese sites had long histories serving their respective neighborhoods. To help establish a sense of shared community, the new St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta parish adjusted the Mass and sacramental schedules so that both locations complimented each other.
• St. Barbara Parish History
Fr. Li also turned to leadership at both St. Barbara and St. Therese to find opportunities for connections. September 5, 2019, provided the first opportunity for a combined public celebration, with a Mass marking the feast day of St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Sr. Justus, Superior of the Missionaries of Charity in Chicago, shared the occasion along with other members of the order.
Even before then, members of both communities had engaged in a series of meet-and-greet events, hosted at their respective sites. They shared neighborhood histories, prayers, and favorite foods. Members from St. Therese visited the annual St. Barbara summer carnival, and members from St. Barbara visited the St. Therese lakefront picnic event.
In November 2019, choir members from both St. Barbara and St. Therese combined voices as part of an uplifting cluster community concert held at St. Gabriel church. There were leadership and liturgical retreats as well, including prayerful reflections by Fr. Brad Zamora, a graduate from St. Barbara.
These first steps showed a common commitment to faith-based in-person interaction. This solid foundation offered opportunities for Fr. Li to build on his expressed priorities for the community: Evangelization, Formation, Leadership, and Radical Hospitality.
This solid foundation offered opportunities for Fr. Li to build on his expressed priorities for the community: Evangelization, Formation, Leadership, and Radical Hospitality.
In March 2020, though, these local plans and visions had to be dramatically adjusted when the effects of the worldwide COVID pandemic closed the physical church doors and sent everyone into a lockdown situation. Staying safe by staying home, at first for weeks, then for months.
During that time, the community embraced other means to connect, including streaming weekly masses and outreach by letter and telephone. These continued when the churches were allowed to reopen in June for Masses under strict health and safety protocols.
In addition to the mainly virtual ministry work, both sites also took the time to evaluate the existing facilities and to deal with repairs and improvements.
During May and June 2020, the St. Therese worship site replaced its old church building floor. In November and December 2020, the St. Barbara school campus and church walls had major tuck-pointing done.
Just in time for Christmas 2020, both worship sites placed in the sanctuary area a newly designed life-size statue of patron St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, in keeping with their traditions of sacred art.
Looking ahead after more than a year with the pandemic, there was a renewed awareness from the experience: dealing, in faith, with extraordinary times. For the twin sites, this would remain a powerful calling.