By Jim Manzardo
Helping to plan the 2016 NACC annual conference, I thought a look at the Catholic Church in Chicago, past and present, was in order. Having been born, raised, and educated and spent most of my 50-plus years as a Catholic in the Archdiocese of Chicago, I know how much the parish priests and Franciscan and Dominican sisters of my youth shaped my own spiritual and moral foundation. During the last two decades I also have been fortunate to have known and been inspired by other Catholic giants from this city.
Our Chicago Catholic beginnings reach back several hundred years, and their breadth and diversity is as vast as the Archdiocese of Chicago, which celebrates Mass each week in 48 languages in over 350 parishes, with over 200 schools, five colleges and universities, 17 hospitals, and service to over 1 million needy people each year.
The Catholic Church in Chicago has been from its beginnings a church of immigrants, first from Ireland and Germany, then in the late 19th century from eastern and southern Europe. These lay men and women moved into often modest neighborhoods of the city and built the physical and moral structures of the many Catholic churches, which served as their community centers and which today continue to be the spiritual homes of even more diverse communities of the faithful.
Chicago has had its share of Catholic leaders, both political — a Catholic has been mayor 76 of the past 100 years — and religious — Archbishop Blase Cupich is the ninth in a line of archbishops extending back to 1880. Not surprisingly, Chicago Catholics did not always appreciate our bishops. An Italian anarchist chef tried to poison our third archbishop, George William Mundelein, perhaps because he was a friend of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a supporter of the New Deal, considered a liberal, and a staunch advocate for trade unions.
Possibly Chicago’s most beloved archbishop, at least later in his tenure, was Joseph Bernardin. He became popular for speaking out against racism, appointing women to leadership positions, and offering a Mass for divorced and separated Catholics. He also developed the “Consistent Ethic of Life” ideology and helped draft the National Conference of Catholic Bishops’ pastoral letter “The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response,” which questioned the morality of nuclear deterrence.
Of course, we all have heard of Mother Frances Cabrini, Italian-American religious sister, founder of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, first naturalized U.S. citizen to be canonized, who founded many missionary institutions to serve the sick and poor and who trained sisters to carry on the work throughout the United States, South America, and Europe. Her sisters opened Columbus Extension Hospital in Chicago, much later renamed Columbus Cabrini, which closed in 2002. A shrine was built in her honor and now serves as a center for prayer, worship, spiritual care, and pilgrimage.
Bill Droel contrasts the corrupt machine-style politics, or the Chicago Way, with what he calls a positive Chicago Catholic Way, characterized by a “sacramental imagination and lay-led social action,” including community organization movements. He writes, quoting National Catholic Reporter editor Tom Fox, that through Chicago Catholic thinkers like Eugene Kennedy, Bob McClory, and Andrew Greeley, “the Catholic Midwest in general and Chicago in particular will highlight the emergence of the post-Vatican II pastoral church.”
I was fortunate to have known and heard speak on several occasions another one of those visionary thinkers, Dick Westley. A professor of philosophy and theology at Barat College, Loyola University, and Loyola’s Institute of Pastoral Studies and author of books and many articles, he inspired thousands of undergraduate, graduate, and pastoral students. Westley taught that where people experience church as a genuine community is in the small groups, like faith-sharing and prayer communities and in the various parish ministry groups.
Perhaps, as Andrew Greeley noted, the most important woman of this period was Patty Crowley and the most important movement of the preconciliar church was the Christian Family Movement, which she and her husband, Pat, were influential in founding in 1949. Until her death in 2005, Patty focused her energies on direct works of social justice and charity, as a board member of the Chicago Housing Authority and feminist groups and co-founder of Deborah’s Place, the largest private, multiservice shelter operation for homeless women in Chicago, and was very involved in the Call to Action organization, promoting change in the church and society.
I could easily cover much more space speaking about the many other Catholic witnesses, teachers and pillars of Chicago. I am humbled and grateful to have known and been spiritually nourished by some of them. If you come to Chicago in April, you too will be inspired both by our chaplain gathering and by the spirit of these many Catholic faithful and places of worship that are a part of our Chicago Church home.
Jim Manzardo, BCC, is a chaplain at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.