Pastor Comments on Decision to Close St. Irenaeus and St. Lawrence O’Toole

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

Park Forest, IL-(ENEWSPF)- Parishioners are beginning to come to terms with the announcement last week that St. Irenaeus in Park Forest and St. Lawrence O’Toole in Matteson will close and merge with Infant Jesus of Prague in Flossmoor on July 1, 2022, as part of the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Renew My Church initiative.

While long-standing members of the parishes have expressed their disappointment in the decision, Father Michael Novick, the administrator of St. Irenaeus and the pastor of St. Lawrence O’Toole, published a letter to parishioners of both parishes in their Sunday bulletins in which he shared his thoughts on the decision.

Father Novick states that the Archdiocese’s decision is not the one he preferred, but was made by the archdiocese after current attendance levels of each parish were taken into consideration. The local Renew My Church team charged with reviewing the structure of the six churches in the south suburban planning group (including St. Anne in Hazel Crest, St. Emeric in Country Club Hills, and St. Joseph in Homewood) had recommended the formation of three new parishes, rather than the two ultimately decided upon.

In his letter, Father Novick noted that he believed creating a new parish from St. Lawrence O’Toole and St. Irenaeus would have worked in the long run, but that the numbers worked against that configuration. He urged parishioners to trust in the decision that was made: “Please don’t let anger or frustration get the better of you. That’s Satan’s way, not God’s.  Believe it.” The entire letter from Father Novick can be viewed below or in the St. Irenaeus bulletin here.

Father Novick expressed his shock and disappointment at the decision by the Archdiocese:

I must say that when I heard of Cardinal Cupich’s Renew My Church decision regarding our grouping, I was shocked. While some of you may not believe me, I had absolutely no idea this was coming. There is no doubt this is disappointing for both SLOT and St. I Parishes. I tell you from the bottom of my heart, it has nothing to do with the way we handle ourselves, nor how we worship. Even though I tried to assure Bishop Perry, Fr. Malave, and Cardinal Cupich that combining our two Parishes would work in the long run, they were simply going by the current numbers of people in the seats (or at least within the time since we reopened our doors in the middle of the pandemic). I know that both of our Parishes have been seeing some steady growth as a few people have ventured back into the world during this omicron wave of COVID. It just was not enough. My deepest thanks to everyone for trying to keep things going.

Social media comments over the past week have ranged from sadness about the decision and remembrances of events held at the churches, to frustration and upset about the decision. John Ostenburg, the former Mayor of Park Forest and a long-time member of the St. Irenaeus parish, shared his thoughts about the closure in an eNews Park Forest op-ed.

As part of the announcement, the archdiocese did indicate that consideration is being given to retaining a portion of the campus of either St. Lawrence O’Toole or St. Irenaeus for “continuing outreach ministry.” Details on which outreach programs are under consideration or what criteria will be used in making the final determination were not available.

This article has been updated to include a link to the St. Irenaeus bulletin.