Joliet Diocese announces closure of local Catholic churches, schools

Joliet Bishop Ron Hicks.

Diocese of Joliet

The arm of the Catholic Church for Will, DuPage and Kendall counties is closing five churches and two schools in the Joliet area, concluding a year-long process that upset many faithful and was blamed on “budgetary issues,” fewer priests and declining numbers in the pews.

Among those to close: Sacred Heart Church, Joliet’s sole historically Black congregation.

Among those to stay open: the Cathedral of St. Raymond, the seat of the Diocese of Joliet where Bishop Ron Hicks is based.

Left unsaid as the diocese announced the closures Thursday was how the decades-old priest sex abuse scandal played into the financial struggles the diocese now faces.

Sacred Heart Church in Joliet, slated for closure.

Sacred Heart Church

The diocese was one of the epicenters of the abuse crisis as it unfolded over the last 20-plus years, and the names of more than 70 clerics accused of molesting children are now on its publicly available list.

Millions of dollars have been spent on legal settlements with victims, though Hicks has refused to divulge the total financial cost or discuss the topic, as the Chicago Sun-Times reported in September.

On Thursday, Hicks announced the closures, writing on the diocesan web site:

“As we all are aware, many things have changed in the last 50 to 60 years. We have significantly less vocations to the priesthood, our active priests are aging, and our beautiful churches that were built with labors of love and much financial sacrifice are in need of significant repairs, largely due to prolonged deferred maintenance.”

“In addition, the Church today is not the same Church it was decades ago. The trend against organized religion is gaining momentum. Attendance at Sunday Masses is down significantly, and Sunday collections are down proportionately. Reducing the number of parishes will enable us to redirect our limited financial resources to ministry, instead of staffing expenses such as payroll and benefits, and putting temporary and costly band-aids on aging buildings.”

Joliet’s Catholic cathedral, the central church in the diocese.

Robert Herguth / Sun-Times

One church official who asked not to be named, but is familiar with the closure process, called the decision-making “cold-blooded” and “not pastoral.”

The official believes many parishioners, rather than attending worship services in other church buildings, may stop going altogether.

Besides Sacred Heart, the churches slated to close are St. Anne in Crest Hill and St. Anthony, St. Bernard and St. Jude in Joliet. Their operations will fold into other local parishes.

Hicks’ office also indicated that St. John the Baptist Church in Joliet may close at some point down the road.

St. Jude School will close and fold into the St. Paul the Apostle School, and St. Matthew School in Glendale Heights will also close, according to Hicks’ office.

A Hicks spokesperson said neither the bishop nor the church attorney who spearheaded the church-closure process will comment.

The Archdiocese of Chicago, led by Hicks’ mentor Cardinal Blase Cupich, recently announced the closure of two Catholic schools in the west suburbs.

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