That Dwindled Returns To See Their Church`s Last Rite
By William Recktenwald | June 16, 1986
In the hot, still air of the church,
the old, young, black and white joined in song as organist
Sister Mary Louise played, "How great thou art" with
her right hand and wiped tears from her eyes with her left.
Every pew was filled, as were the aisles and the vestibule.
More parishioners waited on the front stairs of the church
that could hold 850, but rarely draws more than 30. "I
thought I could handle it," said Sister Louise, "but
it so sad, so very sad." It was the last mass for Our
Lady of Hungary Catholic Church, 9237 S.
Avalon Ave. Four months ago, the Roman Catholic
Archdiocese of Chicago announced that it would close
the parish and merge its dwindling membership with three
``Look at this crowd,`` said John
Jaworski, 76, a member of the parish for 43 years. ``If we
only had a third this many people every Sunday
we could have made it. It wasn`t that we were broke, we just
didn`t have the people, we only had 21 people last Saturday
night for mass.``
Jaworski remained in the neighborhood as
it changed around him. He still lives three blocks from the
church, and his wife attends mass every morning in the church.
Founded in 1904 as the first Hungarian
parish in Illinois, the church`s original wooden structure
gave way in 1929 to the two-story yellow brick building that
the church and an eight-classroom school on the second
Church membership changed with area,
which at the turn of the century was home to newly arrived
who worked on the old Nickel Plate Railroad. Polish,
Italian and Irish immigrants soon followed.
The area continued to change into the
early 1970`s, becoming almost black as longtime residents
moved to surrounding suburbs and other Chicago neighborhoods.
Many former members returned to their
former parish only on holidays, funerals or for occasional
But on Sunday they returned to say
goodbye, to shake hands with current and former members,
embrace and to wish one another peace.
``Every Sunday for three years I`ve taken
my daughter to mass,`` said James Carter, 52, ``this is the
first time I ever had to stand.``
Cartr`s 10-year-old daughter Shelbra, had
just completed the 4th grade in the church`s elementary school
. She, like 182 other students, will attend a different
school in the fall.
Sister Louise, the other two members of
the Daughters of Divine Charity and the six lay teachers
will be assigned elsewhere.
``Sometimes we have to let go of
something beautiful,`` sai Rev. Michael Adams in his sermon,
``and although we say goodbye today, Our Lady of Hungary will
live always in our hearts.``
The remarks by Father Adams,
who was raised in the parish and was one of several priests
who assisted in the mass, brought applause from the
After a hymn in Hungarian, the mass ended
with a slow recessional.
But the churchgoers were reluctant to
leave. Many lingered on the steps, while former neighbors
greeted one another with delight. Some carried cameras-
including video cameras-as well as tape recorders. Some walked
up the stairs to look for a last time at the classrooms where
they had attended school as children.
With the church nearly empty, Sister
Louise, folded her music and thanked the choir members, then
reflected on what she had seen during her 13 years in the
``If they hadn`t moved, if only more
would have stayed, we would still have our church and
school,`` she said.