After tearful goodbyes, Streator Catholics form new parish

By: By Jennifer Willems

STREATOR — With every death comes new life and that is the hope the Streator Catholic Community was encouraged to hold on to as parishioners came together for the last Masses at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, the Church of St. Stephen and the Church of St. Anthony last weekend.

“There is always grief and sorrow when something comes to an end,” said Father Ronald Dodd, parochial vicar, at the final liturgy at St. Anthony’s. “The only way we can bear things in life is by picking up our own cross. . . . Anytime we bear our cross, Christ is there to bear it with us.”

He told the assembly — who not only filled the church but the gathering space as well — that he felt their sadness and said it should be reverenced.

“It’s not easy to close a church,” Father Dodd acknowledged. “Our pain is real. Our tears are genuine. But we look forward to resurrection — to being one, being one in unity.”

Msgr. John Prendergast, pastor, said the Masses also offered an opportunity to give thanks to God for all he had done in the parishes, which combined to form St. Michael the Archangel Parish on Sept. 29. The united faith community will worship together at the Church of St. Stephen while members make decisions about a future that could include the building of a new church.

“We remember all the blessings we have received, each of us individually from this parish,” Msgr. Prendergast said in his homily at Immaculate Conception. “That’s why the church is so full — we want to thank for God for those blessings.”

Among them are the baptisms, first Communions, confirmations, marriages and the ordination that were celebrated there, he said. The sacramental records from each Streator parish — including St. Casimir’s, where Masses were suspended in 2004 — were displayed at final evening prayer at Benediction services at each of the churches the previous week.

“For those who were married here, you have come back to be nurtured at the table of the Lord . . . and to bring your children for baptism,” Msgr. Prendergast said Sunday. “We remember those things and we honor those things because they were given to us by the Lord.”

He also reminded the people who gathered at St. Stephen’s of these gifts.
“We know that they were given to strengthen those who came before us and will strengthen each one of us as we continue on this journey,” he said.

While the community is taking a new name and placing itself under the patronage of a new saint, “the body of Christ will never die,” Msgr. Prendergast explained. “The gifts we have received over the years will remain. . . . There is the same grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ.”

Before they took the next steps into their future as St. Michael the Archangel Parish, however, parishioners of Immaculate Conception, St. Anthony of Padua and St. Stephen the King were given time to take a long last look at the places that had been their spiritual home. Each of the churches remained open until 3 p.m. so they could take photos, reminisce or just sit and offer prayers.

In a letter dated Sept. 29, the Feast of the Archangels, Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, urged members of the new St. Michael the Archangel Parish to be “grounded in Jesus Christ, especially around the Eucharistic altar” as they continue to form “One Parish, One School and One Church.”

“I know that this milestone is particularly challenging and that every member of the Catholic community is experiencing the pain brought about from the sacrifice of losing his or her traditional parish. This pain of loss is accompanied by the pain of growth that is naturally part of any new undertaking,” Bishop Jenky wrote.

“We know that relief from both the pain of loss and the pain of growth is only found through maintaining a strong faith in Jesus Christ,” he told them in the letter that was to be published in the parish bulletin this weekend. “As you gather around the one altar sharing your talents and gifts within the community, Our Lord will truly be the foundation of your new St. Michael the Archangel Parish.”

Msgr. Prendergast said the bishop would help them do just that on June 26, 2011, the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, at a Corpus Christi celebration in the city park.

“It’s another way of uniting us around the Eucharist,” Msgr. Prendergast told The Catholic Post.

While the final evening prayer and Benediction in each of the churches — including St. Casimir — was like a vigil and the last Masses were like funerals, this weekend is meant to look forward, according to Msgr. Prendergast.

Working with Maison Bouvrier in Ontario, Canada, they commissioned a new banner of St. Michael the Archangel with matching designs on the vestments, chalice veil and tabernacle veil, he said. The banner has been hung in what had been the Church of St. Stephen and there has been a slight change in the altar arrangement, “not a radical change but enough of a hint that says this is St. Michael’s Church now.”

Masses will be celebrated at 4 and 5:30 p.m. on Saturdays and at 7, 8:30, 10 and 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. (in Spanish and English) on Sundays. Sacristans, altar servers, lectors, extraordinary ministers of holy Communion and music ministers from all of the former parishes are being invited to offer their time and talent.

“One of the issues in this process was the human resources in our community,” Msgr. Prendergast said. “Everybody talks about money, but we wanted to better use our human resources as we combine everything.”

The first Mass for the new parish took place last Wednesday morning and drew about 85 people, he said. They prayed the Chaplet of St. Michael the Archangel before Mass and Msgr. Prendergast and Father Dodd wore the new vestments for the first time.

“The only thing we didn’t have was the choir,” Msgr. Prendergast said. “We’re saving that for this weekend.”

“Other things will have to take care of themselves,” he told The Post.

“Very, very positive people around me have been supporting the consolidation from the beginning, supporting the bishop’s vision of ‘One Parish, One School, and One Church,'” Msgr. Prendergast said. That includes representatives from each of the former parishes who formed the Vision 21 Committee and “parishioners who quietly prayed and supported the vision and still are.”

“Going forward we will do the best we can. If that means building a church, then we will build a church. If the best we can do is to wait, we will wait. If the best we can do is stay at St. Stephen’s, we will stay at St. Stephen’s,” he said. “Every generation has done the same thing — the best we can.”

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