Streator parish to relocate Masses due to foundation issues at St. Stephen Church
STREATOR — St. Stephen Church, built in 1908 and the principal worship site for St. Michael the Archangel Parish here since it was formed from the consolidation of four Streator faith communities in 2010, will be “permanently abandoned” in the coming days for safety reasons because of a badly deteriorating foundation.
“We are not going to risk catastrophic disaster,” wrote Msgr. Philip Halfacre, pastor of St. Michael the Archangel, in a letter sent this week to parishioners.
Msgr. Halfacre explained that an evaluation of the structure by engineers has determined that foundation deterioration at St. Stephen Church, 711 E. Lundy St., has reached a critical level. And he called to mind the sudden collapse of the former St. Patrick Church in Peoria — most recently owned by United Fellowship Ministries — in late July. No one was present in that church when it collapsed.
A final Mass at St. Stephen Church will be celebrated at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 1. After that, parish liturgical events will take place at St. Anthony of Padua Church, 407 S. Park St. That church, located across the street from St. Michael the Archangel School, has been used for school Masses the past 12 years.
“DIFFICULT AND PAINFUL”
“Saying farewell to a parish church is difficult and painful,” acknowledged Msgr. Halfacre, who is also vicar general for the Diocese of Peoria. He called it “akin to saying farewell to the family home” and recalled weeping when he walked for the final time through the home where he was raised.
“But the fact that a family home or parish church must be abandoned does not erase the good and beautiful things that took place there,” Msgr. Halfacre added. “They are written in the Book of Life.”
The move to St. Anthony Church “is a temporary solution to our immediate problem,” wrote Msgr. Halfacre. That edifice is even older — dedicated in 1898 — and while it is “beautiful” and does not have immediate safety issues, St. Anthony Church has “significant problems that cannot be ignored as we move forward.”
Chief among them are needed exterior repairs. A 2021 study estimated it would cost about $4 million for exterior and some interior work, not including necessary steeple repairs.
Fixing or replacing the foundation of St. Stephen Church is not feasible, he added.
OPTIONS BEING STUDIED
In addition to St. Stephen and St. Anthony churches, St. Michael the Archangel Parish also includes a third functioning church in Streator — St. Casimir, located at the corner of Illinois and Livingston streets. It is not in active use.
The fourth church that was involved in the 2010 consolidation, the former Immaculate Conception Church at 404 N. Park St., had been relegated to “profane but not sordid use” in advance of being sold in 2018.
St. Stephen is the largest of the four churches.
“We will continue to consider our options as we consider the principal place of worship for St. Michael the Archangel Parish,” wrote Msgr. Halfacre in his letter to parishioners. He said the question of “What will be our long-term home?” has been a topic of discussion with the parish trustees for years “and we have reached the point where a decision must be made.”
“I hope that very soon we can have a proposal to you for moving forward,” said Msgr. Halfacre.
Factors going into future decisions include a declining Mass attendance. Msgr. Halfacre said that while the parish has averaged 44 baptisms per year over the past decade, the number of deaths are far greater.
“Since I arrived (in 2011), we have had nearly 1,400 funerals,” he observed. Weekend Mass attendance has declined about 100 people per year for the past decade and a Mass count last October totaled 807.
But parishioners have been extremely generous and the parish school enrollment has grown significantly.
“No pastor could ask for a more wonderful faith community than St. Michael the Archangel Parish,” he wrote. “Let us continue to stand with one another and pray for one another as we move forward in faith and welcome what Our Lord brings into our life.”