St. Bernadette celebrates final Mass at in Evergreen Park

Parishioners of St. Bernadette’s Catholic Church in Evergreen Park celebrated a death and a rebirth Sunday.

The church, a staple in the community since its 1947 foundation, closed its doors as a place of holy sanctuary and moved its tabernacle and its crucifix to a newer church across town, Queen of Martyrs Church in the newly formed St. Gianna Parish.

The St. Bernadette’s closure followed two years of preparation and was deemed necessary by the Chicago Archdiocese due to declining membership. The school, another long neighborhood institution, had closed in 2014.

Even so, despite the forewarning and despite the relative proximity of the two churches — they’re just over five minutes away from each other by car — the St Bernadette community showed up in droves for a somber day, marked with reminiscence and tissues.

“We’re the class of 1967,” said Mary Jo Young, now a Wisconsin resident who was among members of her class attending Sunday’s service. “I had my First Communion here. We’re very sad. It’s a tearful day.”

She said the move meant a lot to her, even though she’s another state away, as she said her graduating class remains close and had regular reunions.

The service, however, was one of hope and optimism in the face of change. Father Benedykt Pazden led the mass, and he reminded the congregation that the faith is to the church as a whole, not to a building.

“The devotion of Jesus is not about any building, but about the traditions of the faith,” he said. “May the sadness we feel today be transformed by God.”

The service was capped with firefighters and police leading a procession of the crucifix and the tabernacle through the community, as well as memories of some of the church’s pillars, including Alene Baumann, the last school principal. She said she loved the church so much, she and her husband became members.

“Even though we’re deeply saddened by the closing of our beloved church, we leave with our hearts willed with these cherished memories,” she said. “We’re grateful to Father Benedykt and to all he has done to mark the day with blessed memories.”

Jesse Wright is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.

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