By Theresa Carson
On July 4, the newly formed Our Lady of Africa parish community on Chicago’s South Side celebrated its first Mass.
After years of collaboration among Chicago Archdiocesan officials, pastors and parishioners of Corpus Christi, Holy Angels, St. Ambrose, St. Anselm and St. Elizabeth, the unified Our Lady of Africa parish was created.
Responding to changing demographics and declining parish enrollments, the Decisions and Discernment Team followed Renew My Church (RMC) protocol and undertook an intense discernment process in the Summer of 2020, said Father Robert Kelly SVD, pastor of the unified parish.
The five grouped parishes were located within six-and-a-half miles of each other. According to archdiocesan records for Fiscal Year 2019, the combined total average Sunday attendance at the five parishes was 602, representing a 61 percent decline in the past 20 years.
The new Our Lady of Africa parish will be physically located in the former Holy Angels church. In addition, the past sacramental records of the five former parishes, as well as future Our Lady of Africa sacramental records, will be held there.
Father Kelly, formerly with St. Elizabeth and St. Anselm, was named pastor of the unified parish. The Society of the Divine Word has served the South Side of Chicago for more than a century.
“We started at St. Monica’s Parish in 1915 at the invitation of the Archdiocese of Chicago,” Father Kelly said. “St. Monica’s was Venerable Fr. Augustus Tolton’s parish, which he founded for African-American Catholics in the early 1890s. St. Elizabeth was founded in 1881. Father Joseph Eckert SVD was pastor of St. Monica’s when it united with St. Elizabeth parish in 1924. Father Eckert then became pastor of St. Elizabeth parish.”
Father Kelly, a Chicago native, became pastor of St. Elizabeth and St. Anselm parishes in 2018.
The new Our Lady of Africa parish will serve the Chicago neighborhoods of Bronzeville, Washington Park and Kenwood.
The Divine Word missionaries who serve Our Lady of Africa also are responsible for Holy Angels Catholic School, which is support by the Big Shoulders Fund of Chicago.