A little church that sets on top of a hill in the tiny village of Grand Chain, Illinois is expected to have full pews at a special Mass, Saturday, Feb. 22. Closing rites for St. Catherine of Alexandria Church are slated to be conducted at that mass. However, the church family is hopeful that efforts to preserve the historic church as a viable place of worship will be successful.
Rules governing the closing of a consecrated church building under Canon Law (laws of the Roman Catholic Church) are separate from those suppressing the parish boundaries and merging it with another parish.
Canon Law 1222 instructs that a church can only be closed permanently by decree of the bishop if a “grave reason” for the closing exists. Primarily, those grave reasons refer to churches that are damaged beyond repair or no funds are available to maintain the church. St. Catherine’s is faced with neither of those conditions.
Parishioners and others formed the St. Catherine of Alexandria Church Preservation Society in an attempt to save the church. Bob Reichert, parish trustee, was informed that rites would be performed to close the church at their next mass, but no decree to permanently close the church has been received from Bishop Edward Braxton, bishop of Belleville. Apparently, the only decree issued called for the suppression of the parish boundaries, not the closure of the church.
The society has requested that Bishop Braxton of Belleville carefully consider the instructions set forth in Canon Law and allow the society to undertake the care and preservation of the consecrated church building so it can continue to be used for prayer services, funerals or weddings, and occasional masses. Currently, no reply has been received from the bishop.
Members of the society are dedicated to preserving the church without causing a burden to either the Diocese of Belleville or the parish to which they will be assigned. If St. Catherine’s closes, Pulaski County will have had all three Catholic churches closed during Bishop Braxton’s tenure in the diocese, leaving a 45 mile distance from Cairo to Metropolis with no Catholic worship space.
Most of the church members are descendants of the settlers who came to Pulaski County in the southern tip of the state in the late 1800s and proceeded to form the St. Catherine of Alexandria Church. The families first met for services in homes of the parishioners. Carpenters constructed the church building and attached school rooms in 1896. Bishop John Janssen officially consecrated the church on Aug. 10, 1897. Over the years, the school portion of the parish was closed and the building renovated to its present state.
The St. Catherine Preservation Society is not the first group to attempt to save a historic church as a site for occasional Catholic worship. Over three dozen similar groups throughout the USA have been successful in preserving Catholic churches for their communities. Most recently, St. Ann’s Church in Buffalo, N.Y. was re-opened after the Vatican reversed their bishop’s closure decree. It was determined that closing the church was not justified when the parishioners were willing to raise the necessary funds for its renovations.
The society hopes that the Diocese of Belleville will work with the St. Catherine of Alexandria Preservation Society in its effort to ensure that the historic church is a sacred worship space for generations to come.
More information can be obtained from the St. Catherine of Alexandria Preservation Society Facebook page.