San Rocco Oratory

of the Archdiocese of Chicago

Most Rev George Murry
Most Rev. George Murry, who as vicar of Region VI, the southern suburbs of Chicago, got permission to rebuild St. Rocco as an Oratory. To him be enduring thanks and praise.

This Man Bernardin by John White
This Man Bernardin, a visual biography by John White

Responding to the request of his vicar, Bishop Murry, Cardinal Bernardin had granted permission for the building of San Rocco Oratory, on the grounds of the now-closed San Rocco Church.  Not long previously, in 1995, Cardinal Bernardin had sent bulldozers to level the church, school, and rectory.  Except for the Mt. Carmel Club and the grotto, with the Stations of the Cross, the entire complex had been demolished. Now, in 1996, the Cardinal permitted a new church building to be constructed. 

Cardinal Bernardin died November 14, 1996.

Bishop Raymond Goedert, Vicar General
Most Rev. Raymond Goedert, Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Chicago. The Vicar General is second in authority only to the bishop of the diocese. Overall, especially in the absence of Cardinal Bernardin, the Vicar General has the same kind of executive authority as the bishop. He can neither legislate nor teach as the bishop does, but he does have executive authority, to manage and govern.

Bishop Joseph Perry

In May, 1998, Bishop Murry was transferred to the Virgin Islands, to be coadjutor bishop there. As coadjutor, he would take over as head of the diocese, when the bishop there retired.  Now, as of July, 1998, the new vicar of this region (Vicariate VI)  was Bishop Joseph Perry, who had been teaching canon law in Milwaukee.  However, he grew up on the South Side of Chicago; in a sense, he was returning home.  The first Mass at the newly constructed San Rocco Oratory was Christmas Day, 1998, presided over by Bishop Perry.  

August Anselmo, Dave Sebastian, and Father Gilligan
August Anselmo, Dave Sebastian, and Father Gilligan. During 1999, August was making phone calls, asking available priests to come to San Rocco and say Mass on Sunday. No regular priest was assigned. During 1999, Mass was often celebrated by Father Paul Longo, a Comboni Father, and Father Andy Santos, newly ordained as of 1997. Above, Dave Sebastian holds a plaque honoring him as general contractor for the building of San Rocco Oratory in December, 1998.

Cardinal: St. Rocco Parish to remain closed

(from The New World, February 12, 1993, p. 8:)

Regarding the status of the former St. Rocco Parish, Chicago Heights, closed in August, 1990, the Archdiocese of Chicago has released the following statement, dated at the Office of the Chancellor Feb. 12, 1993:

The Archdiocese of Chicago has repeated the process of consultation as required by church law and, in light of the advice given by the council of priests, Cardinal Bernardin decided that St. Rocco Parish in Chicago Heights will remain closed.

St. Rocco Parish had been closed by the archdiocese in 1990, but after an appeal by some parishioners, the Vatican's Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura issued a decision on Sept. 22, 1992, indicating there had been a procedural defect in the process of the prior consultation with the council of priests, known as the Presbyteral Council.    Due to this procedural error, the Vatican decision ordered St. Rocco Parish restored to the status which it enjoyed before it was closed.  At the time of its closure in 1990, St. Rocco was part of a planning process for the parishes in the Chicago Heights area.

After reviewing his options under church law, Cardinal Bernardin concluded that he would not contest the decision of the Vatican Tribunal. In coming to this conclusion, however, he emphasized that he considered the decision to be the result of a serious misunderstanding.

   Since the Vatican decision addressed only the procedure and not the substance of the decision to close the parish, Cardinal Bernardin returned to the Presbyteral Council to consult with it according to revised procedures and hear its advice anew concerning the status of the parish.

This meeting, which took place Friday, Dec. 11, 1992, resulted in a unanimous vote (40-0-0), advising the cardinal  to close the parish.  The cardinal  took this recommendation under advisement.  After meeting with representatives of the former St. Rocco Parish, the cardinal  decided to affirm the decision to close the parish.

St. Rocco Parish was established in 1905 as a national parish for Italian immigrants.  Changing demographicss in recent years indicated that a special parish was no longer needed in Chicago Heights for Italian immigrants.

For the larger Chicago Heights area, the 1990 census reported a 17 percent increase in the Hispanic population in the area durng the 1980s, while the white, non-Hispanic population decreased by 20 percent during the same period (1980-1990).  In the immediate area around St. Rocco church, the Hispanic population increased by 21 percent  while the white, non-Hispanic populations decreased by 20 percent.

An average  of 661 parishioners participated at the five scheduled weekend Masses at St. Rocco Parish during the last two years of operation.  Fewer than 100 of these attended the one scheduled bilingual Mass in Italian and English.

Three parishes remain open in Chicago Heights:   St. Agnes, St. Kieran and St. Paul.  One, St. Paul Parish, is less than one-half mile from the former St. Rocco church.

The 1990 U.S. census shows a total of 11,454 residents in this immediate area.  The area of most parishes in the city are home to 10,000 to 15,000 persons, while in the suburbs, most parishes are set in areas that have 15,000 to 20,000 residents.  Consequently, to maintain two parishes--St. Rocco and St. Paul--in the immediate area would not provide an equitable distribution of available financial resources and personnel.

In implementing the decision of the late Cardinal Bernardin, Bishop Goedert formulated statuta ("statutes") according to which the new San Rocco Oratory would be set up and operated.  Like a parish church, the oratory could have Mass on Sundays and weekdays, as well as baptisms, marriages, funerals, devotions, and other celebrations.  However, the people themselves were responsible for the facility, its upkeep, and for finding a priest to help out.  Financially, the people themselves were to assume the entire cost of construction.

In 1997 and 1998, the community raised funds, did planning, and made arrangements for a new church building.  In 1998, work began; the new church was built just to the north of the location of the old San Rocco church building.  Pews and other necessities were in part obtained from storage at the closed St. Boniface church on the North Side of Chicago; here were statues and other furnishings from churches that had been closed. The overall cost of the new San Rocco Oratory, including about $50,000 donated labor and materials, was roughly $200,000.  By the very end of 1998, much of the work was completed.

From the old San Rocco, the new oratory had the original statue of St. Rocco, as well as the baptismal font.   Later, in  2004, the ceiling lights from the old church would be installed in the new oratory.

After Bishop Perry arrived on the scene,  Bishop Goedert met with him, as well as August Anselmo and Mayor Angelo Ciambrone.   Bishop Goedert spelled out clearly what he wanted done, with regard to the new oratory.

During 1999, the San Rocco Oratory was in use, regularly, with a variety of priests, subject to availability.  Deacon Ray Deabel, from St. James Hospital, helped out, as did several other members of the clergy.   Sometimes, it was difficult to find a priest for Sunday Mass. However, congregational singing for Sunday Mass was supported by both Vicki and Madeleine Mancini, volunteers.

In early 1999, while still no priest was assigned, August Anselmo obtained both a tabernacle and a presidential chair for San Rocco Oratory.  Although he was saying Mass regularly at Infant Jesus of Prague Church in Flossmoor, in late 1999, Father Michael Gilligan began to help out at San Rocco Oratory.  As long as there was no schedule conflict, he was able to do this.  When there was a conflict, he got someone else to preside, such as Father J.C. Murray, a retired Navy chaplain.


Father J.C. Murray

Father Andy Santos
Especially in 1999, when San Rocco had no priest assigned, Father Andy Santos helped out generously. At the time, he was an associate pastor at St. Lawrence O'Toole, Matteson, Illinois. His grandfather, with the name Santos, was Greek.

San Rocco Oratory

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