Fixing Two Pylons for Now and the Future
By: Adrina Cardona – THE GATE Newspaper
With its 125th anniversary around the corner, St. Joseph Parish hopes to repair its building structure to focus on social programs.
Father Hugo Londoño, 36, a native of Colombia who joined the priesthood in his home country, never imagined that four years ago he would be assigned as the pastor of a South Side parish in Chicago –thousands of miles away from his hometown Salamina, Caldas.
Today, he is at the forefront of Saint Joseph’s 125-year anniversary and is the driving force behind scavenging one million dollars to fix the church’s crumbling towers.
Unknown to the history and idiosyncrasy of the Back of the Yards neighborhood, Londoño joined Saint Joseph’s Parish inheriting a predominantly Mexican congregation.
Though he was first dazzled by people’s generosity and welcoming spirit, he quickly felt the weight of the responsibilities as the head of the parish.
“For me it’s been a very challenging experience because it was the first time ever I was assigned as a pastor,” said Londoño. “I had been a priest for just four years and being a pastor is a huge responsibility.”
Managing the parish, he added, is not only being involved with the community, he also had to learn to supervise parish employees, report to the archdioceses and oversee the overall functionality of the premises.
One of his greatest challenges, he said, aside from learning English, has been the building’s maintenance. Over 100 years old, the building’s two towers are vulnerable and need to be restored.
“The towers are currently in a delicate situation because pieces are starting to fall off and the spot where they’re located is a passage of people, of families,” said Londoño. “Kids pass through on their way to school, kids pass through on their way to Catholic Charities and it’s the entrance to the church.”
For this reason, Londoño explained, the building has to be in perfect condition. In a well-attended celebration the premises can host up to 800 people, however, the walls of the towers cannot resist much longer, he added.
Though he understands the urgency of fixing these two heavy and historic pylons, his dream is to instead be able to transform the front patio into a multifunctional gym where kids can play basketball, volleyball and football. “[A place] for sports, where people can be safe and enjoy because we don’t have it,” he said.
“When one says ‘we’re going to ask for 1 million dollars to fix [the towers],’ it’s sad because that money is going to the towers and my wish is that it would go to the people,” said Londoño.
But before the parish can even move towards investing in social programs, the towers need to be restored or removed. Two equally expensive alternatives that make Londoño cringe wishing he could do more for his community.
“For instance, here in the patio kids come. Many of them come alone to play. Sometimes at 9 p.m. I have to go and tell them, ‘you know you can’t be here because you must be with an adult,’” said Londoño, concerned about the safety of the youth while they dwell alone in the neighborhood during late hours. “They’re 7, 10, 12-year olds—playing here alone, at night, especially in the summer, and one says ‘but there’s no one watching them, there’s no one accompanying them’ yet at the same time I question it because I cannot offer them anything”.
Currently, the Archdiocese of Chicago is in a crunch as not only Saint Joseph but other parishes are experiencing similar situations with their buildings, explained Londoño.
“We could apply for what is called a grant, but what’s difficult is that in the Archdioceses of Chicago almost all the parishes are old and many are asking for grants. We are waiting to see if they are going to help us, but it will only be a percentage, we would have to get a loan and the loan will have to be paid in years, because we don’t have money.”
With the 125-year anniversary around the corner and the pressure to make enough money to literally support the church, Londoño’s main focus is to get everyone excited and develop a sense of ownership.
“We are hoping to get people who previously attended St. Joseph school to come back and say, ‘this is my parish, I was here, I studied here.’ The sense of ownership means that they love this place, that they respect this place and that they support this place”.
The motto of Saint Joseph’s 125-year anniversary is “Now, Forever.” Now, Londoño explained, there is a reality that needs to be fixed and many challenges that the neighborhood needs to face. “And for the parish to stay here forever, we need to fix it,” he added.
The 125-year anniversary of Saint Joseph Parish will be on Saturday September 1st at Mayfield Banquets. For more information about the anniversary and to make a donation call 773-254-2366.