The Streator Catholic parish is moving its Mass schedule to St. Anthony Church, after its pastor said in a letter Wednesday to parishioners its current home at St. Stephen Church is not safe for the public.
The final Mass at St. Stephen is scheduled 10:30 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 1, said the Rev. Monsignor Philip Halfacre. After Oct. 1, all services will move to St. Anthony Church.
Halfacre said the decision was made after engineers evaluated the parish’s three buildings – St. Stephen, St. Anthony and St. Casimir. St. Anthony has been used by the St. Michael the Archangel Catholic School regularly, but St. Casimir has not been used on a regular basis.
The pastor said St. Stephen needs to be tuckpointed from top to bottom but also its foundation is in bad shape.
“The foundation of the church has slowly been deteriorating over time and the engineers have told us that it is reaching a critical level,” Halfacre said in his letter to parishioners. “If it were feasible to fix or replace the foundation, we would seriously consider doing so, but it is not. For that reason, for the sake of public safety, we are will permanently abandon St. Stephen Church at the end of September.”
Halfacre said moving to St. Anthony is a temporary solution to an immediate problem. Healy-Bender-Patton & Been, an architectural firm, estimates the cost of repairing St. Anthony Church to be about $4 million, not including any repairs that may need to be made to the twin steeples.
“St. Anthony Church does not have immediate life safety issues, it does indeed have significant problems that cannot be ignored as we move forward,” Halfacre said.
Halfacre said St. Anthony has been used for the past 12 years for school Masses. He said a material was applied to the exterior of the church, giving it the appearance of being a stone structure. That surface has continued to deteriorate, allowing water to infiltrate into the exterior. In 2021, the church removed loose pieces.
“We will continue to consider our options as we consider the principal place of worship for St. Michael the Archangel Parish,” Halfacre said. “I hope that very soon we can have a proposal to bring to you moving forward.”
Halfacre said church attendance has declined about 100 people per year in the past decade. In October 2011, 1,812 people attended Mass in the parish. Last year, that number was 807. Halfacre said despite the decline in attendance, annual income has remained steady at about $1.1 million each year. The pastor also noted the St. Michael Catholic School’s enrollment has increased from 114 in 2011-2012 to 185 this school year.
Halfacre added seminarian Justin Ramza, who received his sacraments at St. Stephen, will be ordained a deacon in the parish in December.
“When I told him about the move and asked him what he thought, he said ‘My attachment is to the people, not a building,’” Halfacre said.
“Saying farewell to a parish church is difficult and painful; it is akin to saying farewell to the family home,” Halfacre said. “Some of the most significant events of our life take place there. And when I walked for the last time through the home where I grew up, I wept. But the fact that a family home or parish church must be abandoned does not erase the good and beautiful things that took place there, they are written in the Book of Life.”
Streator’s four Catholic parishes Immaculate Conception, St. Stephen, St. Anthony and St. Casimir consolidated into one parish in September 2010. In November 2013, following the merger, sacred status was removed for Immaculate Conception, allowing for the sale of the church. The church was purchased by The Foreign Service (China) Group but has not been active since. St. Casimir, at the corner of Illinois and Livingston streets, remains in tact, but it is not actively used.
“The most pressing issue facing us at the present moment concerts our buildings,” Halfacre said. “Since the time I arrived here in the parish, the question surrounding the future of our churches has remained unresolved.”