Farewell picnic for St. Hugh
Last Mass on Sunday; ending 96 years in Lyons
By Steve Metsch
If Arlene Houda had her way, St. Hugh’s Roman Catholic Church would be open for at least four more years.
That would give the Lyons church one century on Joliet Avenue.
Houda, 82, is a lifelong Lyons resident. She went to St. Hugh School, and made her First Communion in the red-brick church where she later said her marriage vows.
“All of our children went to school here,” she said. “My parents were buried from here. My husband was buried from here.”
“(This is) horrible. I sort of felt it was coming, but I still wasn’t ready for it. I cried,” she said.
The school closed 20 years ago.
The church carried on until the Archdiocese of Chicago in January announced that St. Hugh will merge effective July 1 with Mater Christi in North Riverside and St. Mary in Riverside. The new parish will be based in Riverside.
The final Mass at St. Hugh will be said at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, June 27. The pews are expected to be filled with current and former parishioners.
On the evening of June 5, about 75 people gathered for a bittersweet picnic in the large parking lot on the east side of the church.
The Rev. Robert Marchwiany, pastor of St. Hugh, attended the picnic, but declined comment.
Houda was there with son David, daughter Janet Rausch and other family members.
She’s not sure what’s next for the property that covers nearly an entire block in the center of town.
David, 57, of Lisle, former vice president of the St. Hugh School Board, said, “it would be perfect” if the village bought the auditorium, gymnasium and “new building” for various programs.
That “new building” – with extra classrooms needed when the school was busting at the seams – opened in 1959. But for longtime parishioners, it will always be new.
Rausch, of Willowbrook, is director of campus ministry at Nazareth Academy. Before that, she spent six years as director of religious education at St. Hugh School.
“Ninety-six years. This has been such a part of our hometown. … It’s always sad when a church has to close. It’s losing your sense of identity,” Rausch said. “It’s like a death in the family.”
Carole Burke-Hallberg, 52, and friend Nick Haidamaka, 45, were among those trading stories.
Burke-Hallberg grew up in Berwyn, “but I chose St. Hugh because my family has a long history (here).
“I enjoy coming here,” she said. “(It’s) a smaller community than bigger churches in Berwyn. To me, this is home.”
Haidamaka fondly recalls the “awesome hot lunches” from his school days.
“All my best friends, I met them here,” Haidamaka said. “I was baptized here. First Communion here. I buried friends and family from here.”
Another St. Hugh graduate, Lyons resident Deb Blazina, said June 27 “will be a sad day.”
“There’s a lot of history, especially for us kids who grew up here,” Blazina said. “Whatever town you live in, you’ve got to back your church.”
That’s what Eugene “Jim” Copp has been doing the past six decades. Copp, of Lyons, has been a St. Hugh parishioner 61 of his 91 years.
“I’m very disappointed, naturally,” Copp said. “All of my kids went to school here, (received) all of the sacraments here. I had four daughters get married here.”
Copp said his late wife, Grace, “was very active in St. Hugh.”
The closing of St. Hugh Church is a double-whammy for him.
Copp grew up in Summit. He is a graduate of St. Joseph School, which is closing after 107 years. A farewell car parade was held for that school earlier on June 5.
“I’m sick about it,” he said of the school’s demise forced by dwindling enrollment. St. Joseph Church is merging with St. Blasé in Summit.
“St. Hugh? Well, I love St. Hugh,” Copp added. “It’s terrible. Terrible.”