RACINE — Parishioners said goodbye Sunday, Nov. 23, to a place that has been spiritual home to many of Racine’s Latino Catholics for more than 30 years.
The final masses were held Sunday at Cristo Rey Parish, 801 College Ave., including a packed 10:30 a.m. Mass attended by Cristo Rey parishioners and some from St. Patrick’s Church, 1100 Erie St., with whose congregation Cristo Rey is being merged.
Next Sunday will conclude the yearlong process of the merger, when Cristo Rey parishioners will march from their church building and make their way to St. Patrick’s, where they will be welcomed by Archbishop Jerome Listecki, the spiritual leader of the Milwaukee Archdiocese.
It will also mark coming full circle for Cristo Rey, which was born out of St. Patrick’s. Eloy Contreras, parish council president for Cristo Rey, said that due in part to feeling, at times, unwelcome at St. Patrick’s, which in the late 1970s only had a small Hispanic membership, congregants there went about setting up a spiritual Hispanic community center across Douglas Avenue from St. Patrick’s. In 1979, a new parish was formed, first holding Masses at St. Patrick’s before acquiring and moving to the former St. Mary’s Church in 1983. When members left for their new church, a symbolic procession took place, Contreras said. Next Sunday’s procession will be a spiritual homecoming, Contreras said.
Over the past 35 years, the demographics have changed significantly at St. Patrick’s, where now more than 75 percent of the congregation is Hispanic and the Archdiocese determined it did not make sense to have two churches with similar bases so close. In fact, the congregations were already sharing a pastor, the Rev. Antony Thomas. Thomas was joined at Sunday morning’s service by three of the eight men who have served as pastors or parish administrators of Cristo Rey, including its first, the Rev. Kevin Heagerty.
“After 35 years, there’s been a significant amount of reconciliation between the two communities,” Contreras said. “You know it’s best for the two communities, but it’s a lot like a loved one passing away. In the end you don’t want to see them go, but you see the better life that’s the after life. In the end it’s going to be better. And I think that’s what the sentiment is here today; it’s somber, but also exciting.”
Speaking to those assembled at the standing-room-only 10:30 a.m. service on Sunday, Auxiliary Bishop Donald J. Hying of the Milwaukee Archdiocese stressed that although Cristo Rey congregants will have precious memories from the more than 30 years on College Avenue, their faith would follow them.
“God is calling us to join St. Patrick’s and the church will be better and stronger for that union. So today is a day of sadness and goodbye, but it is also a day of hope and a day to renew our Catholic faith,” Hying said.
That was a sentiment shared by Humberto Delgado, 64, of Racine, who has been a part of Cristo Rey since its founding.
“We’re not done. We’re joining forces with St. Patrick’s and I think we’ll be better off,” said Delgado, a retired worker at Ocean Spray in Kenosha and Racine’s former Massey-Ferguson plant. “Besides, we have our altar over there and we have our own hall. We’re coming together — bigger and better. We’re one church anyway, there’s one big guy (God) up there.”
While a majority of Cristo Rey parishioners will move to St. Patrick’s, not all will. John Hernandez, 61, a retired CNH worker and longtime usher at Cristo Rey, said he will attend Mass at St. Lucy’s Church on Racine’s south side because it is closer to his home.
Sunday was selected as the day for the final services at Cristo Rey because it marked the feast day for the church’s patron, Jesus Christ the King, which is held on the first Sunday before advent.