Pilsen Parish Finds Culture Integration Difficult

By Ewa Lyczewska and Jill Jacoby 


Father Jim Collins, an associate Jesuit priest at St. Procopius Parish, finds integration of two churches “hard.” (Photo by Ewa Lyczewska)

“It is hard to integrate two churches … and nobody is successful at that in five years,” said Father Jim Collins, an associate Jesuit priest at St. Procopius Parish.

Located in Pilsen, a Lower West Side, Latino-dominated Chicago neighborhood, St. Procopius Parish consists of its title name church and Holy Trinity Croatian. St. Procopius Parish inherited a “dying” Holy Trinity Croatian in 2004, according to Collins.

Podcast: Father Jim discusses church integration issues. The song Lamb of God is featured throughout the podcast, first in English, then Croatian, Spanish, and once again in English.

St. Procopius Parish offers seven Sunday Masses: three at Holy Trinity Croatian and four at St. Procopius. Holy Trinity celebrates Masses in Croatian, English and Spanish while St. Procopius has three in Spanish and one in English.


St. Procopius, located at 18th & Allport, serves Pilsen’s thriving Latino community. (Photo by Ewa Lyczewska)

According to Collins, most of the Spanish speakers are Mexicans; either immigrants themselves or first- or second-generation Americans.

Collins estimates half of their nearly 1200 parishioners live in their zip code. None of the Croatians live in the Pilsen. Instead, they travel from the suburbs of Chicago due to their strong association with Holy Trinity Croatian, explained Collins.

According to the official St. Procopius/Holy Trinity October Count History, an average number of 1532 people attended Sunday Masses in October 2010. Forty parishioners attended the Croatian Mass, with 241 English and 1251 Spanish attendees.

Since 2004, the average number of parishioners at the Croatian Mass varied from 32 in 2004 to 41 in 2008, the average Mass having 37 attendees. The average number of Spanish attendees varied from 263 in 2004 to 315 in 2009, compared to the English Mass with 103 in 2004 and 245 in 2009. The average number of English attendees in the past 6 years was 263 and a 293 Spanish average.

The majority of priests at St. Procopius Parish are of Irish descent, however, they speak and celebrate Masses in Spanish. Since none of the resident priests speak the language, three times a month a native Croatian Franciscan priest travels to Pilsen and celebrates Mass. Once a month one of the parish’s priests celebrates the mass in English and the congregation replies to him in Croatian.


Father Jim Collins blesses congregation at a 10:45 a.m. English Mass at St. Procopius Church. (Photo by Ewa Lyczewska)

On Aug. 15, Croatians observe Our Lady of Bistrica, also known as Queen of Croatia. Our Croatian parishioners have a big feast that we “preserve and keep,” said Collins.

“We have a fiesta and meal. Croatians cook out lamb and ćevapčići, which are these small sausages,” Collins remarked.

According to Collins, the Latinos who come to the Spanish Mass at Holy Trinity Croatian consider themselves Holy Trinity Croatian parishioners. Consequently they are “more likely to be supportive” of Our Lady of Bistrica than parishoners from St. Procopius. For years now, at the Our Lady of Bistrica gathering they served enchiladas alongside Croatian food, said Collins.


On Aug. 15, Croatians observe Our Lady of Bistrica, also known as Queen of Croatia, said Collins. (Photo by Ewa Lyczewska)

The Mexicans celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 12, which starts with a special Mass called “Mañanitas” at 4:45 a.m, said Collins.

“Our church gets packed, people bring roses, and little kids dress up as Juan Diego,” smiled Collins. “This is the biggest day of our year here.”

Mexicans believe the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Virgin Mary, appeared to Juan Diego in 1531, said Collins.

Since the Croatians do not live in the neighborhood, there are not as likely to come and support Our Lady of Guadalupe celebrations, but this is not “mal intent” or a “lack of harmony,” it is just not practical to travel from the suburbs, especially if you do not understand the language, revealed Collins.

Czech emigrants, who named their church after a Bohemian Benedictine abbot, organized St. Procopius as a parish in 1875. The first Mass was celebrated on Easter Sunday, April 16, 1876. After the Czechs “grew up and assimilated” they migrated south and west to Cicero and Berwyn, and were replaced by Mexicans in the 1960s and 1970s, said Collins.

According to Collins, the Mexicans followed the same path that the Czechs did and moved to Cicero and Berwyn, which is now predominately Hispanic. Pilsen continues to gentrify with students from University of Illinois at Chicago and artists, explained Collins.

Croatian immigrants founded Holy Trinity Croatian in 1914.


Holy Trinity Croatian continues to serve Chicago’s Croatian population. (Photo by Ewa Lyczewska)

St. Procopius School is a dual language school where children learn in English and Spanish. For example, they are taught math one year in English and they next in Spanish, said Collins. The children are predominately Hispanic, but there is a surprising and growing number of white and African-American children, whose parents want them to learn Spanish, so the dual-language is attractive to them. Collins said it’s important for the parents for their children speak multiple languages in an ethically diverse city like Chicago.

Map: Use the pin points on this interactive map to access Mass schedules and a brief background on each parish.

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