This Catholic church is born again as Evangelical approach helps attendance soar
By Margaret Ramirez
CHICAGO, Apr. 15, 2006 (www.chicagotribune.com) - On Easter Sunday, two huge video screens will project praise hymns in this Catholic church as the rock 'n' roll choir leads the celebration of Jesus' resurrection. The priest will consecrate the Eucharist from a lowered altar that brings him closer to his people. Flowering dogwood branches will encircle the church's baptismal font, now an immersion pool in the center aisle surrounded by four gurgling fountains.
Holy Family Catholic Parish Community in Inverness is marking its own rebirth this weekend, opening a $1.4 million renovated sanctuary to its 12,000 parishioners that embraces many elements of the Protestant evangelical movement.
The changes might seem unusual to old-school Catholics. They have raised eyebrows among more orthodox leaders in the archdiocese. But the pastor and parishioners say they are carving the model for the future American Catholic Church.
In contrast to many other Catholic churches where attendance has dropped, Holy Family Parish is booming, even winning back Catholics who were attending Willow Creek, the nondenominational megachurch 3 miles away. Holy Family, with more than 3,700 families, is one of the largest congregations in the archdiocese.
The secret to the 22-year-old church's success has been replicating what growing churches are doing, but in a Catholic way. The result is an innovative congregation that bills itself as "an evangelical church in the Roman Catholic tradition."
"I think what happened to the Catholic Church is we became a little comfortable with ourselves and forgot some of what made us Catholic. We forgot what made us passionate," said Holy Family's pastor, Rev. Pat Brennan. "So I've just taken the best that I've seen of Catholic parishes and evangelical churches and put them together to make Holy Family. In doing that, I think we've rediscovered the heart of Catholicism."
Like several other parishioners, Mary Whiteside said she was on the verge of abandoning her Catholic faith when she found Holy Family. On her first visit, Whiteside said she was hooked by the music and the pastor's riveting homilies. Her husband, Phil, who was raised a Baptist, was so moved that he converted to Catholicism.
"Great things are happening in this church. We're just very alive," said Whiteside, who is on the parish leadership council. "We're sharing some elements of the evangelical church, but I don't think we're trading any part of our Catholic identity."