BRIDGEPORT — One of the area’s oldest parishes will conclude its yearlong celebration of its 130th anniversary with a neighborhood barbecue party.
The St. Mary of Perpetual Help Feast Day party is scheduled to take place outside the church, 1039 W. 32nd St., after the conclusion of Sunday's 10:30 a.m. Mass.
Founded in 1882 as a place of worship for Polish immigrants who worked in the nearby Union Stockyards, St. Mary of Perpetual Help began as a two-story building at Farrel and Lyman streets, the site of a convent, church and school.
By 1892, parish leaders had embarked on the construction of the grand church designed by architect Henry Englebert.
The parish has seen great changes throughout the decades, including the construction of a social center, interior and exterior renovations, the closing of its high school and the consolidation of its grade school into the Bridgeport Catholic Academy.
Today, St. Mary of Perpetual Help is home to about 800 parishioners, a mix of longtime Bridgeport residents and neighborhood newcomers, the Rev. Thomas Aschenbrener said.
Aschenbrener was installed as the eighth pastor in parish history earlier this month.
Asked about the biggest modern-day challenges faced by the historic church, he said "overcoming secularism" and "keeping God in the public sphere" are among the tops.
"One of the biggest threats to society right now is that everyone tries to keep God confined to a church building and we can’t just do that," he said. "There are young people here today and we really want to spread that message in an appealing and attractive way but not forcefully, because who can believe when you’re forced to believe?"
Recently, parish leaders have embarked on ministries for young adults and started a social media presence on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.
Another restoration campaign is underway, and the church plans to open its doors for the Open House Chicago architecture event, which offers free, behind-the-scenes access to notable buildings across the city.
Admission to Sunday's party is $5 and includes food and non-alcoholic drinks. Supplies are limited.