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St. Therese Chinese Catholic Church: Cultural Diversity United in Catholic Identity

By Parish Transformation Team | Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Located in Chicago’s historic Chinatown, St. Therese Chinese Catholic Church is testimony of cultural diversity united in Catholic identity. In 1904, Italian Americans on Chicago’s near South Side built the Church of Santa Maria Incoronata in the neighborhood now known as Chinatown.  By around 1910, Chinese immigrants started to move into the predominantly Italian American neighborhood.  With more Christian Chinese Americans settling in, the St. Therese Chinese Mission was founded. By the 1960s, the Chinese Christians exceeded in number the Italian Americans in the neighborhood.  With the changing demographics, the Church of Santa Maria Incoronata became the new home of the St Therese Chinese Mission.  Over time, the parish became more ethnically diverse, with Indonesians and other Asians joining the parish.

The changes through the decades have not always been smooth or easy.  But true to the mission of the parish, St. Therese Chinese Catholic Church continues its tradition of joyfully celebrating different cultures as devoted disciples of Christ, and serving as a home to Chinese American Catholics.  It is the Center for Chinese Apostolate within the Archdiocese of Chicago, serving Chinatown and the surrounding neighborhoods.  At the same time, its Italian roots, especially the devotion to St.Rocco , remains an integral part of the parish. 

In February 2015, under the leadership of Fr. Francis Li, pastor of St. Therese, the parish availed of the Parish Transformation Program offered by the Archdiocese of Chicago with a core group of thirty participants.  Different groups of the parish were also consulted.  It was very encouraging, that there were over 80 respondents to the parish survey, despite St. Therese being a relatively small parish with only about 300 to 400 regular church goers, according to Fr. Li.  Through the program, the parish was able to better identify their needs and how to meet those needs in a concrete manner. The parish was able to draft a mission action plan, inspired by their patron, St. Therese of Lisieux, Patron of the Missions, that focuses on evangelization, missionary spirit, and the Chinese apostolate.  Fr. Li believes that the facilitator also played a very important role to the success of the program.  Fr. Li particularly appreciated the flexibility and adaptability of the program to customize according to the needs of the parish.  For Fr. Li, the timing of their parish transformation program was ideal, as it was conducted just before the archdiocesan capital campaign.  The program was also very helpful in determining practical ways to reach out to others, especially in their unique mission as the only Catholic Church in the archdiocese serving Chinese immigrants and Chinatown.  This unique missionary apostolate seeks to bring Christ to those who have not yet heard the Good News and to introduce them to the beauty and fullness of the Catholic faith.  For Fr. Li, this is a particular need for evangelization that the parish hopes to answer since over 70% of parents of children enrolled in St. Therese Catholic School are not Catholic and over 90% in Chinatown are non Catholics.  They also minister to the overseas students from China. In the course of just over a year, the parish has improved and increased their online presence and utilization of social media with both Chinese and English options. The parish has a dedicated Implementation Team to keep the parish on track to achieve the goals they have set in their mission action plan, based on the encyclical Joy of the Gospel, by utilizing their greatest asset, their multi-cultural community of Italians, Chinese, Indonesians, and other ethnicities.   The parish transformation of St. Therese is a work in progress.  Fr. Li is very grateful that the Parish Transformation Program, most importantly, transformed the individual parishioners who participated, who in turn can help to transform others in the community and in the parish.