Standing room only
Too many people are too uninformed and too misinformed about what they believe.
Last weekend, I walked into church 15 minutes early and our family squeezed into one of the few remaining pews. I looked around at a packed church with over 2,000 people attending Mass. Worshippers spilled into walkways. The back of the church was standing room only.
Play that scene against the rest of America, where church membership is declining rapidly. Church participation has fallen below 50% for the first time ever. The Archdiocese of Chicago has closed 110 parishes and churches in recent years.
Yet inside the stone walls of St. John Cantius Church on Chicago’s northwest side, the Catholic church is thriving. Revenues have increased nearly 70% in the past decade, with nearly $6 million in reserves.
Which begs the question: While other churches are struggling to survive, how is St. John Cantius thriving?
The answer lies in what they stand for.
From the second you walk into St. John Cantius, it feels like a church. Their motto of “restoring the sacred” is immediately clear, as every altar, every painting, every pew is meticulously cared for. As you take your first breath, you draw in the incense which permeates every corner of the massive church. Music, Gregorian chants and bells sound like you walked into a 12th century monastery.
During Sunday’s Mass, the priests and altar servers proceeded down the aisle. I counted 48 altar servers. Watching this procession is like looking at those stop-motion videos where parents take a picture of the kids every day for 15 years. You see the 8-year-old. Next the larger 10-year-olds. Then the 13-, 14-, 15-, 18- and 20-year-olds, leading up to the priests.
And the results are unbelievable: St. John Cantius Church regularly produces more priests than the entire Archdiocese of New York.
They aren’t only training new priests, they are also creating converts. This year alone, 24 adults have converted to Catholicism and joined the parish.
When asked about what is drawing people, the Rev. Joshua Caswell said, “Too many Catholics are too uninformed and too misinformed about what they believe. That’s because too many houses of worship have tried to stay relevant by pretending to be things they’re not, getting too political or trying to entertain. More and more of our youth crave authentic spirituality.”
Rev. Caswell understands this well, because before his religious order took over St. John Cantius in 1988, there were only 40 people who came to Mass on Sundays. They realized they needed to stand for something, or they needed to shut their doors.
St. John Cantius has become a conservative church. Not conservative in the political sense, but rather in the historical.
What you get at the church is nothing new. In fact, every aspect of it is thousands of years old. The Mass will transport you to another time, and through that open your spiritual world.
Still, Mass at St. John Cantius is not for everyone.
For example, parishioners believe in transubstantiation: that during Mass, the bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
With belief as a foundation, St. John Cantius has become one of the few churches in Chicago to thrive and expand.
It reminds me of the work we do at the Illinois Policy Institute. Our mission is rooted in protecting and expanding the miracle of the free market. Whether 10 years from now, or 1,000 years from now, that will not change.
It’s not for everyone. Some people believe government and systems need to control peoples’ lives.
Not us. We believe in people.
So while political parties and leaders change, the Illinois Policy Institute will remain rooted in our belief: A belief that has changed the world and drawn thousands of people to the free-market movement.
I suspect years from now when we look around, we will see other organizations have come and gone.
And we will be standing room only.