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St. Athanasius Parish celebrates 100th anniversary

North Evanston church dates to 1921, has 1,100 members today.

Celebrating mass in the 100th anniversary year.

If the church is a family, Brigid Hughes’ family is a big part of it, the family at St. Athanasius Parish in Evanston.

Hughes’ parents attended St. A’s. So has she, since 1944. Her five siblings all went there. Hughes met her husband as a student in St. A’s school. Their eight children all attended the school, and at one time, Hughes, 78, says, “my mom had 19 grandchildren in the school.”

Hughes and her husband ran St. Athanasius’ 75th anniversary celebration, in 1996, and are still there for the 100th.

“My husband and I are some of the oldest parishioners,” she says with a laugh. They met in eighth grade. “We were crazy about each other,” she adds, and they still are.

According to a parish history, St. Athanasius Church was organized in 1921, to relieve overcrowding at St. Mary’s Church near downtown Evanston.

The first mass that year was held in Lincolnwood School. A cornerstone was laid for the present church building on Lincoln Street a year later. Following that, an elementary school, with 32 students, was established.

“Nobody went to a public school,” Hughes says about the parish when she was young. “If you did, the pastor would walk to your house and ask why.”

The current pastor, the Rev. Hernan Cuevas, may not go to those extremes, but he’s still very proud of St. Athanasius Church, and the school, which is still exists as well.

Cuevas says the anniversary year will include a number of spiritual and community events. One was on May 1 and 2, in honor of St. Athanasius, patron saint of the parish. May 2 coincides with the Feast of St. Athanasius.

Celebrating the anniversary, from left, Idina Arends, Patrick Swider, Cece Swaim, Bishop Mark Bartosic, Reggie the St. A’s REDHAWK, Kate Kamins and Colin David.

“It’s a beautiful community,” Cuevas says, “and I didn’t want the 100th anniversary to go by without a celebration, despite the pandemic.”

Future events will reflect the 1,100-member parish’s ongoing commitment to outreach and helping the poor.

Cuevas says St. Athanasius is “like a candle that’s lit to bring hope and love to society.”

Society has changed a lot since Brigid Hughes first walked into St. A’s as a child during World War II. She says the parish is more conservative than when she was growing up, but “it’s still very comforting to me” to attend.

“This feels right, this feels good,” she says of the century-old congregation.

Jeff Hirsh

Jeff Hirsh

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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