St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church, the oldest surviving church in the City of Chicago. | Igor Studenkov/Contributor

The St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church, the oldest surviving church in the City of Chicago, has been quietly working with several North Lawndale organizations on a number of projects that they hope will help the community.

The North Lawndale Kinship Initiative was launched in 2011. The congregation was inspired to form the entity by Fr. Gregory Boyle, founder of the Homeboy Industries gang rehabilitation program, who urged them to build direct relationships with people that they were serving.

Vincent Guider, the initiative’s Executive Director, emphasized that the church wasn’t trying to tell North Lawndale organizations what to do; rather, it was trying to help them with what they say are their pressing concerns. In the end, he believes that the initiative helps and enriches everyone involved.

St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church, better known as Old St. Patrick’s, lives up to its name. It was originally founded in 1846 and its current building opened at 711 W. Monroe Avenue in 1856. It was one of the few structures that survived the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Guider said that, unlike most Catholic churches, its congregation isn’t based on a parish. Rather, it draws parishioners from all over the city, with a few even coming from North Lawndale.

“Our congregation comes from 200 zip codes surrounding the Chicago area,” Guider said. “People come here for its worship and its hospitality and its social engagement with the city and society. That’s why people come here and why they want to engage in these types of causes.”

He explained that the kinship initiative was inspired by a speech Boyle gave while visiting the church during Lent.

“He was talking to congregation about how Christians are very good about service and we should be, but that we Christians should be better about relationships,” Guider said. “We [send money] across the world and its wonderful, but we don’t know the people we’re serving. And he was saying we should be more in kinship with them.”

Old St. Pat’s chose North Lawndale because it was relatively close to it and because the church already had relationships with some of its community organizations. In addition, the community had many needs. The church used the Asset Based Community Development approach, pioneered by Northwestern University’s ABCD Institute, to look at what organizations they could work with.

“Through this approach, you study a community, and you find out what assets exist,” Guider said. “That might be organizations, it might be individuals, it might be [other types of] assets.”

In some cases, Old St. Pat’s approached the organizations. In other cases, the organizations approached them. In the end, they wound up partnering up with nine organizations — the Blessed Sacrament Youth Center, the Greater Love Church of God in Christ, the Firehouse Community Art Center, the Lawndale Christian Legal Center, St Agatha Catholic Church, North Lawndale College Prep High School, North Lawndale Employment Network, the Learning Center and the Young Men’s Education Network.

Guider emphasized that all those partnerships are partnerships of equals.

“Though Asset Based Community Development, rather then going to the community and leading those groups, you find ways of supporting them,” Guider said. “We’re in partnership with them for purpose of mutuality and reciprocity. We’re not there to take over and lead – we’re there to support and follow.”

The initiative also entered into relationships with other organizations that became its affiliates. Guider said that it grew naturally – the partners had relationships with other local organizations, and those organizations had other relationships, so establishing connections was easy.

“We have found, this is very positive and that, in the 24th ward today, there’s so much more collaboration than competition,” he said.