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Dalzell mayor Gloria Orlandi (from left), Darlene Klukaczynski of Dimmick and Gerry Vicini of Peru make tortellini at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Dalzell. St. Thomas More parishioners hoping to keep the troubled church afloat are holding tortellini sales, along with other planned fundraisers, to keep the Diocese of Peoria from shuttering the church.
Monday was pickup day at St. Thomas More Church and parishioner Mary Jean Goodrick was all smiles as people came in to collect bags of tortellini — or raviola, as the meat-filled pastas are called in Dalzell.
Goodrick had good reason to be pleased. After she and other parishioners worked their fingers pressing and pinching dough, they crossed those cramped digits tightly in hopes the fundraiser would draw willing buyers.
So far, it has. During the Monday pickup hours, buyers came in to fetch a whopping 500 orders at $6 a pound. Coupled with a successful Italian fest held earlier this fall, the cash-strapped parish will have brought in $7,000.
“So within a month, we’re cranking out some money here,” Goodrick said proudly, and then laughingly added, “I told Father we could pay a couple of months of power bills.”
She’s only half-joking. For all the laughter heard during the laborious cooking, Goodrick and about 18 volunteers have a dead-serious task at hand: Not only keeping the lights on but also persuading the Diocese of Peoria that the parish is financially viable.
As parishioner Carol Olivero put it, “We’re trying to save our church.”
Parishioners don’t expect a pair of fundraisers to leave them, well, rolling in dough. In fact, the problem they face isn’t technically cash; the monetary shortage is merely a symptom of a declining number of parishioners.
Longtime parishioner Gloria Orlandi explained that a combination of closings, consolidations and clerical transfers throughout the Illinois Valley has caused many area Catholics to switch parishes, and not always in even numbers. St. Thomas More is among the parishes where the net headcount tumbled while area worshippers played musical pews.
Orlandi and other Dalzell parishioners want to refill the pews but this will take time and no small effort. While they recruit and invite others to join them in prayer and praise, they must weigh down the collection plate with as many additional funds as possible.
St. Thomas More isn’t necessarily closing, despite a merger with the Cherry and Arlington parishes. The pastor and parish leaders insist Dalzell’s doors won’t have to be shut for good.
But the writing is on the wall: Unless the ledgers show serious improvement, St. Thomas More will remain on Peoria’s watch list — and, realistically, on its chopping block, too.
Parishioners have responded with a sense of urgency and aim to at least double the average weekly contribution to about $900 a week. Goodrick and other parish leaders issued an all-fingers-on-deck summons to the church hall to help turn homemade pasta into cash — and no experience required.
Judy Szymovicz was among the first-time pasta cooks who responded to the call, doling meat mixture onto cut semolina wedges while leaving it to more experienced fingers to twist them into shape.
“We don’t know how to make raviola,” she grinned, standing at a table with other novices, “but we’re learning.”
The tortellini sale should help, but parishioners aren’t stopping there. They plan additional fundraisers including a wine-tasting planned for February to supplement the weekly collection and show Peoria they’re serious about keeping their church.
The fundraising drive has drawn mostly retirees, but a few tiny fingers could be spotted in the church hall, too. Three-year-old Noah Young was assisting (to a point) his great-grandmother, Joanne Young.
“We’re teaching him early,” the elder Young remarked approvingly. “I grew up making ravioli and I love to do it. And, it’s for a good cause.”