Saint for the Digital Age: Chicago’s Blessed Carlo Acutis Parish Awaits Canonization

The Chicago church is the only U.S. parish named after the soon-to-be-saint.

Stained glass of soon-to-be-Saint Carlo Acutis adorning Blessed Carlo Acutis Parish in Illinois.
Stained glass of soon-to-be-Saint Carlo Acutis adorning Blessed Carlo Acutis Parish in Illinois. (photo: Blessed Carlo Acutis Parish)

CHICAGO — Seated quietly in pews during their regular school Mass in May, students at St. John Berchmans in Chicago were told that Pope Francis recently attributed a second miracle to Blessed Carlo Acutis. That meant the Italian teenager would be canonized and become the first millennial saint.

The students clapped, cheered and beamed. The Italian youth, who cataloged Eucharistic miracles and approved Marian apparitions on the web to spread the faith, naturally appeals to young people worldwide. 

But the St. John Berchmans students especially can relate to him. A relic — a lock of his hair —is preserved behind glass at a parish chapel, and the familiar image of him wearing a red shirt and a backpack adorns the large banner hung outside the school. That’s because the school is part of Blessed Carlo Acutis parish.

Relic of Blessed Carlo Acutis on display.
Relic of Blessed Carlo Acutis on display.

In 2021, St. Berchmans Church and St. Hedwig Church on the North Side merged. Parishioners weighed a number of possible names but ultimately opted to honor Acutis, who died in 2006 from leukemia, but not before evincing a deep faith and compassion for others.

“It was a perfect fit,” says Louie Russo, head of operations at the parish. “There’s his devotion to the Eucharist. The technology angle. His youth.”

Children sometimes know little about the saint for whom their church is named. Not so at this school and parish. “The kids know about him. Just ask them,” adds Russo.

The parish’s colorful, creative logo features binary code that spells Acutis’ name, a nod to his embrace of the internet to advance the faith through his skills as a web programmer. The binary code in the logo symbolizes “the interconnectedness of the material and spiritual realms,” says Resurrectionist Father Tomasz Wojciechowski, the current pastor. The logo is a “visual reminder of Acutis’ message that, even in the digital age, the language of faith remains universal and accessible to all who seek it.”

Logo featuring zeroes and ones for the 'saint of the digital age.'
Logo featuring zeroes and ones for the 'saint of the digital age.'

The parish likely will schedule a pilgrimage to Rome and Assisi for the canonization, probably in 2025, and a yearlong slate of special events. The events will include not only Masses, prayer and adoration but perhaps a food drive for the parish pantry, a way to mirror Acutis’ concern for others. He was a valued friend and defender of students with disabilities and those who were bullied, and he volunteered for charities that served the homeless and poor.

The Chicago church is the only U.S. parish named after him. Naming a parish after a person who is “Blessed,” but not a saint, also was unusual. “The pastor was pretty confident he’d be named a saint,” says Russo.

The parish website, the bulletin and other materials with the parish name will have to be updated. But that will be a minor inconvenience. “Our website was designed with the idea we might have to change the name,” says Russo.

The allure of Blessed Carlo extends far beyond the parish named for him. After Holy Thursday Mass this year, when Catholics visit various nearby churches, Blessed Carlos was visited by several hundreds of nonparishioners. “It was very crowded. Our own parishioners had trouble finding parking,” says Richard Martin, business manager.

It’s not hard to locate other parishes in Chicago that find Blessed Carlo inspiring and worthy of emulation. In the heavily Latino Little Village neighborhood on the West Side, the teen ministry program at Blessed Sacrament Youth Center has a segment that tells his story. Cristo Rey parish in Little Village hosted in the spring a traveling exhibit on Acutis and his devotion to the Eucharist. More than 500 teens saw it.

Altar inside Blessed Carlo Acutis Parish in Chicago, Ill.
Altar inside Blessed Carlo Acutis Parish in Chicago, Ill.

The only other parish in the Western Hemisphere named for the Italian youth is in England in the Archdiocese of Birmingham. The Parish of Blessed Carlo Acutis was named when three parishes merged. It, too, will celebrate his canonization in 2025 in a variety of ways. Last year, marking his feast day on Oct. 12, the parish held Mass at all three churches, an adoration and a parish party.

Blessed Acutis was born and baptized in London to Italian parents in 1991, but the family moved back to Milan, Italy, while he was still an infant. 

Acutis was beatified in 2020. Presiding at the beatification service, Cardinal Agostino Vallini praised him as an example of how young people can use technology to spread the Gospel “to reach as many people as possible and help them know the beauty of friendship with the Lord.” 

The first miracle attributed to him involved a 4-year-old boy from Brazil healed from a rare pancreatic disease after prayers before a photo of Acutis in 2013. The second miracle was a young woman who suffered a life-threatening head injury from a bike accident in 2022 in Florence, Italy. Her mother prayed at Acutis’ tomb in Assisi a few days later. A CT scan later showed the hemorrhage was gone.

Acutis was buried in Assisi to fulfill his wish to be in the city of St. Francis. He was buried wearing Nike sneakers, black jeans and an athletic warmup jacket, his normal clothes. But his faith was out of the ordinary. “To always be close to Jesus, that’s my life plan,” he wrote when he was 7 years old. 

Photograph of Blessed Carlo Acutis on display.
Photograph of Blessed Carlo Acutis on display.

He prayed the Rosary each day and was devoted to the Eucharist. He once wrote, “The Eucharist is the highway to heaven.” When people sit in the sun, they become tan, “but when they sit before Eucharistic Jesus, they become saints.”

The merger of St. Hedwig and St. John Berchmans was part of the massive “Renew My Church” process begun by the Archdiocese of Chicago in 2016. Hundreds of parishes have been combined or merged as the Catholic population declined in the archdiocese by 7% over a decade and the number of available priests declined. The goal is to “create parishes with the resources to be vibrant, evangelizing faith communities,” according to the archdiocese.

Merging and closing parishes, where loved ones are married and buried and children are schooled and receive the sacraments, is often fraught with anguish. “We’ve had some trying times. People have different ideas on how to do things,” says Martin.

Prior to the merger, both Hedwig and Berchmans had an average Sunday Mass attendance of about 500. Traditionally a Polish parish, Hedwig instituted a Spanish Mass years ago. Berchmans was a mix of Irish, Germans, Mexicans and others, also with a longtime Spanish Mass.

“The merged parish is the ‘bridge’ across Western Avenue,” says Jane Simers, a Berchmans graduate and longtime religious-education teacher at Berchmans. “We should be unified.”

The new name fits, she adds. “He’s the perfect patron for us,” she says of soon-to-be-saint Carlo. “He’s a modern saint. He was a really good young person.”

The name is a “profound testament to the spiritual journey of the community,” says Father Wojciechowski. “In the merging of the parishes, there was a collective discernment to embrace a name that not only honors a modern-day saint but also reflects a deeper understanding of faith in the contemporary world.”

He adds that Acutis’ use of technology to spread the Gospel “embodies the timeless values of love, faith and service.”