By Dermot Connolly
While plans move forward to relocate the Pieta replica statue now in St. Adalbert Church over objections by some parishioners, Chicago Roman Catholic Archdiocese officials are refuting rumors about demolishing the historic Pilsen church as soon as the statue is moved.
The archdiocese closed St. Adalbert, at 1650 W. 17th St., in 2019 and merged the parish with St. Paul Parish, at 2127 W. 22nd Pl., as part of the Renew My Church program. Since then, parishioners and church and City officials have been at odds over the 2.1-acre St. Adalbert property, which also includes a rectory, convent, school, and parking lot.
Polish immigrants founded the parish in 1874, and the current church building dates to 1912. Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th Ward) has sided with the Polish and Hispanic parishioners and residents of the surrounding Pilsen neighborhood, who have expressed concern the archdiocese will sell the land to a developer to build luxury condos on the site, gentrifying the area and making it too expensive for current neighborhood residents. Sigcho-Lopez maintains Mayor Lori Lightfoot has erred by getting involved personally in a local issue and taking steps to thwart his efforts to downzone the property to usable only as public space.
Archdiocese officials have said downzoning would devalue private property unfairly, and the alderman and mayor publicly argued about the issue at a City Council meeting in May.
Since then, the hottest issue for community organizations such as the St. Adalbert Spanish and Polish Rosary Group is the archdiocese’s plan to remove St. Adalbert’s Pieta statue, a replica of Leonardo Da Vinci’s sculpture in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. Officials want to move the replica to St. Paul’s Church so people can view it; currently nobody can enjoy the statue because St. Adalbert is closed. The rosary group wants to see St. Adalbert’s reopened and raised the alarm when workers began removing exterior bricks from a church wall in October to get to the statue attached to the other side.
That first removal attempt stalled because St. Paul’s Church, which is handling the move, did not have the correct permits. Now that St. Paul’s has obtained proper permits, the rosary group fears removal is imminent. The bilingual group prays every Friday outside St. Adalbert and monitors goings-on at the church, holding events such as a press conference in City Hall following a City Council meeting in November to call attention to the situation.
Responding to reports of a planned Nov. 16 removal, the group gathered outside St. Adalbert’s that morning. Rumors circulated that officials would demolish the church as soon as St. Paul’s removes the statue, but archdiocese officials strongly refute that.
“The church property is up for sale, so it won’t be demolished before it is sold,” an archdiocese spokesperson told Gazette Chicago in mid-November. “The sale is being handled by St. Paul’s. We are just assisting them, such as helping get the proper permits.
“Hypothetically, a buyer could have it demolished at some time in the future, but the church is on the Orange List of protected properties,” he noted, referring to a category in the Chicago Historic Resources Survey compiled by the City. The Orange List consists of more than 9,600 properties in Chicago that have some architectural or historical feature that makes them potentially significant to the surrounding community. According to the archdiocese’s spokesperson, public meetings and other extra steps are required to obtain permits to tear down an Orange List structure.
“I don’t know why people are spreading those [demolition] rumors,” said the spokesperson.
He said the parish received permits to move the statue in November, and while “it takes time to assign crews to do it,” workers may remove the statue before Christmas.
“We are just here to support the unified parish of St. Paul’s and St. Adalbert,” he said. “We have met with all the parties, and no other feasible solutions have been offered,” he asserted, referring to plans to sell the St. Adalbert property. Completing repairs needed to make St. Adalbert usable would cost $4 or $5 million, according to church officials.
Rosary Group views
Judy Vasquez, a co-chair of the St. Adalbert Rosary Group, said she was pleased to hear the property was not in danger of imminent demolition. The group is not happy with the whole situation, however.
“Maybe they did speak with the community, but that was years ago,” Vasquez said. “We would like a meeting with Cardinal Blase Cupich so we can share what our vision is.
“We have written letters to the cardinal and have gotten no response,” she said. “We are a faith-based community, a part of the Pilsen community. I was born and raised in this neighborhood. I was a parishioner at St Adalbert’s and graduated from the grammar school there.”
A public charter school run by Acero now rents the school building from the archdiocese.
“We would like the church reopened,” Vasquez. “Where is the money going for all the properties they have sold already? We want it to go back into the community.” She cited the sale of an archdiocesan parking lot across the street from Holy Name Cathedral as among the transactions that have brought the archdiocese a large amount of money.
“Why aren’t they investing the money they get into the community?” Vasquez asked. “We would demand that they repurpose the schools they are closing, for the parishes. They need tending to, of course, but they can reinvest into those buildings. Cardinal Cupich has closed over 100 churches. What is the plan?”
Vasquez said that while the rosary group took the lead in “keeping watch over the Pieta,” the group’s efforts have attracted others in the neighborhood as well.
“It is the Pilsen community coming together in faith,” Vasquez said. “We meet in front of the church on Fridays to pray, and on the piazza on the northwest side of the church, too. We are not going anywhere. We come with love. We come with peace. It is not so much a protest, but it is bringing the community together.”
For the archdiocese, log on to www.arcchicago.org. To contact St. Paul’s Church, call (773) 847-6100. For Sigcho-Lopez’s office, log on to www.25thward.org.