PILSEN — Parishioners and members of Chicago’s Polish community are holding an emergency meeting Thursday in Logan Square to raise pledges aimed at saving historic St. Adalbert Roman Catholic Church in Pilsen.
The Society of St. Adalbert is looking to raise $1 million dollars to acquire the church property at 1650 W. 17th St. The “11th hour” plan to save the church comes as the Archdiocese of Chicago confirms the church will be put back up for sale soon.
The grassroots group is hosting the meeting from 7-10 p.m. Thursday at St. Hyacinth Basilica Parish Hall, 3635 W. George St. in Logan Square.
The group — led by former board members of the St. Adalbert Preservation Society — wants to convert the convent at St. Adalbert into a bed and breakfast to fund costly tower repairs, Society of St. Adalbert board member Julie Sawicki said. She would not say how much the group has raised to date, but hopes they can raise $1 million by next month.
The group presented the idea to repurpose the convent into a B&B hotel to the Archdiocese of Chicago last summer and has been working to raise pledges to make an offer for the church. If their plan works, the group aims to repair the church and maintain the sanctuary as a religious shrine.
Sawicki said the bed and breakfast would generate enough money to cover the maintenance, community programming and provide jobs for neighbors.
“We can keep [the entire property] together, all we have to do is repurpose the convent and position it as our primary revenue generator,” said Sawicki, who is a real estate broker. “This will give us the income we need and rely on every single month.”
The group knows the $1 million likely isn’t enough to buy and repair the property, but it’s a start.
“We need way more than $1 million in pledges, but it shows the archdiocese that we have some funds available to start this project and we have the support with the community,” Sawicki said.
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The church holds particular significance for the Polish community, whose ancestors built the church more than a century ago, and for the Mexican parishioners who have long called the church home, Sawicki said.
“Our ancestors built it, not just for the Polish community but for the entire Catholic community, including the Mexican community who now live in Pilsen,” Sawicki said. “We built it and the Mexican community helped sustain it.”
“We want to be sensitive to the existing community and do something that isn’t disruptive, fits with Pilsen and doesn’t shove condos and apartments down the neighborhood’s throat,” she added.
Church back up for sale soon
The archdiocese has hired SVN Chicago Commercial to find a buyer for the iconic Pilsen church, confirmed Angelo Labriola, vice president of SVN Chicago Commercial. The church is not on the market now, and Labriola could not confirm when it will be up for sale.
The archdiocese will be seeking a range of potential buyers for the church, archdiocese spokeswoman Anne Maselli said.
“Any decision regarding the future of the church and property will reflect the goals and needs of the parish and parishioners, the property’s architecture and history, its impact on the local community, and the viability of any new owner’s plans to address the significant costs necessary to repair and maintain the church and property,” Maselli said.
Masses at St. Adalbert will continue until further notice.
The archdiocese is not currently seeking proposals for St. Ann or Providence of God churches in Pilsen, both of which have ended regular Mass services, Maselli added.
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St. Adalbert was founded in 1874 by Polish immigrants, and the current church building was built in 1912 at 1650 W. 17th St. The church was known for hosting a weekly Mass in English and Spanish and a monthly Mass in Polish.
Board member Margo Dummell said her family has been involved with the church for over 109 years, and her grandfather laid one of the last bell tower bricks. The church is a “valuable jewel” in Pilsen, she said.
“I grew up across the street, went to school [at St. Adalbert], had my first communion, confirmation, and my grandfather’s funeral was held there,” Dummell said. “My front yard was the church.”
Sawicki said St. Adalbert is an important Polish landmark in Chicago.
“Today’s Polish community, we feel like it’s our duty to preserve the legacy of our ancestors,” Sawicki said.
“Polish people are deeply Catholic, just like the Hispanic community. For us, any church to close is really tough and breaks our heart,” she said. “But then when we think about the church possibly having condos built inside of it, we can’t even stomach that.”
Two-year battle to save St. Adalbert
This is not the first time the archdiocese has tried to sell the St. Adalbert church building. In November 2016, the Archdiocese confirmed that the Chicago Academy of Music was under contract to buy the church property. That deal later fell through, Maselli confirmed to Block Club Chicago last month.
In February 2016, the archdiocese announced that St. Adalbert would close due to the more than $3 million in repairs needed to repair the church’s 185-foot towers, which have been surrounded by scaffolding for years.
Pilsen parishioners have promised to fight the closing of St. Adalbert to the end, and staged protests in an effort to persuade the archdiocese to keep the church open. An appeal by the St. Adalbert Preservation Society, another group working to preserve the church, has since made its way to the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura in Rome, the Catholic Church’s highest court.
In the appeal, the group argued the archdiocese’s planned sale of the church to Chicago Academy of Music violated canon law, while also arguing the parish maintained a strong community with no financial problems.
St. Adalbert Preservation Society spokeswoman Blanca Torres did not respond to requests for comment this week.
In June, Torres told Block Club Chicago that she fears the Vatican will back the archdiocese’s decision and St. Adalbert’s will close. The church closing will have a resounding impact on the neighborhood and further fuel the changes affecting Pilsen, she said.
“To me, it’s very telling that both the consolidation of the churches and gentrification is happening at the same time,” said Torres, who lives a few blocks from the church. “If [the churches] go away, the uniqueness of Pilsen gets lost.”
Despite a huge donation received in March 2016, Catholic officials said the church would still close. The donation wasn’t enough to offset future maintenance costs and didn’t address the declining number of Catholic parishioners in Pilsen.
While the donation to the church from a deceased parishioner was thought to have been worth $3 million, the actual value of the donation, made in stocks, ended up being less. archdiocese officials said at the time that the donation would cover “less than half” of the repairs needed.
The move to close St. Adalbert is part of the archdiocese of Chicago’s larger plan to reconfigure six Catholic churches in Pilsen into three, closing multiple churches in the process.
The archdiocese has cited changing demographics, low Mass attendance and a decline in the number of priests as reasons for the reconfiguration.