CITY HALL — After announcing plans to “downzone” the St. Adalbert Church property following its final mass earlier this month, Ald. Byron Sigcho Lopez (25th) introduced an ordinance Wednesday to rezone the recently deconsecrated church in Pilsen.
The new alderman said he is moving to change the church’s zoning because the Archdiocese of Chicago failed to meet with parishioners and community members to disclose the future plans for the 2-acre property at 1650 W. 17th St. in the heart of the changing neighborhood.
“The Archdiocese’s business decision to close the church with the intent to sell it to the highest bidder without regard for impact to the community goes against everything the Archdiocese should stand for,” Sigcho Lopez said in a statement.
The site is currently zoned for multi-unit dwelling units. If approved, the new zoning for the site would only allow for parks and open space, a tactic meant to tie the archdiocese’s hands.
“Today’s proposal sets a precedent and sends a message to the Archdiocese that they can’t simply shut their doors, turn a profit, and permanently alter the core of a community without transparency and input,” Sigcho Lopez said.
Sigcho Lopez said the archdiocese left him with no choice but to pursue the procedural route to rezone the property to “prevent the possible sale and development that may displace the very people who have put their faith in the Catholic church, just as we witnessed with St. Ann Catholic Church.”
Earlier this year, the archdiocese confirmed the St. Ann Catholic Church was sold for $1.35 million to a developer to make way for condos or apartments.
The freshman alderman said, if approved, the rezoning of the church would allow for community members to work toward “development without displacement.”
In an email, Anne Maselli, a spokeswoman with the Archdiocese of Chicago, acknowledged the “difficult decision to close St. Adalbert” because it was an anchor in the Pilsen community but said the congregation was too small support a full parish.
Maselli said the sale of the St. Adalbert church property was planned for “well over a year” and said the process leading up to the sale was “transparent.”
“We have had hundreds of hours of meetings with advocacy groups, city officials, interested parties and community members,” Maselli said. The potential reuse of the property will be in line with the “desires of parish and of the community,” she said.
“No viable proposals were received to preserve the property as sacred space and the decision was made to formally close the church and seek an alternative use,” Maselli said.
Parishioners have repeatedly critiqued the process as not being transparent and inclusive of the community.
Earlier this month, the archdiocese hosted a final mass at the church on July 14, and deconsecrated the property the following day.
During the service, Monsignor James Kaczorowski likened the mass to a “funeral.”
“We don’t know what will happen to St. Adalbert’s physical church, but we do know that the spirit of St. Adalbert will live within us forever,” Kaczorowski said.
“For 145 years, [the church] has served all people without exception. … The Polish people, Hispanic people, people of different cultures … from all walks of life without exception, Kaczorowski said.
Parishioners wiped tears throughout the service that transitioned from English to Spanish to Polish.
St. Adalbert was founded in 1874 by Polish immigrants, and the current church building was built in 1912.
In 2016, the archdiocese announced it would consolidate six Pilsen churches into three. As part of the merger, St. Adalbert would close immediately, while Providence of God, 717 W. 18th St., and St. Ann’s, 1840 S. Leavitt St., would become worship sites for other parishes in the neighborhood before ultimately ending regular church services.
They cited changing demographics, low mass attendance and a decline in the number of priests as reasons for the reconfiguration.
Last September, the archdiocese put the property up for sale for a second time, hiring SVN Chicago Commercial to find a buyer. In the posting listed by SVN Chicago Commercial, the church’s iconic towers were listed as “perfect penthouse units.”
The archdiocese previously told Block Club it was in “advanced discussions” with multiple parties to sell the property.
For three years, Polish and Mexican parishioners of the church have fought and petitioned to save the church.
The proposal will now head to the Committee on Zoning for a public hearing before the ordinance is voted on.
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