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Pilsen, Little Village, West Loop

Beloved Pilsen Church Parishioners Fought To Save Being Sold To Developer For $4 Million

St. Adalbert Church is slated to be sold to City Pads, a developer that was under fire for painting over the Casa Aztlan mural.

St. Adalbert Church is located at 1650 W. 17th St. in Pilsen.
Leroyesha Lane/ Block Club Chicago
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PILSEN —  Less than two months after the Archdiocese of Chicago held a final mass and moved to deconsecrate historic St. Adalbert Catholic Church in Pilsen, a developer who was previously under fire in the neighborhood is under contract to buy the church.

City Pads Chicago is under contract to buy the property at 1650 W. 17th St. from the archdiocese for $4 million, a source familiar with the deal said. The developer previously sparked outrage in tight-knit Pilsen for painting over the Casa Aztlan mural.

On Friday, a City Pads employee said St. Adalbert was a “new property” for the company but could not answer questions about the developer’s future plans for the site. A City Pads spokesperson did not return a request for comment about the sale Friday.

The property — consisting of the sanctuary, rectory, convent, school and a parking lot — spans 2.1 acres in the heart of the changing neighborhood. St. Adalbert was founded in 1874 by Polish immigrants and the current church building was built in 1912.

The pending sale follows a years-long battle Mexican and Polish parishioners have waged in an effort to save the St. Adalbert Church from being closed and sold.

In June, the archdiocese announced the church would hold its final service on July 14. The following day, the church would cease to be a “sacred space and may not be used for worship,” archdiocese officials said in a statement.

In September 2018, the archdiocese hired SVN Chicago Commercial to sell the property. A real estate listing at the time infuriated some Pilsen residents because it touted the church’s iconic towers as “perfect for penthouse units.” The language was later removed.

Anne Maseli, a spokeswoman with the Archdiocese of Chicago, confirmed the church property is under contract to be sold to City Pads. The developer was selected based on their experience in the community and because they “understand the needs of the community and the goals of local officials and neighborhood groups,” Maseli said.

“The potential reuse of the property will be respectful of the property’s history, the property’s place as a previously sacred space, the desires of the parish and of the community,” Maseli said. “Not only will the community benefit from a new and revitalized space, but the remaining combined parish of St. Paul/St. Adalbert will benefit from the necessary additional funding to support the parish’s mission and social outreach.”

Maseli said City Pads plans to engage with local residents, elected officials and leaders to solicit feedback “at the appropriate time.”

In an email, Maseli 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 “substantial annual operating costs” of the church property.

In addition to declining mass attendance, the St. Adalbert Church building, including its iconic twin towers, have significant structural issues that would require millions of dollars to repair, Maseli said.

The property is currently listed as “under contract” on SVN’s website.  SVN representatives did not immediately return calls.

Credit: Screenshot
The St. Adalbert Church property is under contract to be sold, according to a real estate listing.

Earlier this year, SVN Commercial helped the archdiocese sell nearby St. Ann Church for $1.35 million to Evenlight Leavitt LLC. The group aims to convert the church building into apartment or condos, the archdiocese confirmed.

Alderman moves to change zoning  

As the archdiocese moves to sell the church, the area’s new alderman has stepped into the fight, working to rezone the deconsecrated church.

Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) introduced an ordinance to change the site’s zoning in July. 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.

Sigcho Lopez said the move comes after the archdiocese has failed to involve community members and parishioners on the future plans for the 2-acre property.

Credit: Mauricio Peña/ Block Club Chicago
Ald. Byron Sigcho Lopez (25th) announces plans to downzone St. Adalbert Church following the final services at the Pilsen church.

“They can’t simply shut their doors, turn a profit, and permanently alter the core of a community without transparency and input,” the alderman said at the time.

On Friday, Sigcho-Lopez said he expects the zoning change to be introduced at the Committee on Zoning in October. 

Following the introduction of the ordinance, Maseli defended their process as “transparent.”

“We have had hundreds of hours of meetings with advocacy groups, city officials, interested parties and community members,” Maseli previously told Block Club.  The potential reuse of the property will be in line with the “desires of the parish and of the community,” she said.

‘We are still hoping and praying’

But parishioners insist the process has not been transparent and said selling the property to City Pads, who has had a tenuous relationship with the neighborhood, is not in line with their vision for the future of the property. 

Following the deconsecration of the church, Society of St. Adalbert officials say they offered the archdiocese a total of $2.03 million for the property — $1 million for the church and an additional $1.03 million for the rest of the site on July 17. But they never heard back about the offer, according to Julie Sawicki, the society’s president.

Sawicki, who was first made aware of the deal late last month, said the archdiocese’s decision to enter into a contract with City Pads was “disappointing.”

“Based on the history with the community, [City Pads] is not sensitive to the needs of the community,” Sawicki said.

Two active appeals from the St. Adalbert Preservation Society and Society to Preserve St. Adalbert, two groups looking to save the church, are making their way through the courts in Rome.

Credit: Mauricio Peña/ Block Club Chicago
Julie Sawicki, president of Society of St. Adalbert, tells parishioners “the war has not been won or lost yet.”

In 2017, City Pads sparked outrage in Pilsen after painting over the Casa Aztlan mural, a mural that was more than 45 years old, DNAinfo reported. After facing backlash, City Pads brought back original artist Ray Patlan to paint a new mural.

City Pads is currently constructing a 59 apartment co-living building at 1407 W. 15th St. on the south end of Addams/Medill Park just north of the Pilsen border, according to Curbed Chicago. Rent for a room in a shared apartment is expected to start at $975 per month when it opens in 2020, according to Chicago magazine.

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.

Parishioner Margo Dumelle said her grandfather laid the “final brick on one of the towers” and her parents were instrumental in fighting to keep the church open after the archdiocese threatened to close the church in the 1970s.

The church was built by the community, for the community, Sawicki said. It wasn’t built for the archdiocese to turn a profit, she said.

Instead of selling the property, the archdiocese should follow dioceses in other parts of Illinois and the country who have turned over historic church buildings to groups who aim to preserve them, Sawicki said.

“Morally, ethically, rightfully, if [the archdiocese doesn’t] want it anymore they should give it back,” Sawicki said. 

Credit: Mauricio Peña/ Block Club Chicago
Lifelong Pilsen resident and St. Adalbert parishioner Blanca Torres has been engaged in an effort to save the church.

Blanca Torres, a spokeswoman for the St. Adalbert Preservation Society who has also been fighting to keep the church open for years, also expressed frustration with the Archdiocese of Chicago’s decision to enter a contract with City Pads.

For all their talking points of inclusivity, transparency, and working with the community, the archdiocese is now selling the church to a developer who previously turned a community space into a market-rate co-living apartment building, Torres said.  

The archdiocese’s words are contradicted by their actions, Torres said.

“They are playing lip service…but, in reality, they haven’t listened to or taken the community’s wishes into consideration just based on who they picked as the developer,” Torres said. 

Even while a contract is pending, Torres is holding out hope that Ald. Sigcho-Lopez’s zoning ordinance will create a scenario where the “community’s needs and wishes are respected.”

“We are still hoping and praying,” Torres said.

Credit: Mauricio Peña/ Block Club Chicago
Parishioners gather outside the St. Adalbert Roman Catholic Church in prayer Sunday.

Since the church held its last mass, Polish and Mexican parishioners have set up altars on the church steps, holding vigils on Friday and Sundays.

On Sunday, more than 30 parishioners stood under the church building’s scaffolding in prayer.

Judith Vazquez said the archdiocese’s move to sell the church united the parishioners like never before in their fight to save it.

“We have been building bridges between the Polish and Mexican community. We are standing tall, we are standing strong,” Vazquez said. “We have hope and prayer.”

Despite the pending sale, Vazquez said she believes the parishioners will be victorious in their fight.

“We will kneel in front of the main altar of our church again,” Vazquez said.

Years-long battle to save the church

This is not the first time the archdiocese has tried to sell the St. Adalbert church building. 

In November 2016, the archdiocese confirmed the Chicago Academy of Music was under contract to buy the church property. That deal later fell through, archdiocese confirmed to Block Club last year.

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.

Credit: Stephanie Lulay/ DNAinfo
St. Adalbert parishioners protest the closing of the church in February 2017.

Pilsen parishioners 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.

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

Credit: Mauricio Peña/ Block Club Chicago
The final mass at St. Adalbert Church in Pilsen.

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