PORTAGE PARK — A Northwest Side group wants a historical church that held its last mass last year to receive landmark status to prevent it from potentially being torn down.
Our Lady of Victory, 5212 W. Agatite Ave., closed its parish as part of the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Renew My Church consolidation plan. The building is still a Catholic church open for services under the archdiocese’s permission for now.
While the archdiocese has no immediate plans for the building, it mentioned options for selling the property when it announced the closing in 2020. This sent parishioners and community members into a panic, as they want to make sure the building is preserved and stays a neighborhood asset.
“It is one of the most fabulous pieces of architecture on the Northwest Side — we don’t want to lose it,”said Susanna Ernst, president of the Northwest Chicago Historical Society and an Our Lady of Victory parishioner who organized the petition.
Our Lady of Victory, founded in 1906, is the oldest Catholic church on the Far Northwest Side. It has been home to Irish, Polish and German congregations. Its architectural significance, community outreach and growth between the 1920s and ’50s make it important to the area, Ernst said.
The church has been suggested for landmark status to the Commission on Chicago Landmarks by the Northwest Chicago Historical Society, Ernst said. The commission, which is an arm of the city’s Department of Planning and Development, is responsible for recommending sites for legal protection as official city landmarks.
Should the commission deem Our lady of Victory meets the historical, architectural and cultural significance requirements to become a landmark, aldermanic and ownership approval would be needed, according to the city’s landmarks ordinance. A public hearing, followed by a commission decision, is then taken to City Council before the landmark can become official.
While some people see the Our Lady of Victory group as infringing upon a possible sale of the church, Ernst said she worries it could be sold to an entity that will destroy it.
“Because the archdiocese has not told anyone who the potential buyers are, we have to assume the worst,” she said.
Archdiocese spokesperson Susan Thomas said options are still being explored for the property, but those owned by the archdiocese are not considered for landmark status by the Catholic organization.
“To the extent we sell or otherwise transfer ownership of property to another owner, that owner is free to pursue that designation if they so choose,” the archdiocese said in a statement. “We are not aware of any move to designate Our Lady of Victory for landmark status.”
The petition for landmark designation has been signed by more than 400 people.
Preservation Chicago added the church to its list of 2021 endangered buildings and recommended it be repurposed as another religious space, an event venue or as housing.
“The church could still remain a sacred site but maybe be enveloped with other uses, maybe tied to the community, or maybe an educational facility,” said Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago. “The landmark designation encourages the right kinds of ideas and a creative imagination being applied to these structures.”
In addition to benefiting the Far Northwest Side, which has few landmarked buildings, the designation could benefit the archdiocese, Miller said. With the archdiocese closing churches and parishes around the area as part of its Renew My Church plan, its Catholic churches could see new life and sustainability with the city’s help, Miller said.
The archdiocese “could still landmark the outside of the building and encourage the city to maintain big structures, even if they are closing or in disrepair,” Miller said.
Given that the archdiocese does not consider its properties for landmark status, Miller said ownership consent for religious buildings — added to the ordinance in 1987 — should be repealed.
“City funds could be used to repair these buildings … . That would show a working together rather than a corporate hierarchy in an ivory tower making decisions impacting communities across the city and many, many individuals,” he said.
Local aldermen and state representatives have joined in on the awareness effort to keep the church in the community. Last year, Ald. Nick Sposato (38th) named North Laramie Avenue from West Agatite to West Sunnyside avenues as Honorary Our Lady of Victory Way.
“This is our history, our architecture. This is ours,” Ernst previously said of the church. “It belongs to the community. And when you take this away from us, you don’t just take it away from Catholics — you take it away from every single person.”
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