LITTLE ITALY — As Cardinal Blase Cupich gave a speech Monday inside St. Ignatius College Prep, parishioners protested outside, demanding a beloved statue remain at the closed St. Adalbert’s church in Pilsen.
Spanish Polish Rosary Group members from the former St. Adalbert’s Catholic Church asked for a meeting with Cupich but didn’t get one. Instead, inside the school, Cupich spoke at the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Keep Hope Alive fundraiser, an event meant to recognize people who have helped immigrant communities.
The Polish and Mexican parishioners oppose the archdiocese’s plan to move a replica of Michelangelo’s La Pietà statue at the former St. Adalbert Church, 1650 W. 17th St., which the archdiocese closed in 2019. Parishioners have camped outside for more than a month to block the statue’s removal and held a successful protest to stop workers from removing it last week.
The archdiocese plans to move the statue to St. Paul Catholic Church in Pilsen, a spokesperson said.
Polish and Mexican parishioners fought for years to save St. Adalbert church, which was founded in 1874 by Polish immigrants and built in Pilsen in 1912. The church hosted its final Mass in 2019, and the property has been targeted for redevelopment.
Parishioners are worried the statue’s removal will accelerate the demolition of the parish and have asked it to be gifted to the the Polish community instead of moved to St. Paul’s because St. Adalbert’s was founded by Polish immigrants, organizer and former parishioner Judy Vazquez has said.
At the protest Monday night outside St. Ignatius, Vazquez, organizer with the Spanish Polish Rosary Group, said she hopes Cardinal Cupich will agree to meet with the parishioners to hear their input about where to place the statute. The parishioners — who were praying outside in Spanish, English and Polish with rosaries in hand — hope Cupich’s “heart is touched” by their efforts, she said.
St. Igantius College Prep security did not let parishioners inside the fundraiser to talk with Cupich, but they allowed members of the media inside.
During his speech, Cupich recognized sponsors of the event, spoke about the influx of migrants bused to Chicago from the Texas-Mexico border since August and recounted encounters with some of the migrants. He said many of them ask for two things: a job and a church.
A place “where they can come and thank God for rescuing them from their exodus from poverty, from violence and from stress,” Cupich said.
Cupich did not make any reference to the demonstrators outside the school.
Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th), who supports the parishioners trying to prevent the statue’s removal, urged Cupich to “have a meeting to discuss the future of St. Adalbert and many other empty churches.”
Sigcho-Lopez said many migrants want help from churches, including from the closed St. Adalbert.
“We believe it is unacceptable and immoral to sell the church for profit in the middle of a humanitarian crisis,” Sigcho-Lopez said.
In the past four years, the Archdiocese of Chicago has twice gone under contract to sell the property — once to a music school and another time to a residential developer — but both deals have fallen through. The property spans 2.1 acres in the heart of the gentrifying neighborhood.
Sigcho-Lopez has worked to downzone the church site for years to force any developer to engage with Pilsen neighbors and St. Adalbert’s former parishioners.
Sigcho-Lopez’s ordinance passed the zoning committee in May, despite a representative from the archdiocese at the time saying it would likely sue the city if it passed. It was set to go before the next City Council meeting, but allies of the mayor blocked the vote.
Demetrio Reyes, a 20-year Pilsen resident, said he has not felt heard by archdiocese officials despite presenting them with ideas on what could be done with the church site and statue.
“The [archdiocese leaders] want to create a building to benefit the rich, and they don’t care about the wellbeing of minorities, of our people,” Reyes said.
Vazquez said the archdiocese has communicated with other St. Adalbert preservation groups but not with the Spanish Polish Rosary Group members.
“We are fighting, and we are going to keep fighting until the end,” Reyes said.
Listen to “It’s All Good: A Block Club Chicago Podcast”: