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Northwest Side Monastery to be Transformed into Senior Housing

 Once the headquarters for the Passionist Brothers religious order, the monastery will become 84 apartments for senior citizens.
Once the headquarters for the Passionist Brothers religious order, the monastery will become 84 apartments for senior citizens.
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NORWOOD PARK — A monastery that was once the Midwest headquarters for the Passionist Brothers religious order will be transformed into a senior housing complex with a $3.4 million loan from the city.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the 110-year-old monastery at 5700 N. Harlem Ave. will be preserved, and an addition behind the ornate brick building will allow 84 apartments to be built.

Ald. Mary O'Connor (41st) said the project would prevent the "magnificent structure" of the monastery from sitting vacant or being torn down. The City Council approved the loan July 24.

The project "will help accommodate our growing senior population, which would like nothing more than to stay in this community they helped build over several generations," O'Connor said. "Younger residents are also excited about the prospect of having their parents live close by in a nice place that provides great amenities."

All but four of the apartments will be set aside for seniors 62 and older making 60 percent or less of the area's median income, or about $37,900. Thirty of the apartments will be built in the existing monastery; the rest will be built in the addition.

The $24 million project also will be financed with state grants and historic preservation tax credits. It will include studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments as well as dining facilities, a library and fitness center. The complex also will feature a chapel, gardens and walking paths. 

The Passionist Brothers, a Roman Catholic religious order, are devoted to proclaiming God's love as revealed through Jesus' Passion, the final period in his life, including his visit to Jerusalem and crucifixion.

The monastery was once the headquarters for the order's Holy Cross Province, which includes the Southwest, Midwest and Western United States. The province is now headquartered in Park Ridge and Louisville, Ky.

The size of the religious order has dwindled during recent years, and the monastery is too big for the order, said Robert Gawronski, of Senior Suites Chicago Norwood Park LLC, which is developing the property.

"One of the great things this development will do is provide a nice endowment for the ongoing mission of the order," Gawronski said.

Plans also call for a portion of the property surrounding the monastery to be sold to the adjacent Immaculate Conception parish for a playground, Gawronski said.

During the housing boom, several proposals to tear down the monastery and build single-family homes and townhomes drew fierce opposition from nearby residents. 

The project is another indication of the end of the era of huge Catholic churches every few blocks on the Northwest Side, said Dan Pogorzelski, president of the Northwest Chicago Historical Society.

Construction is expected to start this fall and take about a year, Gawronski said.