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City OKs Plan to Turn Convent Into Home For Moms, Babies Despite Objections

By  Heather Cherone and Ted Cox | March 20, 2015 2:27pm | Updated on March 23, 2015 8:46am

PORTAGE PARK — City officials Friday unanimously approved a plan to transform the long-vacant convent at St. Pascal Church into a home for new mothers struggling to get on their feet that drew fire from neighbors.

Aid For Women, a Catholic social services organization that encourages women not to have abortions, recieved a special-use permit to turn the convent at 3954-58 N. Meade Ave. into a home for seven mothers and their babies and two staff members from the city's Zoning Board of Appeals.

Opponents of the plan — who covered cars near St. Pascal with leaflets earlier this week urging opponents to attend Friday's hearing — told the board before it ruled they would rather see the convent turned into a community center.

Neighbor Jason Quaglia said many of his neighbors “would like more information, at minimum,” even if “no one is against helping single mothers.”

Dr. Gerard Cicero, who lives near the church, said the neighborhood is concerned that the home would change the area.

“There’s fear of the unknown,” Cicero said.

The Rev. Paul Seaman, the pastor of St. Pascal, said the fliers contained "misinformation, threats and fear-mongering."

Seaman told the board the church had a obligation to help these women who want "to get on their feet."

Father Paul Seaman and Aid for Women Executive Director Susan Barrett testify in favor of a halfway house for single mothers and their children before the Zoning Board of Appeals. (DNAinfo/Ted Cox)

The plan has the support of Ald. Tim Cullerton (38th) and his newly elected successor, Ald. Nicholas Sposato (36th), Cullerton told the board.

Susan Barrett, the organization's executive director of Aid for Women, said the convent would become an extension of Heather’s House, a home for single mothers and their newborns in suburban Des Plaines. The women would be allowed to stay at the former convent for no more than two years, Barrett said, adding that most stay between six and eight months at Heather's House.

The women who would live at the former convent would be ready for more independence after living at Heather’s House and would either have jobs or go to school in Chicago, Barrett said.

The transitional home in the former convent would be intended for “women who are ready for a little more independence, ready for the next step,” Barrett said.

Male visitors, alcohol and drugs would be forbidden, and the women would be subject to a 10 p.m. curfew, Barrett said. The women would also be responsible for arranging day care for their babies — perhaps at the center across the street from the church, she added.

“They’re not ready to be on their own yet,” Barrett said. “If they could be on their own, they would."

Approximately 30 supporters of the plan attended the hearing.

Kathleen Ransford, a former city attorney who lives near St. Pascal and spoke for the proponents of the plan, said it would not hurt the neighborhood.

"This is not going to be detrimental to property values,” Ransford said.

The convent at St. Pascal has been essentially vacant since the Franciscan Sisters of Joliet left more than 30 years ago, Seaman said.

St. Pascal School is one of four Far Northwest Side Catholic schools that are set to be consolidated starting in the fall of 2016. It is unknown whether the consolidated school's students will attend class at St. Pascal, 6143 W. Irving Park Road, which is around the corner from the vacant convent. 

Ald. Timothy Cullerton talks with Lawrence Lusk, attorney for the halfway house, before the Zoning Board of Appeals hearing. (DNAinfo/Ted Cox}

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