JEFFERSON PARK — A proposal to turn the long-vacant convent at St. Cornelius Church into a senior living facility will move forward with the support of Ald. John Arena (45th), officials said.
The Archdiocese of Chicago leased the St. Cornelius convent to Point In Time, a nonprofit company, and approved plans for it to be converted into group housing for seniors with 11 bedrooms, a shared kitchen and common areas.
"Jefferson Park is a terrific neighborhood with growing aging population," said Tom Smith, of Point In Time. "This project is really designed to address the loneliness factor, and help people stay connected to their parishes."
Much of the discussion at a two-hour community meeting held last week centered on concerns about the four parking spaces to be provided for residents of the new group living facility who must be 62 or older, said Owen Brugh, Arena's chief of staff.
However, with a shared car, not all of the dozen residents of the home would have a car of their own, Brugh said.
Only the zoning of the St. Cornelius convent will be changed, and not the school or the church at 5430 W. Foster Ave., Brugh said.
Allowing the convent to be converted into a group home will give Jefferson Park seniors more options, Brugh said.
If the project falls apart, the city rules governing the property will automatically change to allow only single-family homes and two-flats to be built on the property, Brugh said. In addition, once the project is completed, the zoning will be changed back to prevent additional group-home projects in the area, he added.
The firm plans to spend $1.7 million renovating the convent, which will combine two or three of the rooms once occupied by nuns into one private bedroom and bathroom. The construction is expected to take six months, Smith said.
"This is new and innovative," Smith said. "This kind of housing doesn't exist right now. There is a demand for a return to communal living."
The former convent at St. Cornelius could be one of the first church properties to be transformed as part of a pilot program that also includes St. Ita in Uptown and St. Hyacinth in Logan Square, operated by Point In Time.
Point in Time is in talks with officials from Our Lady of Victory, 5212 W. Agatite Ave., to lease the unused convent for a similar group home.
Transforming the long-vacant convent, now used for meetings and storage, into senior housing would be a "real plus for our parish," said the Rev. Dan Fallon, pastor of St. Cornelius.
The renovated convent would have 11 bedrooms with private baths, with common areas for dining, recreation, laundry as well as a chapel and outdoor patio, according to the plans.
Meals, personal assistance, housekeeping and a car to share also would be provided, according to the plans.
The rent at the group living facility would be about $1,200 a month, Smith said, with another $1,500 to $2,000 per month for additional services, such as grocery shopping and cooking, Smith said.
St. Cornelius is one of many Chicago churches grappling with what to do with former convents, left empty in some cases for decades after religious orders saw their numbers dwindle and moved to smaller locations.
City officials approved plans to transform the former convent at St. Pascal Church, 6143 W. Irving Park R., into a home for new mothers struggling to get on their feet.
The schools at St. Cornelius, St. Pascal, Our Lady of Victory and St. Tarcissus are set to be consolidated by the Archdiocese of Chicago during the next year.
The consolidation is designed to "build a sustainable system that ensures a transformative Catholic education in this region of Chicago," Archbishop Blase Cupich said.
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