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St. Adalbert Church Parishioners: We Won't Back Down, Despite Pending Sale

By Stephanie Lulay | February 24, 2017 8:37am
 St. Adalbert Roman Catholic Church in Pilsen.
St. Adalbert
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PILSEN — In an effort to block the sale of a Pilsen church to a secular music school, St. Adalbert parishioners plan to file complaints in Rome. 

The move comes after the Archdiocese of Chicago confirmed the pending sale of the St. Adalbert Roman Catholic Church building to the Chicago Academy of Music Conservatory this week. The conservatory plans to move its campus from University Church in Hyde Park to St. Adalbert next week. 

Outside the church Wednesday, Peter Borre, an expert in Vatican procedure for overturning decrees shuttering parishes, announced plans to file a series of Canon law complaints in Rome if the sale is completed. 

 St. Adalbert Roman Catholic Church parishioners protest outside of the Pilsen church Wednesday night.
St. Adalbert Roman Catholic Church parishioners protest outside of the Pilsen church Wednesday night.
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DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay

"The Archdiocese has failed after repeated requests to indicate to these people what are their rights of worship in this church," Borre said. "They've left these Catholics completely in the dark to talk to some damn musicians who have nothing to do with the Catholic Church." 

Parishioners want an equal opportunity to match the music school's bid, said Blanca Torres, spokeswoman for the St. Adalbert Preservation Society.  If the sale to the music school is finalized, Torres said the Catholic parishioners have many unanswered questions about their ability to worship at the church in the future. 

"Per Canon law, we should be able to find out what our worship services are going to be. How many masses are we going to be allowed? How much time are we going to be allowed in the church daily?" said Torres, a 40-year parishioner who grew up across the street from St. Adalbert. "If it's going to be sold to them, we at least want to find out when are we going to be allowed." 

On Thursday, the Archdiocese of Chicago said in a statement it has yet to determine when weekly mass services in the church will end. As part of its purchase of the property, the Chicago Academy of Music has agreed to make the church available for "occasional Catholic worship" and St. Adalbert Church will remain a sacred space, an archdiocese spokeswoman said. 

The Archdiocese of Chicago said earlier this week that it realized its decision to enter into a contract with the music school was "difficult for many to accept."

But the deal, which will finalize in the "next several months," came after much deliberation and was the best option going forward, the statement said.

"It came only after a years-long transparent, consultative process that included surveys and meetings conducted throughout the Pilsen community," it said.

"The fact remains that the buildings are in disrepair due to decades of declining weekly attendance and donations, a situation that has not substantially improved. The Academy of Music is the only proposal we received that included both sufficient financing to stabilize and repair the property and the promise of preserving it for community use."

Blanca Torres, spokeswoman for the St. Adalbert Preservation Society, stands outside the church Wednesday night. [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]

Music school plans 

The Chicago Academy of Music Conservatory plans to house a world-class music conservatory in the existing church, said Michael Scott Carter, executive director of the group. In addition to serving musicians from around the globe, the conservatory will also teach blues, jazz, classical and world music to low-income students from underserved neighborhoods in Chicago. 

The renovation will include some "minor changes" to the church, he said. 

"We won't in any way desecrate the building," Carter said. 

The conservatory also has plans to convert the convent into student dorms to house visiting music students ages 13 and up, Carter said. 

As part of the school's move to Pilsen, the Chicago Academy of Music will launch a scholarship program that will provide 200 scholarships for children in need by September. 

"We hope to partner with neighboring schools and surprise students and parents with these scholarships," spokesman Andrew Hertzberg said. 

In 2016, the conservatory applied for multimillion dollar loans from the Chicago Community Loan Fund and the Illinois Facilities Fund to fund the renovation of the church, according to The Gazette. 

Founded by jazz percussionist Kahil El’Zabar and entrepreneur Scott, the non-profit Chicago Academy of Music offers musical training to children and adults. 

In 2016, the Chicago Academy of Music also announced plans to open a satellite campus on the grounds of the saved-from-demolition St. Boniface Church in Noble Square

Founded by Polish immigrants, St. Adalbert Catholic Church, 1650 W. 17th St., was built in 1912. [dnainfo/Stephanie Lulay]

History of the sale 

In February 2016, the archdiocese announced that St. Adalbert would close due to the more than $3 million in repairs needed to repair the church's 185-foot towers, which have been surrounded by scaffolding for more than two years. 

Pilsen parishioners have promised to fight the closing of St. Adalbert to the end, and staged protests in an effort to persuade the archdiocese to keep the church open. 

Despite a huge donation received last March, Catholic officials said in April the church would close. The donation wasn't enough to offset future maintenance costs and didn't address the declining number of Catholic parishioners in Pilsen, Auxiliary Bishop Alberto Rojas wrote in a letter to the St. Adalbert's pastor, the Rev. Mike Enright. 

While the donation to the church from a deceased parishioner was thought to have been worth $3 million, the actual value of the donation, made in stocks, ended up being about $1.7 million, longtime parishioner Richard Olszewski said.

Archdiocese officials said the donation would cover "less than half" of the repairs needed. 

Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago, first announced that a world-class music school was interested in the church in April 2016. 

The move to close St. Adalbert is part of the archdiocese's larger plan to reconfigure six Catholic churches in Pilsen into three, closing multiple churches in the process.

Preservation Chicago named St. Adalbert's to their "Most Endangered Buildings" list in 2015 and 2016. 

The parish was founded in 1874 by Polish immigrants, and the current St. Adalbert church was built in 1912 at 1650 W. 17th St. The church now hosts weekly mass in English and Spanish and a monthly mass in Polish. 

Signs in protest of the planned sale of St. Adalbert Roman Catholic Church adorn the outside of the church in Pilsen. [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]