PILSEN — Parishioners are vowing to stop the Archdiocese of Chicago from removing a beloved statue from a former Catholic church in Pilsen that they fought to save.
On Friday morning, about 16 former parishioners staged a protest outside St. Adalbert’s Church, 1650 W. 17th St. after Rosemarie Dominguez, a member of the St. Adalbert Preservation Society, sent out a mass text Thursday night asking residents to gather in front of the church gate.
Judy Vasquez, who also lives in Pilsen, said she was told that archdiocesan workers were tasked with dismantling the replica of Michelangelo’s La Pietà statue that sits in the old Church of St. Adalbert, inciting former parishioners to protest. The archdiocese plans to move it to St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Pilsen, a spokesperson said.
Now residents plan to alternate shifts, camping outside to prevent the statue from being removed.
“We don’t know if they will come at night and try to get something out [of the church]said Maria Mendez, a resident of Pilsen.
In 2016, the archdiocese announced that it would consolidate six churches in Pilsen into three. As part of the merger, St. Adalbert would close. The archdiocese cited changing demographics, low Mass attendance and declining numbers of priests as reasons for reconfiguration.
Polish and Mexican parishioners fought for years to save the church, which was founded in 1874 by Polish immigrants and built in Pilsen in 1912. The church hosted its last mass in 2019.
On Friday morning, Dominguez and a Polish parishioner were the first to arrive at the church, she said. Three construction workers and a guard arrived soon after, Dominguez said.
As the two women propped up pieces of wood on the church door on the west side of the church, the warden told them they had no right to oppose efforts to remove the statue.
Dominguez said she quickly sat down outside the door to prevent the statue from being removed.
“I was ready to chain myself to the door,” she said.
Other parishioners arrived later and prayed outside the door. At around 8:30 a.m., police arrived but left soon after, parishioners said.
Marcelina Cerrano, another parishioner, said the police’s departure was a small victory but the archdiocese continues to “destroy our church”.
In a statement, archdiocesan officials said they plan to move it to nearby St. Paul, “an active and vibrant church within the same Pilsen community.”
“Parishioners will be able to access worship before and better enjoy the sculpture in its new home. Moreover, this precious community treasure can best be safeguarded and preserved in an active parish church,” Archdiocese officials said.
But Dominguez said residents and groups like the St. Adalbert Preservation Society, The Resurrection Project and the Polish National Alliance have been trying to talk with the archdiocese about how to move forward with ownership of the building. .
“There wasn’t much reasoning, let alone open conversation,” she said.
Moving the statue to St. Paul is raising concerns among parishioners over whether the archdiocese will properly seal the hole once the statue is removed and whether that will speed up the demolition of the parish.
Vasquez said she believes that if the statue is removed, it should be “offered to the Polish community and allowed to live in one of its churches” because the church was founded by Polish immigrants.
Although former Polish and Mexican St. Adalbert parishioners often don’t speak the same language, the struggle for the church has brought them closer together, Mendez said.
“When they sing, we accompany them to sing and follow their rhythm, and when we sing, they follow our lead, it’s a beautiful community,” Mendez said.
Josefa Reyes, an active St. Adalbert parishioner for many years, said her ultimate goal is to see the church reopen.
“It’s a beautiful church and we have a lot of memories here. I ask that he open up with all my heart,” she said.
The future of Saint-Adalbert
In the past four years, the Archdiocese of Chicago has twice signed a contract to sell the property — once to a music school and another time to a residential developer — but both deals fell through.
The property – consisting of the sanctuary, rectory, convent, school and parking lot – spans 2.1 acres in the heart of the changing neighborhood.
Aldus. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) has been working for years to relocate the church site in an effort to force any developer to engage with Pilsen neighbors and former St. Adalbert parishioners.
Sigcho-Lopez’s ordinance was passed by the zoning committee in May, though a representative of the archdiocese at the time said he would likely sue the city if passed. It was supposed to take place before the next city council meeting, but the mayor’s allies blocked the vote.
Sigcho-Lopez then filed a complaint with the Inspector General’s office against Mayor Lori Lightfoot, accusing the mayor of interfering in the rezoning to help the archdiocese.
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