“The battle over a beloved statue inside a shuttered Pilsen church came to a crescendo Wednesday as work crews removed the Michelangelo replica and police arrested five people protesting the project.
“The Archdiocese of Chicago and the St. Paul parish has wanted to remove the La Pietà statue from St. Adalbert’s Church, 1650 W. 17th St., for months, but protesters blocked the removal on multiple occasions. The church closed in 2019 as part of a consolidation but longtime parishioners have focused on preserving the statue amid their battle with the archdiocese, which wants to sell the land.
“On Tuesday morning, crews successfully removed the statue, which depicts the Virgin Mary holding the dead body of Jesus, through a hole in one of the closed church’s walls that was created for the removal. It was loaded onto a flatbed and brought to its new home at St. Paul’s Catholic Church, 2127 W. 22nd Place.
“A small group of protesters were arrested Tuesday after trying to block the truck carrying the statue outside St. Adalbert’s, a police spokesperson said. Charges were pending.
“Beginning in September, residents rotated shifts to watch over the statue, camping outside to block it from being removed. The transfer of the statue raised concerns among parishioners about whether the archdiocese will properly seal the hole once the statue is removed and if it will accelerate the demolition of the parish.
“Workers previously tried to move the statue in October, but were again thwarted by protesters.
“Anina Jakubowski, a former St. Adalbert’s parishioner and student, said she got a text from friends early Tuesday letting her know workers were finally taking the statue. She raced to Pilsen from her home in Downers Grove to be there as the statue was removed, she said.
“‘Oh no, the thing that we dreaded — it’s happening,'” Jakubowski said raced through her mind.
“Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) has worked to downzone the church site for years in an effort to force any developer to engage with Pilsen neighbors and St. Adalbert’s former parishioners.
“Sigcho-Lopez’s ordinance passed the zoning committee in May, despite a representative from the archdiocese at the time saying it would likely sue the city if it passed. It was set to go before the next City Council meeting, but allies of the mayor blocked the vote. (Savedra and Boyle, Block Club Chicago, 11/29/22)
St. Adalbert Church was a Chicago 7 Most Endangered Buildings for several years, and was designed by architect, Henry Schlacks. As the building is orange-rated and city officials have promised that it would become a Chicago Landmark. The building was deconsecrated and closed three years ago by the Archdiocese of Chicago.
Preservation Chicago encourages the City of Chicago to initiate landmark proceedings for St. Adalbert before the Commission on Chicago Landmarks. If the church and rectory were to be brought into Preliminary Landmark Recommendation, it could remain in a long-term Tolling Agreement, to give the Archdiocese, the City and other stakeholders the opportunity to continue with robust conversations.
This would offer all of the protections of a true Chicago Landmark Designation, and also prohibit the removal of art glass. Tragically, all the art glass was recently removed without a permit from the orange-rated All Saints-St. Anthony Church in Bridgeport, another closed church by Henry Schlacks. St. Anthony’s sanctuary was devastated by contractors working for the Archdiocese prior to transferring the property to a private developer.
In the past that this idea of a Tolling Agreement worked for St. Gelasius/St. Clara, now known as The Shrine of Christ the King, as well as the New York Life Building, now the Kimpton Hotel Gray at LaSalle and Monroe Streets. That designation of St. Gelasius, which the Archdiocese opposed, led to Cardinal George inviting another religious order from Wisconsin to move to Chicago and establish this as their national headquarters, known as the Institute of Christ the King, within the St. Gelasius/St. Clara Church building and complex. So, the Chicago Landmark Designation was a wonderful planning tool, which led to excellent outcomes.