THREATENED: Parishioners Successfully Block La Pietà Statue Removal from St. Adalbert’s Church After Vigil Lasting 40 Days and 40 Nights (Chicago 7 2014, 2016, 2019, 2021)

“Archdiocese of Chicago workers temporarily halted efforts to remove a beloved statue from a former Catholic church Pilsen neighbors fought years to save after an hours-long protest.

“Former parishioners demonstrated outside St. Adalbert Church, 1650 W. 17th St., as workers moved to remove a replica of Michelangelo’s La Pietà statue that sits in the former church. The archdiocese plans to move it to St. Paul Catholic Church in Pilsen, a spokesperson said.

“For a month, residents have rotated shifts to watch over the statue, camping outside to block it from being removed. Tearful parishioners who started gathering before 7:30 a.m. prayed in Polish, English and Spanish, and cried as they appealed to police officers. At one point, faithful Bronislawa Stekala threw herself prostrate in the alley — rosary in hand — as she tearfully pleaded to preserve the church.

Bronislawa Stekala lays in the middle of the alley in tears and prayer while parishioners protest the removal of the La Pietà statue from the former St. Adalbert’s Church in Pilsen on Oct. 18, 2022. St. Adalbert Church, Henry J. Schlacks, 1636 W. 17th Street. Photo Credit: Colin Boyle / Block Club Chicago

“Other neighbors said they were willing to be arrested to keep the statute in the church building.

“Residents and Pilsen Ald. Byron Sicgho-Lopez (25th) decried the process to remove the statue, stating city officials lacked the permits to do so. After hours of protesting, police Sgt. Sergeant Karczewski told demonstrators the statue would not be removed Tuesday and would be moved at later date.

“Demonstrators began leaving around 11 a.m. when police officers and an employee of the city’s Department of Buildings left the church. One car, which has been used to house the demonstrators during their weeks-long vigil, was ticketed for blocking the alley.

“Sigcho-Lopez, who was on site during the protest, slammed the lack of communication between Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office and archdiocese regarding plans for the closed church.

Officials inspect the removal of the La Pietà statue from the former St. Adalbert’s Church in Pilsen on Oct. 18, 2022. St. Adalbert Church, Henry J. Schlacks, 1636 W. 17th Street. Photo Credit: Colin Boyle / Block Club Chicago
“‘What we need, immediately, is a response from the archdiocese and the Mayor to sit down with the parishioners to discuss the future of St. Albert openly, transparently,’ the alderman said. ‘We need today, more than ever, a city that listens to the parishioners, to the community, to local officials.’
“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 final mass in 2019.
“Blanca Torres, who was part of Tuesday’s protest, is a lifelong parishioner and a member of the St. Adalbert Preservation Society. She said the group has tried to present numerous ideas to the Archdiocese about what could be done with the church site to keep it a sacred place in the community, but they were just met with ‘lip service.’
“‘I think they missed on opportunities,’ Torres said. ‘I think there were viable solutions that could’ve been talked about, but [the Archdiocese] needed to be part of the conversation as well.’
“Sigcho-Lopez said the archdiocese should be seeking community input on how to repurpose empty churches rather than working ‘unilaterally’ with developers and the Mayor’s Office.

St. Adalbert Church, Henry J. Schlacks, 1636 W. 17th Street. Photo Credit: Ward Miller / Preservation Chicago
“‘But instead of that, we have this police presence — 18 police officers to remove parishioners,’ he said. (Boyle and Savedra, Block Club Chicago, 10/18/22)
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.

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