St. Adalbert Parish closes its doors; ‘subsumed’ into St. Paul’s Parish
July 2, 2016

St. Adalbert’s towers were in dire need of repairs. The cost of the work and tower scaffolding contributed to the church’s financial problems.

St. Adalbert’s towers were in dire need of repairs. The cost of the work and tower scaffolding contributed to the church’s financial problems.


By Patrick Butler

As of Friday, July 1, St. Adalbert’s Parish at 1650 W. 17th Street no longer exists, in accordance with a May 28 decree by Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago Archbishop Blaise Cupich.

The decree officially “subsumed” the congregation of the 142-yearold parish “fully and equally” into nearby St. Paul’s Church at 2127 N. 22nd St.

The archdiocese’s order to dissolve the parish ended a desperate months-long campaign culminating in a June 1 march by more than 120 St. Adalbert’s parishioners and supporters who circled Holy Name Cathedral, its rectory, and Frances Xavier Warde School six times, praying and singing hymns in English, Spanish, and Polish.

In an earlier protest, on April 23, parishioners chanted the Bogurodzica, the oldest known Polish hymn, which Polish knights sang on the eve of their victory over German troops in the Battle of Grunwald back in 1410. A week earlier, the congregation staged a demonstration outside St. Adalbert’s protesting archdiocesan plans to close the parish after learning that a $3 million donation they expected to receive from a deceased parishioner only totaled about $1.5 million — not enough to make the repairs necessary to save the church.

Several “mass mobs” also have occurred over the past few months, with visitors from other parishes converging on St. Adalbert’s to show support, said Richard Olszewski, a fourth-generation parishioner and the congregation’s volunteer coordinator, who spearheaded efforts to save the parish.

Starting last year, parishioners began holding fundraising events such as bake sales and even a Go-FundMe online drive, Olszewski added. None of these efforts were enough to raise the money needed to keep St. Adalbert’s afloat over the long run.

Millions of dollars needed

According to Rev. Mike Enright, St. Adalbert’s pastor, just the cost of repairing the two massive towers would come to about $3.5 million, with another $500,000 needed to tuckpoint the building.

The cost of keeping the scaffolding on the two towers had been running about $19,000 a month, Olszewski said.

In his decree, Archbishop Cupich said, “changes in demographics, reduction in the number of priests, a significant decline in the number of practicing Catholics, unpaid parish debts, and a need to reduce the costs of staffing and programming all argue for some measures to be taken now.”

In a May 20 letter to St. Adalbert’s parishioners, Auxiliary Bishop Alberto Rojas said merging Pilsen’s Catholic parishes and closing the church and selling the property would help a “vibrant Catholic presence in Pilsen flourish in the future.” He added that “This is a moment of significant transition, and we are called to work together to address the changing realities in the community and the archdiocese.”

Weekly Mass attendance had fallen below 600 for the past three years, and with Pilsen’s population lower than what it was ten or 15 years ago, there probably would not be enough parishioners to revitalize the parish, regardless of how much money was available, Bishop Rojas said.

Also today, St. Paul’s Parish will absorb St. Ann Church, 1840 S. Leavitt St., said Bishop Rojas, adding that “one way to think of this model is that St. Paul’s parish will be one large family.”

St. Adalbert Church’s beautiful architecture was one of the many reasons parishioners and Pilsen community members wanted to keep the church open.

St. Adalbert Church’s beautiful architecture was one of the many reasons parishioners
and Pilsen community members wanted to keep the church open.

Music school?

Preservation Chicago executive director Ward Miller said he already has talked to church officials about the archdiocese possibly selling the church and new owners converting the building into a music school, with the sanctuary used for performances.

Miller noted St. Adalbert’s has been on the preservation group’s “Chicago’s Most Endangered Buildings” for two years running.
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private developer reportedly also is eyeing the site for condos according to Olszewski, a prospect that does not please many parishioners. Olszewski suggested the building be used by another denomination, leaving the possibility for reopening in the future as a Roman Catholic church once again, as actually happened with another parish.

When Our Lady of the Angels closed about 25 years ago, a Pentecostal denomination used the building for several years. After that, it became a Catholic mission. According to Bishop Rojas, if the archdiocese sells the property, the money will pay St. Adalbert’s current debts. Any surplus would go to St. Paul’s, the new home of the St. Adalbert’s congregation.

Supporters also point out the building’s historic and artistic value. Founded as the third Polish Catholic church in Chicago at a time when the surrounding neighborhood remained mostly Bohemian, St. Adalbert’s is home to one of the world’s largest Kimball organs as well as stained glass windows from Germany that made their American debut at the 1893 Columbian Exposition before eventually coming to St. Adalbert’s.

Miller noted St. Adalbert’s was one of 25 Chicago churches, schools, and hospitals designed by Henry Schlacks, one of the late Cardinal George Mundelein’s favorite architects, who went on to found Notre Dame University’s architecture department.

“You don’t have to be Catholic to care” about St. Adalbert’s, Miller said.