St. Adalbert’s parishioners appeal to Rome, as music school eyes site
August 5, 2016
The beautiful St. Adalbert’s sanctuary could become a concert venue if the Chicago Academy of Music acquires the church property. (Photo courtesy Preservation Chicago)

The beautiful St. Adalbert’s sanctuary could become a concert venue if the Chicago Academy of Music acquires the church property. (Photo courtesy Preservation Chicago)

By Patrick Butler

After repeated attempts to persuade the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago to reconsider its plans to close St. Adalbert’s Church at 1650 W. 17th St., a small group of parishioners battling to keep the 102-year-old church open is taking its case all the way to Rome.

As ordered in a “decree of suppression” issued by Chicago Archbishop Blasé Cupich, church officials transferred St. Adalbert’s church and school property to nearby St. Paul’s parish at 2127 W. 22nd Pl. as of midnight July 1. Proceeds from the eventual sale of St. Adalbert’s will help defray St. Paul’s outstanding debts.

Richard Olazewski and a grassroots committee to save St. Adalbert’s have been raising funds and lobbying the Archdiocese for months to save one of Chicago’s oldest Polish churches.

Over the past two months, as many as 120 parishioners and their supporters have held weekly marches and prayed the Rosary in English, Spanish, and Polish as they circled around Holy Name Cathedral, Frances Xavier Warde School, and the rectory where Archbishop Cupich lives. A terse June 13 reply from Cupich to Olszewski’s committee noted, however, that “having given your petition full and thoughtful consideration, I must reject it.”

The fight to save the parish is not over, said Olazewski, who until recently was St. Adalbert’s volunteer coordinator.

Help from New York?

The ad hoc committee to save St. Adalbert’s has asked for help from the New York–based Catholic Church Preservation Society, which Olszewski said works to save historic churches marked for closing or demolition.

According to Brody Hale, the society’s executive director, the Vatican has overturned 34 church closings in seven U.S. dioceses since 2011.

St. Adalbert’s “is an ecclesiastical edifice constructed by people who clearly wanted to leave a tangible testament to their belief and gratitude to God for helping them be settled in a new land,” Hale said.

Meanwhile the Archdiocese has begun “preliminary, conceptual conversations” about selling St. Adalbert’s buildings to the Chicago Academy of Music. If the academy obtains the multimillion dollar loans it is seeking from the Chicago Community Loan Fund and the Illinois Facilities Fund, it will offer a curriculum at the St. Adalbert’s site that teaches blues, jazz, classical, and world music to low-income students from underserved neighborhoods where music education typically is not available.

The proposed $16 million renovation includes converting the sanctuary into a concert stage, the convent into student dorms, and the rectory into master musicians’ quarters. Also planned are a restaurant and recording studio. The academy is based at Hyde Park’s University Church and has a West Loop branch, but school management is eyeing St. Adalbert’s as its future main campus.

Archbishop Cupich paved the way for repurposing in his June 13 decree “relegating” St. Adalbert’s to “profane [non-religious] but not sordid use.”

Music and Mass?

Noting the academy already has shared space with other religious groups, Michael Carter, the academy’s executive director, said it might be possible for St. Adalbert’s parishioners to return to celebrating Sunday Mass there once the sanctuary renovations conclude.

Olszewski said that, while the Academy is the only group currently interested in buying the St. Adalbert’s property, two Catholic religious orders—the Dominicans and a branch of the Canons
Regular—also had expressed interest in taking charge of St. Adalbert’s but were turned down by the Archdiocese.

Saving St. Adalbert’s should not just be a Catholic concern, said Ward Miller of Preservation Chicago, who first brought church officials and the Chicago Academy of Music together last year. For Olszewski and his fellow parishioners, however, their efforts are about more than bricks and mortar, artistic value, or even history.

It’s a matter of feeling “betrayed,” Olszewski said. “Hopefully we’ll save the church, and that will be where I’ll go. If not, I will probably be among the 50% who might leave the Catholic Church altogether.”

Olszewski noted the Archdiocesan hierarchy “seemed to have no respect for us. That’s not the Catholic way.”