Music academy under contract to purchase historic St. Adalbert Church – Chicago Tribune
The Chicago Academy of Music is under contract with the Archdiocese of Chicago to purchase St. Adalbert Roman Catholic Church in Pilsen, which has been a lightning rod for parishioners who are protesting the closure of the parish and preservationists who are encouraging restoration of the historic architectural gem.
The music conservatory is leasing a portion of the space as it waits for the sale to close, which is expected in the next several months, and it plans to host its inaugural performance Tuesday in what it advertised on Facebook as its “new home.”
Last February, the archdiocese announced Cardinal Blase Cupich‘s decision to close St. Adalbert, designed by architect Henry Schlacks, as part of a reconfiguration of six Pilsen parishes. Parishioners have staged prayer vigils, most recently over the weekend outside Holy Name Cathedral, where Cupich celebrates Mass.
“We recognize the archdiocese’s decision to enter an agreement with the Chicago Academy of Music to purchase the St. Adalbert Church and parish buildings is difficult for many to accept,” the archdiocese said in a statement. “However it came only after a yearslong transparent, consultative process that included surveys and meetings conducted throughout the Pilsen community. The fact remains that the buildings are in disrepair due to decades of declining weekly attendance and donations, a situation that has not substantially improved.”
According to the archdiocese, the academy’s proposal was the only one it received that provided sufficient funding to repair and preserve the buildings. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
The Chicago Academy of Music applied for a multimillion-dollar loan from the Illinois Facilities Fund and the Chicago Community Loan Fund â two Chicago lenders that finance nonprofit ventures aimed at creating opportunities for low-income and other marginalized communities. Earlier plans included converting the church’s adjacent convent into dormitories for students, its rectory into housing for master musicians and its Italian marble sanctuary into a concert stage.
A spokesman for the music school said church services will continue to be held in the building. The church will remain a sacred space, said archdiocese spokeswoman Colleen Tunney-Ryan.
Blanca Torres, spokeswoman of the St. Adalbert Preservation Society, said she is concerned about the financial stability of the academy, a non-Catholic entity, and its experience in owning and maintaining such a property.
In addition to trying to stop the sale of the church property, the society is working on crafting a community proposal and looking to partner with the Resurrection Project, a nonprofit community development organization, and other cultural institutions in the neighborhood to repair and save the church, she said. More than $1 million has been raised so far, she said.
More people are coming to the intermittent masses still held at the church, she said. “We’re a growing community,” Torres said. “We’re not withering.”
The church preservation society also questioned what liturgical services would be provided under new ownership of the church, she said. The group is appealing to the Vatican the closure and merger of the parish with nearby St. Paul’s Catholic Church, she said.
Preservation Chicago, an advocacy group, wants to see the building’s twin towers, which are protected with scaffolding, repaired as soon as possible, said executive director Ward Miller, who introduced church officials to founders of the academy.
“A few years ago, there was a lot of concern about this building, the repair of the towers and at the time there was talk of demolition. At this time, nobody is talking about demolition, but I think there are issues of usage,” said Miller, who added that preservation group does not want to get in the middle of the debate on building ownership and use but instead focus on saving the structure.
“Our priority here at Preservation Chicago is to ensure that this building is restored and repaired and that the building on the interior and exterior is landmarked,” Miller said.
As the archdiocese deals with dilapidated buildings it can’t afford to maintain, preservationists see the sale as a hopeful sign before a radical overhaul by the archdiocese that could shutter many of Chicago’s Catholic houses of worship by 2030.
“Isn’t it really a wonderful story that there’s so many organizations and people coming together that are so concerned about St. Adalbert’s?” Miller said. “We know the Chicago Academy of Music, we know the preservation society, we know of community organizations that are all really, really concerned and really love this church.”