clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Developer promises to save Pilsen church after sale criticized by community

City Pads Chicago crossed Pilsen residents once when it painted over murals at the old Casa Aztlan. But the development firm says it’s learned its lesson.

St. Adalbert Church in Pilsen.
St. Adalbert Church in Pilsen.
Sun-Times file photo

A development group that won a bidding war for a shuttered church in Pilsen plans to restore its iconic towers and keep the sanctuary intact.

City Pads Chicago, a residential development firm that owns hundreds of units across Chicago, has a contract to buy St. Adalbert Church, according to a statement from the Archdiocese of Chicago.

The property includes the church, a rectory and an office building. Charter school network Acero Schools — formerly known as the UNO Charter School Network — operates an elementary school on the site as well.

City Pads said Tuesday it will restore the church to “public and accessible use” and convert the adjoining buildings into apartments with “more than 20% of the units” earmarked for “affordable family housing.” The Acero School will remain open.

Representatives from City Pads did not disclose further details about the sale. BlockClub Chicago reported Monday the firm bought the church for $4 million, citing a source familiar with the deal. When asked to confirm the price tag, an archdiocesan spokesperson said “the terms of deal are private.”

St. Adalbert Church in Pilsen. The church’s iconic towers have been caged in scaffolding for years.
St. Adalbert Church’s iconic towers have been caged in scaffolding since 2015.
Sun-Times file photo

St. Adalbert Church, 1650 W. 17th St., held its final mass in July after the archdiocese announced it would close the church and merge its parish with that of nearby St. Paul’s in 2016. A group of former parishioners have held prayer vigils outside the shuttered church every Friday and Sunday since its closure.

The archdiocese said the sale of the church is a win-win.

“St. Adalbert Church has been an anchor for the community for nearly 100 years. And while the buildings no longer support the mission of the combined St. Paul/St. Adalbert Parish, their potential redevelopment will benefit the community while also providing necessary funding to support the mission and ministry of the parish,” the archdiocese said in a statement.

News of the sale drew ire from many residents in Pilsen. In 2017, City Pads came under fire for painting over a beloved mural at Casa Aztlan, a long-gone community center. Amid the backlash, City Pads contracted the original muralist to paint a new mural on the building.

Andy Ahitow, managing principal of City Pads, said in a statement he hopes “to restore both the sanctuary and towers so that the community will be able to enjoy this space, which has been so important to the neighborhood for over a century.”

 a mural at the site of the old Casa Aztlan community center in Pilsen
City Pads Chicago painted over a mural at the site of the old Casa Aztlan community center in Pilsen in 2017. The move angered many residents, forcing the company to paint another mural in its place.
Sun-Times file photo

St. Adalbert was built by Polish immigrants in the 1910s. Its congregation shifted with the neighborhood’s demographics, becoming a majority Mexican parish by the 1970s. Its twin iconic towers have been hidden behind scaffolding since 2015. The archdiocese has said it would take $3 million to repair the building.

The St. Adalbert Preservation Society, a coalition of former Polish and Mexican parishioners, has fought to save the church. An appeal of the archdiocese’s decision to shut it down filed by the group is under review by the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura in Rome, the Catholic Church’s highest court.

Blanca Torres, a Pilsen resident and vice president of the coalition, said the group is committed to turning St. Adalbert into a sacred space again.

“We formed our group to save our church, not to make deals,” she said.

“We realize that we might lose the appeal in the Vatican,” she said. “But at the very least, we want to make certain that we have a seat at the table.”

In July, Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) submitted a proposal to rezone the property for use as a cemetery. Current zoning would allow for most types of residential construction. At the time, Sigcho-Lopez said the archdiocese “can’t simply shut their doors, turn a profit, and permanently alter the core of a community without transparency and input.”

The proposal is pending approval from the city’s Zoning Committee, of which Sigcho-Lopez is a member.

City Pads said it “looks forward to a healthy and open dialogue with the local alderman and community stakeholders — including the St. Adalbert Preservation Society — on uses for the church’s sanctuary once it is restored.”

Carlos Ballesteros is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of Chicago’s South and West sides.