Statue could be removed soon from shuttered Pilsen church
A permit has been issued to remove a beloved statue from St. Adalbert Catholic Church. Preservationists and former parishioners fear the building’s fate is sealed. “Once the statue comes out, the wrecking ball comes in,” said Ward Miller, president of Preservation Chicago.
Former parishioners of a closed church in Pilsen and advocates pushing to save the building fear a historic statue could be removed soon, possibly next week.
A city permit has been issued allowing work to resume at St. Adalbert Catholic Church; the lack of that permit had stalled efforts to remove the statue last month.
Issued Wednesday, the permit allows workers to open a 6-feet-by-7½-feet hole in a wall of the church, 1650 W. 17th St.
Behind that wall is the beloved statue, a marble replica of Michelangelo’s Pieta, depicting the body of Jesus on the lap of his mother, Mary, after the crucifixion.
The Archdiocese of Chicago has said it plans to transfer the statue to another church; advocates fear its removal will spell the end for the century-old St. Adalbert.
“Once the statue comes out, the wrecking ball comes in,” Ward Miller, president of Preservation Chicago, told the Sun-Times after an attempt to open the wall in October.
Miller said the same thing happened at St. James Catholic Church, 2942 S. Wabash Ave., in Bronzeville. It was demolished in 2013 after its own Pieta statue was removed.
The preservation group wants the building designated a landmark by the city, protecting it from demolition and allowing repair work to be covered by grants issued through the city’s Adopt-a-Landmark Fund.
“Here’s a building that’s so important to the community, beyond even the faithful, and that’s not something that should be squandered,” Miller said.
The church was built by Polish immigrants in 1914. Ownership eventually was transferred to the archdiocese.
Mass was held in the church for the last time in 2019 as the congregation was absorbed by St. Paul’s Catholic Church, 2127 W. 22nd Pl. That’s where the archdiocese plans to move the statue.
A spokesperson for the city Department of Buildings said the exact timeline for work on the building is up to the permit holder. The permit expires on Nov. 30.
Judy Vazquez, a leader of a group of former parishioners opposed to moving the statue, said the group will resume their vigil in the alley facing the east transept, where they have been camped out since the archdiocese first tried to remove the statue in August.
“We’re going to be there every day, until they take her away,” Vazquez said.
The group returned to protest when work resumed to move the statue in October and said they were ready to be arrested then. The Pilsen native hopes it doesn’t come to that again and they get a chance to discuss solutions with the archdiocese.
“Let’s talk in peace, let’s join hands.”
Michael Loria is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South Side and West Side.