Don’t loot St. Adalbert, parishioners say, after planned move of marble statue to another church

The plan by the Archdiocese of Chicago to move the replica of Michelangelo’s Pieta, which depicts the body of Jesus on the lap of Mary after the crucifixion, to St. Paul’s Parish, 2127 W. 22nd Place, surprised those who want to save the Pilsen church.

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St. Adalbert Church in Pilsen, pictured in 2008.

St. Adalbert Church in Pilsen, pictured in 2008.

Sun-Times file

Work began over the weekend to uproot a statue inside a shuttered but beloved church in Pilsen and install it at another parish blocks away, surprising neighbors and those who have been fighting to conserve the more than a century-old church.

The plan is to remove an exact marble replica of Michelangelo’s Pieta — which depicts the body of Jesus on the lap of his mother, Mary, after the crucifixion — from St. Adalbert Church, 1650 W. 17th St., and move it to St. Paul’s Catholic Church, 2127 W. 22nd Place, the Archdiocese of Chicago said this week.

An 8-by-10-foot section of the church’s east exterior wall will need to be removed to get the statue. The archdiocese said the parish consulted engineers “who determined this was the safest way to remove the statue,” adding that “the hole will be closed as soon as possible.”


The replica of Michelangelo’s Pieta inside St. Adalbert Church pictured in 1974.

Sun-Times file

But work is on hold for now because of issues with the permit, which were discovered after concerned neighbors called police Saturday when crews showed up and started removing bricks from the church, according to Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th).

Officers arrived on site and questioned workers, who produced a permit, said Julie Sawicki, president of the Society of St. Adalbert, who spoke to neighbors. However, work was stopped because the permit allowed for removal of a section of the west exterior wall, not the east, according to Sawicki and Sigcho-Lopez.

Sigcho-Lopez said his office wasn’t notified when the permit was issued by the Department of Buildings on July 20 “despite multiple attempts to connect with the archdiocese so that we can have a discussion about the work so that we can properly notify residents.”

“We want to make sure that this is done with the due process,” he said, adding that his office requested a halt to the work while issues with the permit are sorted out and it gathered more information.

St. Adalbert was built by Polish immigrants in the early 1900s and opened its doors to parishioners in 1914. It was announced in 2016 the church would close, and on July 14, 2019, St. Adalbert held its last Mass. Its parishioners were merged with St. Paul.

The church needed significant and costly repairs that were cited by the archdiocese as factors in the decision to close its doors. It has since been left deteriorating.

Sigcho-Lopez introduced an effort to downzone St. Adalbert from residential to public space earlier this year, a move he said would ensure the community has input in what happens to the church.

Sawicki, who has fought for years to protect the church, said she doesn’t want the church to be picked apart while the future of the site is in the air.

“Don’t loot it, don’t loot it, “ Sawicki said. “This is valuable artwork, there’s a lot of stuff inside the church that is valuable artwork. It’s very distressing.”

She also criticized the archdiocese for trying to make changes to the church without properly notifying the community.

“It’s just astounding to me how brazen this is,” Sawicki said. “The damage that’s been done, what they’ve done so far, is the city going to pay for that? And the bricks that were removed, where are those bricks — are they saved? Can they be, you know, put back in place? I’m flabbergasted.”

Sawicki said the church represents the accomplishments of immigrants in the city, and changing the site means changing the fabric of the community as well. She hopes nothing else gets removed from the church, she said.

“We don’t want to lose the murals, we don’t want to lose the Pieta, we don’t want to lose the stained glass windows. We don’t want to lose any of that.”

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