Contentious plan to move beloved statue from shuttered Pilsen church gets underway

The replica of Michelangelo’s Pieta, depicting the body of Jesus on the lap of Mary after the crucifixion, will be moved from St. Adalbert to St. Paul’s Catholic Church. News of the move surprised those trying to save the Pilsen church.

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Signs and religious items in front of a gate of St. Adalbert Church.

Signs and religious items in front of a gate at St. Adalbert Catholic Church demand that the church be saved.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Judy Vazquez arrived at St. Adalbert Catholic Church in Pilsen early Thursday.

She was checking in with other parishioners who have been holding vigil outside the shuttered church.

Then she spotted something that set off alarm bells in her head: two construction workers ferrying equipment to a damaged spot on the east wall of the church.

Inside the church, on the other side of that wall, a beloved statue has sat for decades.

“Our main concern is that when they go to repair the wall, they’ll try to take out the statue,” Vazquez said.

Her fears were confirmed by the Archdiocese of Chicago on Thursday.

The statue, a marble replica of Michelangelo’s Pieta — which depicts the body of Jesus on the lap of his mother, Mary, after the crucifixion — will go from St. Adalbert Church, 1650 W. 17th St., to St. Paul’s Catholic Church, 2127 W. 22nd Place.

Judy Vazquez, who’s heading an effort to prevent a marble statue from being removed from St. Adalbert Church.

Judy Vazquez had a bad feeling Thursday when she saw the scaffolding go up against a wall at the shuttered St. Adalbert Catholic Church.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

The archdiocese said the plan dates back to August. That’s when work began, catching some parishioners by surprise, although it was put on hold because of a permit issue.

An 8-by-10-foot section of the church’s east exterior wall will need to be removed to get the statue and on Thursday construction workers set up scaffolding for the work to begin.

Vazquez and her group have been fighting to hold onto the statue they hold dear since September. The church held its last Mass in 2019.

“It reminds me of my family history,” Vazquez said, who found solace in it after her mother passed.

Newly constructed scaffolding sits in front of a hole in St. Adalbert Church where construction crews hope to remove a marble Pieta.

Newly constructed scaffolding sits in front of a hole in St. Adalbert Church where construction crews hope to remove a marble statue.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Dalia Radecki, who lives nearby, opened up her house for those keeping watch, allowing them to use her bathroom. Her Catholic faith inspired her to join the effort to save the statue, she said.

“It’s something very sacred and to put it outside shows no respect,” Radecki said.

Non-parishioners have joined the fight, too. 

Mary Lu Seidel of Preservation Chicago had arrived on the scene the night before, about 8 p.m., then slept in her Jeep. She wants the church to become a designated historical site, keeping both it and the statue in place.

The archdiocese has said the building is too costly to repair.

“Generations of people have worshiped here, and we’re here to make sure that future generations can continue to worship here,” Seidel said.

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

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

Sun-Times file

Barring the church’s resurrection, Vazquez said if the statue must be moved, it should be to a church with a Polish-speaking congregation, as many former St. Adalbert parishioners were Polish immigrants.

In an act of solidarity, the 65-year-old has attended Mass on Sundays at Holy Trinity Polish Catholic Church, 1118 N. Noble St., along with some Polish-speaking former St. Adalbert parishioners.

“Polish people made the church,” said Wladzia Domaradzka, who also has been keeping the vigil. She attended the church for five years before it closed.

Although heavily Latino today, Pilsen once was a destination for Polish immigrants, the legacy of which continues in a group that prays in Spanish and Polish every Friday outside the church.

“We’re here to make sure that they don’t rob the statue,” Domaradzka said.

The archdiocese said the decision on where to put the statue is up to the parish — and in this case, the parish is St. Paul’s, which absorbed St. Adalbert when it closed.

Asked for comment, the pastor of that church referred a reporter back to the archdiocese.

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 and West sides.

St. Adalbert Church located at 1650 West 17th Street, in the Pilsen neighborhood.

St. Adalbert Catholic Church located at 1650 West 17th Street, in the Pilsen neighborhood.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

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