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In the U.S. Poland's History

The War for St. Adalbert’s

Society of St. Adalbert

(Tow. Sw. Wojciecha)

July 17, 2019

(Chicago, IL)       Cardinal Cupich of the Archdiocese of Chicago officially deconsecrated St. Adalbert Church by decree, a decision that was announced during services on Sunday, June 23, 2019. The last holy mass was celebrated on Sunday, July 14, 2019 at 11 a.m. in English, Polish and Spanish. It was standing-room only with an estimated 2000 Catholic faithful in attendance.

According to Irene Moskal, a board member with Society of St. Adalbert (SOSA) and former President of the Polish American Congress, “It felt more like a funeral. It is tragic what the Archdiocese is doing to our churches which were built by our immigrant ancestors. This is our heritage that is being destroyed. These churches are not only our legacy but also a symbol of our deep Catholic faith and a gift to the City of Chicago.”

Built from 1912-1914 by Polish immigrants, St. Adalbert’s cost $200,000 to build which is the equivalent of approximate $50,000,000 today. Modeled after one of the four basilicas in Rome, St. Paul Outside the Walls, it has over 35 tons of Carrara marble, stained glass windows made in Germany, a Tiffany half-dome over the later and an exact replica of Michelangelo’s La Pieta.

SOSA, formed in 2017 by a group of Polish-Americans, some whose families have been parishioners for over 105 years, has been fighting to secure the church and entire complex. SOSA held meetings throughout the Polish community to develop a plan to save the Church and property.

SOSA held meetings in the Polish community in 2017 to figure out how the church could be saved. The Polish community was very clear and there were various conditions that needed to be achieved:

  • The Church must remain sacred, for worship.
  • The overall religious character of the entire complex must be maintained, as originally intended by our ancestors.
  • The entire property, about 2 acres in total, must remain intact. Nothing must be sold off as the church cannot survive on its own. In addition to the church, the property consists of a 52-room convent designed by the same architect as the church, a rectory, school (which is currently rented out to the Chicago School System for $8,000 per month), a parking lot and a vacant piece of land next to the convent.
  • A religious order or clergy needed to take over the church and property.
  • No real estate development of any kind. The Polish community strongly believes that our immigrant ancestors did not sacrifice in order for a developer to benefit.

With these conditions in mind, a plan was developed. It calls for designating the church as a shrine and converting the convent to a 40-room retreat house (dom pielgrzymkowy i rekolekcyjny). The retreat house will serve as the primary revenue generator to sustain the church and entire property.

The beauty of this plan is that it is self-sustaining and viable. St. Adalbert’s is located in an ideal location for such a plan to work. It is close to downtown with an L-stop nearby. Chicago is already a tourist destination. The shrine can be marketed worldwide and religious tourism can be driven to St. Adalbert’s. The neighborhood of Pilsen where St. Adalbert’s is located, is a vibrant, culturally rich neighborhood for visitors to experience.

SOSA’s plan was first presented to the Archdiocese in July 2017, shortly after the group formed. In September 2017, we received a call from the Archdiocese asking if we are ready to move forward. Unfortunately, SOSA was not. Promised help from a large Polish organization never came to fruition. SOSA had to start from scratch to raise awareness and money.

Two other organizations are also interested in St. Adalbert’s which complicated matters. One organization, comprised of Mexican-Americans also had interest in St. Adalbert’s. This group is actually the first organization to form and they received a $1,000,000 donation from a Polish donor. Their plan involves using the convent and rectory for low-income housing and office space. The second group is a Polish group, but unfortunately, their plan is to keep the church but sell the land for real estate development. Neither of these options would support the church and complex long-term. Additionally, the conditions from the Polish community are clear.

Today the situation is more complex. The Archdiocese disclosed to the new Alderman in the neighborhood, Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez that they are seeking $4.2 M for the property, which consists of 25 city lots (25’ x 125’). The church takes up 4 lots. The remaining 21 lots, at $4.2M is the equivalent of $200,000 per lot, which is current market rate for land in this neighborhood.

The tables have turned however. Former Alderman Danny Solis, a very powerful Alderman who was also head of Chicago’s zoning department, refused to meet with SOSA.  After a scandal surfaced regarding Alderman Solis, he decided not to run for re-election in February 2019. SOSA considered this God’s hand at work. As of May 2019, Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez took office. Not only is his wife half Polish (and half Chinese), but Alderman Sigcho-Lopez is against real estate development.

More importantly, Alderman Sigcho-Lopez knows that the neighborhood wants to save St. Adalbert’s and does not want real estate development here, as it would change the density and demographics of the area. Alderman Sigcho-Lopez is fully engaged. In fact, he asked to meet with SOSA on his second day in office. This is truly a blessing.

Alderman Sigcho-Lopez is working very closely with SOSA as well as the local community, and is pursuing every available avenue to save the church and entire campus including land-marking and down-zoning.

Down-zoning the land (changing the land to a lower category of zoning) would immediately deter any developer. The land is currently zoned RT-4, which is desirable zoning for condos and town-homes. With this zoning already in place, a developer can buy this land and build without any approvals from the Alderman, who normally has the power to change zoning. If the Alderman can down-zone it to RS-3, a lower category, then a developer would not be interested in this land and the value of the land would decrease.

SOSA President Julie (Basia) Sawicki is a real estate agent and explains that, “This would have never been possible under the previous Alderman. This new Alderman is willing to pursue to this so that the neighborhood can have its church. It is a risky move because the Archdiocese could sue the City of Chicago over the zoning change although I do not think they would do so or that they would win. I am sure that the Alderman would want to run this past our new Mayor first, but the community would be solidly behind the decision, which is needed for any zoning change.”

The other issue is that the Church is not land-marked. According to Ward Miller, Executive Director of Preservation Chicago, who has been fighting to landmark St. Adalbert’s for 5 years, “There is a 1987 law enacted under former Mayor Daley that requires the permission of the owner of an active church in order to landmark the Church. Unfortunately, the Archdiocese has declined to grant permission to landmark St. Adalbert’s.”

“However,” advised Ward Miller, “After the final holy mass on July 14, 2019, the church is no longer active. The Archdiocese clearly announced that it was shutting the church so the Cardinal’s permission is no longer needed for landmark status.”

SOSA board member Elaine Olszewski, whose family has been parishioners for 105 years, along with other parishioners, filed a canonical appeal to the Cardinal’s decree to deconsecrate the church. The first step in the appeal process was to send the appeal to the Cardinal, which was done on July 3, 2019. SOSA received the Cardinal’s response this week which declined the appeal, as SOSA expected. The next step in the appeal process is to forward the appeal to the Congregation of the Sea, the Vatican court.

In the Cardinal’s decree dated June 23, 2019, a letter was attached that discussed the finances of St. Adalbert’s. It cited outstanding debt, a shortage of priests, and lack of finances to repair St. Adalbert’s. SOSA is aware that the Archdiocese spent at least $750,000 over the course of 5 years to pay for scaffolding around the bell towers. The cost was reportedly $12,000 per month. Allegedly the Archdiocese recently purchased the scaffolding instead of paying monthly.

A balance sheet ending December 2016, shows that debt was approximately $1.3M. With the scaffolding costs, SOSA estimates total debt to be around $2M but the Cardinal’s letter, which is not clear, suggests that it is higher.

SOSA has been told and knows from other church closures that the debt can be forgiven. But whether or not the Cardinal will do this is unclear.

Adding to the confusion of the church is the lack of transparency with the Archdiocese regarding the process for evaluating plans for St. Adalbert’s. Canon law is clear that the decision regarding St. Adalbert’s future lies with the Pastor but this does not seem to be the case. The Archdiocese has stated many times that it is the Cardinal’s decision.

The cost to repair the church is also a point of disagreement. In 2013, the Archdiocese of Chicago ordered an engineering study of St Adalbert’s which reportedly cost $100,000. The engineering report cites the terra cotta face brick, located in the middle portion of the bell towers, as being unstable. Some of it is falling off. This engineering report was accompanied by an estimate by a vendor authorized to perform work for the Archdiocese of Chicago in the amount of $2,296,000.

A Polish structural engineer, Robert Stolarski, licensed in the State of IL, volunteered to perform an inspection of St Adalbert Church and issued his own report. SOSA has copies of both reports.

According to Mr. Stolarski’s engineering, the terra cotta face brick on part of the tower is not fastened to the brick underneath. This is causing the face brick to fall away. The terra cotta face brick needs to be removed and then replaced property. It appears that when work was done to these towers in 1963, the terra cotta face brick was either not fastened to the brick underneath or it wasn’t fastened sufficiently enough. There are no structural issues with the towers or the church. The work needed is labor intensive but it is not complex.

SOSA states that there is masonry expertise in the Polish community and it would cost much less to make the repairs. Additionally, several companies have already stepped forward to offer free labor and materials to repair the bell towers.

In December 2016, SOSA reached out to the Archdiocese and offered to lease the Church. As “tenants”, SOSA would be responsible for all the repairs. This would have been a creative solution to use Polish masons and not the approved vendors of the Archdiocese which are extremely highly priced, but SOSA did not receive a response.

Regarding the money needed for repairs and updates, SOSA has a financial plan which includes multiple funding sources which includes money, pledges, access to loans, an equity partner if needed, and plans for continued fundraising.

SOSA’s primary goal is to secure the Church from the Archdiocese. Everyone in the Polish community says, “We already paid for this Church once. We should not have to pay for it again!”

However, it does not appear that this Cardinal will let this Church go for free, according to many in the Polish community. Additionally, many are disillusioned by the Renew My Church program which seeks to consolidate and revitalize churches. What is the point of Renew My Church if the Archdiocese is closing our churches?

Crime in Chicago makes the news globally. SOSA President Julia Basia Sawicka says, “In 2017, Pope Francis stated that ‘There is crisis of faith around the world. Here in Chicago, the violence makes world news. We need our churches now. We should be finding creative ways to keep our churches open and not shutting them down. If we shut our churches, we better start building more prisons. We have an exciting plan that can re-invent our legacy church, a plan that will make St. Adalbert’s part of the fabric of the community once again, so we continue to pray and fight for what is right.”

For additional information or to pledge, you may call SOSA at (773) 245-6050 write to: info@societyofstadalbert.org. Donations are also being accepted at the Polish-Slavic Credit Union Account #1341573.


Additional Information:

St. Adalbert is notable for its central place in the history of Polish immigration, beloved by the Mexican Pilsen community and celebrated for its architectural grandeur. It is considered the mother church of the South and Southwest sides of Chicago.  St. Adalbert parish survived for 142 years until closed by Cardinal Cupich in 2016.  The church currently remains open for worship under the management of Rev. Enright of St. Paul’s under the Pilsen church consolidation plan.

Widely recognized as one of the most beautiful Polish churches in the United States, St. Adalbert was designed by architect Henry J Schlacks with Sullivan & Adler and who went on to found Notre Dame’s School of Architecture.  Built by poor Polish immigrants from 1912- 1914, St. Adalbert stuns with over 30 tons of Carrara marble, a Tiffany half dome and vibrant stained glass windows from Germany.

Highly valued by preservationists, St. Adalbert is the rare church that remains essentially unchanged since 1914. Preservation Chicago went to the extraordinary step of listing it on their Chicago 7 list of most endangered buildings both in 2014 and 2016. Illinois Landmark has also added it to its list in 2014.

About SOSA

We are the Society of St. Adalbert NFP LLC (SOSA), and all-volunteer board dedicated to restoring and preserving our legacy Polish church in Chicago.  SOSA is urgently collecting pledges for the repair and restoration of the church and property.


Prof. Christina Ciecierska       Professor of Economics – Northeastern University

Irene Moskal                          Former President – Polish American Congress; former trustee – Village of Schiller Park, Former Board member – Triton College

Elaine Olszewski                     Family has been parishioners for 105+ years

Richard Owsiany                     President – Polish Museum of America

Bogdan Ogorek                      Business Manager – Holy Trinity; President – Tatra Mountain Cultural Foundation; Board Member – Polish-Slavic Credit Union

Julie (Basia) Sawicka              President & Founding Member – Society of St. Adalbert; Real Estate Agent

Church Address                   St. Adalbert Church 1650 W. 17th St., Chicago, IL 60608

SOSA Address                      Society of St. Adalbert P.O. Box 12496, Chicago, IL 60612

Email                                     info@SocietyOfStAdalberts.org

Phone                                   773-245-6050/ Julie Sawicki – (Polish/Spanish/English)

Website (English)                http://www.societyofstadalbert.org/

Website (Polish)                  http://obronickosciol.com/

Facebook Page (English)    Society of St. Adalbert – Chicago

Facebook Page (Polish)      Obronic Kosciol sw. Wojciecha w Chicago

Bank                                     Polish and Slavic Credit Union Account #1341573

Paypal Account


You Tube link (drone video)

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