PILSEN – The battle over a beloved statue inside a closed Pilsen church came to a crescendo Wednesday as work crews removed Michelangelo’s replica and police arrested five people protesting the project.
The Archdiocese of Chicago has wanted to remove the Pieta statue from St. Adalbert’s Church, 1650 W. 17th St., for months, but protesters have blocked the removal on multiple occasions. The church closed in 2019 as part of a consolidation, but longtime parishioners have focused on preserving the statue during their battle with the archdiocese, which wants to sell the land.
On Tuesday morning, crews successfully removed the statue, which depicts the Virgin Mary holding the dead body of Jesus, through a hole in one of the closed church walls that had been created for removal. It was loaded onto a flatbed and taken to its new home at St. Paul’s Catholic Church, 2127 W. 22nd Place.
The statue’s move attracted a small group of protesters who fought to keep it in St. Adalbert’s. Five people were taken into custody Tuesday, a Chicago Police Department spokesman said. Charges were pending, they said.
A spokesman for the archdiocese did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Since September, residents have alternated shifts to guard the statue, camping outside to prevent its removal. The statue’s relocation has raised concerns among parishioners about whether the archdiocese will properly seal the hole once the statue is removed and whether it will expedite the parish’s demolition.
Workers have previously attempted to move the statue October, but were again thwarted by protesters.
Anina Jakubowski, a former parishioner and student at St. Adalbert’s, said she received a text from friends early Tuesday informing them that workers were finally taking over the statue. She rushed to Pilsen from her home in Downers Grove to be there as the statue was removed, she said.
“’Oh no, the thing we feared – it’s happening,’” Jakubowski said as it crossed her mind.
Javier Yañez, a former choirboy at St Adalbert’s, said he was sad to see the St Adalbert site lost and worries about the possibility of it turning into a luxury development.
“We can potentially change the fabric of this community overnight if we don’t do the right thing here,” said Yañez, which has a history of local politics in the ward.
The future of St. Adalbert
In the past four years, the archdiocese has twice entered into a deal to sell the property — once to a music school and once to a residential developer — but both deals fell through.
The property, consisting of a sanctuary, rectory, convent, school and parking lot, spans 2.1 acres in the heart of the transforming neighborhood.
Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) worked to scale down the church site for years trying to force any builder to engage with Pilsen neighbors and former parishioners of St. Adalbert.
The Sigcho-Lopez ordinance approved by the planning committee in May, despite a representative of the archdiocese at the time saying he likely would sue the city if it passed. He had to go before the next city council meeting, but the mayor’s allies blocked the vote.
Sigcho-Lopez later filed a complaint with the Inspector General’s office against Mayor Lori Lightfoot, accusing the mayor of interfering in the rezoning to help the archdiocese.
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