(LifeSiteNews) — The Archdiocese of Chicago has slated a beloved historic Catholic Church to be sold to the owner of the profane Temple House, a luxury event venue that hosts lewd performances.
Nearby residents have been passionately fighting to preserve St. Adalbert’s Catholic Church, a “profoundly beautiful,” longtime hub of the Pilsen neighborhood’s local Polish and Mexican communities, since it was deconsecrated and closed in 2019 by the archdiocese, reportedly due to unsustainable upkeep costs.
While two plans by the archdiocese to sell the church property have since formed and dissolved, Dave Theisen, president of Real Estate for Life, told LifeSiteNews on Tuesday that he has “solid, unimpeachable confirmation” that the church property is now “under contract.”
According to Theisen’s source, there is “resistance to what the buyer is looking to do” from the Chicago City Council, “and because of that, the property is open to other offers.”
While Theisen’s source did not confirm the identity of the expected buyer, a letter of intent to purchase the church from the archdiocese for $3,950,000 has recently surfaced, showing the prospective buyer to be the “experiential hospitality company” Anew LLC, led by Dan Davidson.
Regarding whether he is moving forward with plans to purchase the property, Davidson told LifeSiteNews by email on Friday that it is “a bit premature for me to share information,” adding that he owed “all those interested the right information at the right time.”
As his LinkedIn profile shows, Davidson’s companies primarily specialize in visual projection, in which artistically rendered or photographic images are superimposed on a building’s interior surfaces, sometimes creating the illusion of a new three-dimensional space.
This distinctive effect is most clearly shown at The Temple House, Davidson’s Miami-based flagship project. The building, which used to serve as an Orthodox Jewish temple, now hosts a wide variety of events, including corporate gatherings, weddings, fashion shows, and parties of all kinds, and it serves many of the world’s top companies and celebrities, as its website attests.
(Warning: lewd content) The Temple House has also served as the backdrop for obscene performances, concerts, and music videos, which have included celebrities known for sexually provocative personas, such as Shakira, Nicki Minaj, Kesha, Chris Brown, and Romeo Santos.
As the Instagram page for Ariel Glassman, the creative director of The Temple House, shows, she does not shy away from the provocative, either.
Anew LLC’s letter of intent to purchase the St. Adalbert’s Church site notably shows an “overview plan” for its intended future function that is remarkably similar to that of The Temple House.
It explains that the “purchaser intends to use property for assembly use, including but not limited to: weddings, life celebrations, private events, dinner gatherings, educational seminars, religious ceremonies, charities, galas and other functions in accordance with traditional socially acceptable standards.”
The letter of intent also foreshadows the purging of any trace of the sacred from St. Adalbert’s, stating that the archdiocese must “remove all church items, relics, pews, artwork, and stained-glass windows, etc.” unless another agreement regarding those items is made “within the Purchase & Sale agreement.”
The idea of the church’s commercial overhaul alone has disturbed locals of varying religious practice, and not just because it would mean gutting what has been described as “the most beautiful church on the south side of Chicago,” built by Henry Schlacks, “the best of the best among Chicago church architects,” as Catholic activist Richard Smaglick has noted.
Among concerned Catholics, the sale of St. Adalbert’s to Davidson in particular, in light of his venue history, is seen as a deeply serious matter and even “sacrilegious,” as Anna Leja, who formerly attended St. Adalbert’s monthly Polish-language Mass, described it to LifeSiteNews.
Smaglick slammed the planned sale to Davidson as particularly troubling because the businessman’s longtime prize moneymaker, The Temple House, constitutes the profanation of what was once considered a sacred space.
“Dan Davidson has already converted an orthodox Jewish temple into a pseudo-sacred celebrity sleaze palace, appropriating the religious identity of the building in order to profit from the marketing of its sacrilegious profanation,” Smaglick declared in a statement to LifeSiteNews.
“It’s totally unacceptable for Cardinal (Blase) Cupich to move toward selling St. Adalbert’s, an extraordinary spiritual and cultural treasure for Chicago’s Polish Catholic community, or any church for that matter, for this decadence, to this Herod,” he continued.
He further pointed out that “the Cardinal’s actions are characteristic of the increasingly widespread degeneracy of the mission being pursued by our bishops,” adding, “Where our Church is restoring the sacred, it is thriving.”
Leja, who was “born and brought up in Communist Poland,” said she was reminded of the many churches that were closed and repurposed for all kinds of use around the former Soviet Union, in places like Russia and Lithuania.
“In my heart, I cannot imagine that a church could be turned into something else rather than a house of worship. Not even a museum. To me, it’s definitely forbidden in my mind. This is wrong, this is very wrong,” Leja shared.
If completed, the sale of St. Adalbert to Anew LLC will reflect not only on the Archdiocese of Chicago but on the Vatican, since “proof of written approval from the Vatican” is needed for “approval of the sale,” as the letter of intent explains.
‘Devastating’ church closures
A remarkably diverse array of groups, including former parishioners, local left-leaning activists, and the architecturally minded, have opposed the sale of St. Adalbert’s since the archdiocese announced in February 2016 that it would close the church because of the “high costs” of “extensive repairs.” The bulk of these expenses were needed for the church’s 185-foot towers, which were said to cost about $3 million.
After a hefty but reportedly insufficient donation from one of St. Adalbert’s former parishioners, Auxiliary Bishop Alberto Rojas wrote in a letter to the Rev. Mike Enright in April that he had decided, after consultation with then-Archbishop Cupich, that “it is unlikely that, whatever the investment, there would be sufficient parishioners and ongoing financial support around which to build that ministry.”
Observers such as Smaglick are questioning the reasoning for the closure of St. Adalbert’s, especially in light of Canon 1222, which states, “If a church cannot be used in any way for divine worship and there is no possibility of repairing it, the diocesan bishop can relegate it to profane but not sordid use.”
“We already know that there is a possibility of repairing it,” Smaglick pointed out. Moreover, “a church like this can be sustained through normal collections and charitable giving if Mass attendance is good. If, for example, you bring in a traditional order in a city like Chicago, that’s sure to happen,” Smaglick said.
He added that, according to his sources, “The Archdiocese of Chicago has a history of multiplying what it will really cost to fix a parish by a factor of three in order to make the case that it’s not financially viable so they can sell it off, or more often, turn it to dust.”
Smaglick also questioned whether Davidson will refrain from avoiding “sordid” use of the church space, pointing out that he already “has a track record of making sordid, sacrilegious use of formerly sacred spaces.”
Section 2 of Canon 1222 adds that “the diocesan bishop” can relegate a church “to profane but not sordid use, with the consent of those who legitimately claim rights for themselves in the church and provided that the good of souls suffers no detriment thereby.”
Those who “legitimately claim rights for themselves in the church” would include parishioners and congregants,” Smaglick noted.
In addressing the question of whether financially sustaining St. Adalbert’s is possible, architect Ward Miller, the executive director of Preservation Chicago, recalled to LifeSiteNews that a few years ago the archdiocese “sold the Holy Name Cathedral parking lot for over a hundred million dollars.”
“What happened to the million dollars plus, and why isn’t that being reinvested in these magnificent buildings that were built with pennies, nickels and dimes from the community, and given to the Archdiocese to steward and maintain?” Miller said.
Miller maintains that there was still significant attendance at the church. “When you see a church like St. Adalbert’s that had about 600 to 700 members, you wonder why are we closing these when obviously there’s a great need for these spaces.”
Smaglick sees the closure and sale of St. Adalbert’s as reflective of a lack of truly pastoral leadership from the archdiocese, and as a reinforcement of the problem of Catholic decline in the area.
“What we’re ending up with is Mass attendance that has fallen to 9.9 percent in Chicago, [and] an agenda on Cupich’s part and on the pope’s part where it’s OK for the Church to be collapsing demographically, if it suits the woke agenda and it suits the socialist agenda. And reacting as if the right way to handle that is to repurpose the church and to sell it off in order to maintain financial solvency,” Smaglick said.
He emphasized that the archdiocese’s approach is “not working,” since it negatively impacts the religious practice of Chicago locals, including immigrants.
“When traditional, old-fashioned, family-oriented, Mass-attending Catholics leave Mexico and come up to Chicago, they don’t land at a Church that provides them the sacraments and evangelizes them and teaches them to teach their children to be good Catholics. We have a church that doesn’t care if they go to church,” Smaglick continued.
“So Hispanics tend to fade away from the church when they come up, especially in an environment like Chicago,” he added.
Indeed, the Archdiocese of Chicago is exceptional in the nation for failing to prioritize church attendance, having decided to reinstate the Sunday Mass obligation only on Nov. 27, 2022, after an ostensibly precautionary, almost three-year hiatus due to COVID. The archdiocese lags far behind most.
In line with this lack of concern for church attendance is the archdiocese’s broader trend of shutting down churches amid demographic collapse, which does nothing to remedy religious decline, and arguably only accelerates it.
St. Adalbert’s, in fact, was shuttered and merged along with the nearby St. Ann’s into St. Paul Catholic Church as part of a “cost-saving,” ongoing slew of church closures in the archdiocese.
Miller’s advocacy group Preservation Chicago has highlighted the “devastating” effect, even beyond its religious impact, of Cupich’s so-called “Renew Your Church” program, which has “brought about new discussions of massive closings, projected to be 75 to 100 buildings and parishes across Chicago which are to be merged, consolidated, closed, sold and perhaps demolished.”
“This is nothing less than a tragedy, impacting whole communities and cities across the nation,” lamented the organization, which in 2019 listed St. Adalbert as among Chicago’s “most endangered” Roman Catholic churches.
Opposition to the archdiocese’s church shutdowns stems not only from the deep spiritual and aesthetic loss it brings but from more “practical” concerns as well. Leja shared with LifeSiteNews her worry that St. Adalbert’s sale could potentially have a “huge impact” on violence in the Pilsen community, which she says is already a big problem.
“I know there is a lot of violence going on in that neighborhood, a lot of gangs, a lot of drug dealers. And since I’ve joined those prayer rallies, I’ve heard of so many people close to people who come to pray that were killed — young people in their 20s, a lot of young women were killed … Of course, nobody wants to talk about it, but there is a lot of violence,” said Leja, adding that a couple of years ago “I heard my friend’s friend’s son was killed in that neighborhood too.”
“I believe that with the closure of churches it’s not helping. I’d rather have a church on every corner than a drug dealer on every corner,” she continued.
Research shows that regular church attendance is negatively correlated with crime, particularly shoplifting and illegal drug use, suggesting that churches should indeed be considered assets to the community from a public safety perspective alone, to the extent that they enable and encourage attendance at their services.
The ‘beating heart of a community’
The planned sale of St. Adalbert is particularly tragic in the eyes of its former parishioners and other locals, who have for years now been protesting and working to prevent its sale to the “highest bidder.” Their battle has most recently culminated in efforts to stop the removal of the church’s La Pietà replica statue.
The statue is seen as the trigger “domino” to fall in the relinquishing of the church, since, according to Miller, the “wrecking balls came in” after a similar statue was removed at another Chicago Catholic church.
Leja, who has participated in rosary rallies outside St. Adalbert’s since its closing, shared with LifeSiteNews that when there was an attempt to remove the La Pietà statue from St. Adalbert on October 18, “It was as if someone was ripping out your heart.”
As a devout Catholic and a Polish immigrant, Leja has a keen sense of the precious value of St. Adalbert’s, first and foremost simply as a Catholic church.
“Nowadays, people say, ‘Oh, you can pray anywhere.’ This is not true. We need [churches] to guide us, and to go and be a part of the Sacrifice of Mass, with beautiful images and beautiful organ music. We need that.”
While “the destruction of any church is very tragic,” noted Leja, the closing of St. Adalbert’s is “especially” so, because it has historically been the cultural hub of the local Polish community. As Smaglick observed, “Deep traditional faith” was the very “foundation” of Polish culture.
St. Adalbert’s, in fact, is considered “the mother church of the Polish Roman Catholic community of the South and West Sides.” Its demographics had since shifted so that prior to its closing, it primarily served the Mexican-American community.
Ward Miller, who has seen other churches “senselessly demolished” during his almost 40 years in architecture, believes that to have such a church obliterated is “even more wrenching than having your family’s house demolished, because these are immense buildings [that] were built like those overseas to inspire the faithful, and to make you feel as though you had arrived at a sacred space, where one would worship the Almighty.”
“The buildings were meant to be powerful, and they were meant to be there for the ages. They were meant to last forever,” he added.
Even before St. Adalbert’s was closed down, Chicago native Julia Ciampaglia expressed the sense of devastation that the church’s expected sale would bring. “A beating heart of a community will be stopped and the wave of a vile, pagan culture that places a value on real estate and picks and choose it’s values as often as the wind changes direction, will be left to desecrate this place,” she wrote in a review of the church.
Saving St. Adalbert’s
Smaglick highlighted the fact that there is still an alternative option for St. Adalbert’s that would save its architectural treasures as well as continue the church’s mission: A religious order could come in and again make St. Adalbert’s “a real church that will re-evangelize the community.”
Miller agreed that this would be a desirable path forward for the church. He suggested to LifeSiteNews, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the cardinal encouraged another congregation to come here, maybe it’s a group of monks. We’ve seen this before. A group of canons that can operate independently of the archdiocese and keep this open as a place of contemplation, perhaps a place of worship. A community that’s aligned with the mission of the current owner, but not in competition as far as collections go.”
Such an order could, in theory, move in “tomorrow” if they’re financially able. However, there are other steps that can be taken to help make this possible — what Miller calls the “two tools in the toolbox” to help preserve the church from commercial repurposing, whether in preparation for a religious order or another fitting use.
One of these possibilities would be to designate the church as a landmark, which both Smaglick and Miller explained would help generate the funds needed to repair and maintain its magnificent structure, including from philanthropic, local, and federal sources.
According to Miller, a landmark designation would “most normally protect everything you can see from the street: all principal elevations and rooflines.” It could also be used to preserve components of the church’s interior, although it is done less often than exterior landmarking. He shared that St. Adalbert’s already “fits the criteria for landmark designation.”
Miller recalled how landmarking helped save a Chicago church from destruction and enabled it to eventually house the Institute of Christ the King. St. Clara, which was also designed by Henry Schlacks, after it was initially lined up to be demolished by the archdiocese.
When the Archdiocese of Chicago “finally realized” they were not going to be able to demolish it, since it would “stand for a very long time” as a landmark, “that’s when Cardinal George invited the canons of Institute of Christ the King to come from Wisconsin and to set up shop in Chicago Woodlawn neighborhood,” Miller said.
Down-zoning St. Adalbert’s to an open space designation is another practical step that can help pave the way for and reinforce landmarking, or stand alone to prevent its commercial use. It would “protect the building from any kind of demolition” or “any kind of reuse that the community doesn’t want,” Miller explained to LifeSiteNews.
In fact, as Smaglick shared, a move to down-zone the church property “won overwhelmingly” in the city’s Committee on Zoning, and “was about to win in the city council itsel,” until Mayor Lori Lightfoot intervened by indefinitely delaying a vote on the measure.
A lawsuit was filed by St. Adalbert’s Rosary Group on Wednesday against Lightfoot, alleging that by preventing the pending “‘open space’ ordinance” “from coming to [a] vote” “which would have prevented” the demolishing of St. Adalbert’s, she and the City of Chicago have shown that “the City treats the developers’ use on more-favorable terms than the religious assembly’s use.”
The plaintiff argues that this violates the equal terms provision of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), which states that “No government shall impose or implement a land use regulation in a manner that treats a religious assembly or institution on less than equal terms with a nonreligious assembly or institution.”
The lawsuit also states that Lightfoot appears to have a special relationship with Cupich, noting that a “May 13, 2020, email exchange” between the two “evidences that Cardinal Cupich was directly corresponding with and advising Mayor Lightfoot as to her policy on how to best craft a letter to other religious leaders.”
“Cardinal Cupich’s close relationship with Mayor Lightfoot differed enormously from that of the majority of Protestant and Jewish religious leaders who criticized her worship restrictions during the pandemic,” the lawsuit continues.
A crowdfunding campaign to fund the lawsuit was also launched Wednesday, which is aiming to raise $5,500 to cover the remaining needed legal expenses.
Smaglick noted to LifeSiteNews that Lightfoot is up for re-election on Feb. 28, and he believes that “if the political wind blows in the right way, Alderman Sigcho-Lopez can put this in front of the city council and win the vote, especially [with] a lawsuit in place.”
“This is a profoundly beautiful, architecturally relevant, culturally relevant, ethnically relevant church. And it shouldn’t be going away, because it means so much to the community and it means so much architecturally,” Smaglick told LifeSiteNews.
“We don’t need to sell off our Church. We need to re-evangelize our society in fidelity to Christ and the deposit of faith. Nowhere is this more necessary than Chicago. St. Adalbert’s is a church and should remain one.”