The Church of Our Lady of Victory should be a protected Chicago landmark, says the Far Northwest Side Group

JEFFERSON PARK — A Far Northwest Side group wants a historic church that held its final mass last year to be given landmark status to prevent it from potentially being torn down.

Our Lady of Victory, 5212 W. Agatite Ave., closed its congregation as part of the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Renew My Church consolidation plan. The building is still a Catholic church, open for worship for the time being with permission from the Archdiocese.

Though the archdiocese has no immediate plans for the building, it did mention options to sell the property when announcing the 2020 closure. This panicked parishioners and parishioners as they want to ensure the building remains and remains a neighborhood asset.

A petition by the neighborhood group Save Our Lady of Victory is asking elected officials to work with the city to give the church landmark status.

“It’s one of the most fabulous structures on the Northwest Side—we don’t want to lose it,” said Susanna Ernst, president of the Northwest Chicago Historical Society and parishioner of Our Lady of Victory, who organized the petition.

Established in 1906, Our Lady of Victory is the oldest Catholic Church on the Far Northwest Side. It was home to Irish, Polish and German communities. Its architectural importance, publicity, and growth between the 1920s and 1950s make it important to the area, Ernst said.

The church was proposed as a landmark to the Northwest Chicago Historical Society’s Commission on Chicago Landmarks, Ernst said. The commission, which is a department of the Urban Planning and Development Ministry, is responsible for recommending sites for legal protection as official city landmarks.

Should the Commission believe that Our Lady of Victories meets the historical, architectural and cultural significance requirements to become a landmark, an Aldermanic and property permit would be required under the city’s landmark ordinance. A public hearing, followed by a commission decision, is then presented to City Council before the landmark can become official.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Our Lady of Victory, 5212 W. Agatite Ave., at Portage Park on November 17, 2021.

While some people see the Our Lady of Victory group as violating a possible sale of the church, Ernst said she worries it could be sold to an entity that will destroy it.

“Since the archdiocese has not disclosed to anyone who the potential buyers are, we have to assume the worst,” she said.

Archdiocese spokeswoman Susan Thomas said options for the property are still being explored, but those owned by the archdiocese are not considered landmarks by the Catholic organization.

“To the extent that we sell or otherwise transfer ownership of property to another owner, that owner is free to pursue that designation if he so chooses,” the archdiocese said in a statement. “We are not aware of any move to bestow landmark status on Our Lady of Victory.”

The landmark designation petition has been signed by more than 400 people.

TIED TOGETHER: Ahead of the final Mass at Our Lady of Victory Church, the Jefferson Park Community vows to preserve the historic building

Preservation Chicago included the church on its 2021 list of endangered buildings and recommended that it be repurposed as another religious space, venue, or residence.

“The church could still remain a sacred place, but perhaps encased with other purposes, perhaps tied to the community, or perhaps an educational institution,” said Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago. “Landmark designation encourages the right ideas and a creative imagination to be applied to these structures.”

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Our Lady of Victory, 5212 W. Agatite Ave., at Portage Park on November 17, 2021.

In addition to benefiting the Far Northwest Side, which has few listed buildings, the designation could benefit the archdiocese, Miller said. As the archdiocese closes churches and parishes in the area as part of its Renew My Church plan, its Catholic churches could see new life and sustainability with the city’s help, Miller said.

The archdiocese “could still mark the outside of the building as a landmark and encourage the city to preserve large buildings even if they close or fall into disrepair,” Miller said.

Given that the archdiocese does not consider its lands to be landmarks, Miller said the title constraint for religious buildings — which was added to the ordinance in 1987 — should be rescinded.

“City funds could be used to repair these buildings…. That would show collaboration rather than an ivory tower corporate hierarchy making decisions that impact communities across the city and many, many individuals,” he said.

Local aldermen and state officials have joined in the awareness work to keep the church in the community. Last year ald. Nick Sposato (38th) named North Laramie Avenue from West Agatite to West Sunnyside Avenue an honorary Our Lady of Victory Way.

“This is our history, our architecture. This is ours,” Ernst said earlier about the church. “It belongs to the community. And when you take that away from us, you’re not just taking it away from Catholics — you’re taking it away from every single person.”

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