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Katarina Garcia, president of Our Lady of Lourdes Preservation Society, speaks about organizers plans to revive the historic church during press conference May 8. Credit: Ecoglobalsociety/Kayleigh Padar

UPTOWN — Parishioners of an Uptown church that is slated to close are organizing to landmark and possibly buy the church to keep it open.

Our Lady of Lourdes Church, 4640 N. Ashland Ave., will host its last Mass May 19 as the parish is set to merge with St. Mary of the Lake in Buena Park.

That merger has been opposed by some supporters of Our Lady of Lourdes, who hope to protect the 108-year-old church from demolition by landmarking it. They then plan to buy the church campus from the Archdiocese of Chicago so they can reopen it.

The group launched a nonprofit, Our Lady of Lourdes Preservation Society, to further its efforts.

“We’ve seen time and time again, remarkable religious buildings sold to the highest bidder and often times undermined and demolished,” said Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago, which is supporting the parishioners. “We have to save these kinds of buildings, honor their stories and honor the communities and people that built them.”

If organizers can landmark and buy the church, they plan to reopen it as a historical shrine, said Maricelle Garcia, vice president of Our Lady of Lourdes Preservation Society. They would also restore the church’s community programs, like its food pantry and immigrant services, and would convert the rectory into a bed and breakfast to fund maintenance, Garcia said.

The group is already working with a few donors and plans to continue fundraising so it can create an endowment to preserve the church.

“We’ve been told that we need to find ways to sustain this financially, and we can do it through our donors, income-generating projects and through our fundraising,” Garcia said.

Organizers are asking neighbors to reach out to Ald. Matt Martin (47th) to ask him to request a landmark designation for Our Lady of Lourdes Church.

Martin is “receptive to preservation goals” and working to facilitate a conversation between the nonprofit and the archdiocese, said Lucy Nye, director of developmental and business affairs at the 47th Ward office. The alderman is also speaking with preservationists to “make sure they understand what they would need to be able to purchase the building from the Archdiocese and maintain the building for the long,” Nye said.

“Ald. Martin supports the preservation of Our Lady of Lourdes church building,” Nye said in a statement. “Our priority is to ensure that the building is put to productive use to guarantee that the structure is cared for and maintained in the long term, which requires adequate funding and organization.”

Parishioners and their supporters gathered at Our Lady of Lourdes Church, 4640 N. Ashland Ave., to share their plans to landmark and preserve the church. Credit: Ecoglobalsociety/Kayleigh Padar

Our Lady of Lourdes merged with Buena Park’s St. Mary of the Lake in 2021 as part of the archdiocese's effort to consolidate church resources. Since then, Our Lady of Lourdes’ school building has been sold to developer Honore Properties, who will turn the building into 42 apartments.

After the final Mass at Our Lady of Lourdes, future celebrations will be held at St. Mary of the Lake, 4220 N. Sheridan Road. All sacred items will be brought there, as well, according to a February announcement from church leadership.

The nonprofit has not yet approached the pastor or archdiocese to ask about buying the church, said Susan Thomas, spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Chicago. Thomas said Mass attendance at Our Lady of Lourdes “steadily dropped” in the past few years.

Of the 85 people who attend English Mass, 65 percent expressed interest in attending Mass at St. Mary of the Lake, while 92 percent of the 300 parishioners who attend Spanish Mass agreed to shift parishes, as well, Thomas said.

“The archdiocese’s Renew My Church team has identified that in order for a church site to be viable, it needs an average participation of 800 people every Sunday to support vibrant ministries,” Thomas said in a statement. “This is a very difficult moment, but the parish life cannot end when a church building closes. The staff is committed to the spiritual well-being of all parishioners who worship at St. Mary of the Lake and Our Lady of Lourdes Parish.”

Our Lady of Lourdes Church, 4640 N. Ashland Ave., is set to close this month but parishioners hope to revive it. Credit: Ecoglobalsociety/Kayleigh Padar

Our Lady of Lourdes held its first Mass in October 1892 on the southwest corner of Ashland and Leland avenues.

When the city widened Ashland Avenue in 1929, a team of 50 men and horses lifted the 10,000-ton church from its foundation and moved it across the street, according to Open House Chicago’s website. Once it was moved, crews rotated it 90 degrees, cut it in half and added a 30-foot expansion in the middle.

“This church has a lot of historical significance, both architecturally and spiritually,” said Katarina Garcia, president of Our Lady of Lourdes Preservation Society. “Some people who’ve prayed in the grotto have gotten their miracles.”

Our Lady of Lourdes' grotto is modeled off as famous holy site in France. Credit: Provided

People travel from all over the world to see the grotto at Our Lady of Lourdes in Uptown, said Maria Precious Deang, treasurer of the nonprofit and former church staff member. It’s a replica of the famous Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes in France, which is a cavernous holy site for Catholics.

The grotto is one of the only perpetual adoration sites in the area. In 1992, the Uptown church’s grotto was opened 24/7 as a place of worship, but its hours were reduced when the church merged with St. Mary of the Lake. The grotto will be closed along with the church May 19.

“We have people from all over the world and of all different religions who come,” Deang said. “Especially in these days, with all that’s going on in the world, people need a place to come for refuge. They need a place where they feel secure no matter what religion or nationality they are.”

To learn more about parishioners' efforts and get involved, visit Our Lady of Lourdes Preservation Society’s website.


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