Thursday, October 25, 2007
I wrote the following piece just after Labor Day. But I never got around to posting it till today. First I needed to upload some pictures. Those available at the link below are only a small and incomplete, even inadequate, representation of the pictorial statement which I have to offer. But it will need to now suffice, at least until some later date when I am able to provide something more complete and personal from my full collection.
Recently, the Archdiocese of Chicago posted a press release on their website noting that work on this project was progressing on schedule. Witnessed report suggests the same, meaning that time has run out and a Chicago landmark, a national treasure, "built for the ages" to last is coming to it's end. This is a sad day for all of us, indeed.
My September thoughts now:
School's in for Chicago students. Well, save at one significant institution.
For over 100 years, Quigley Preparatory Seminary served Chicago and it's Catholic Archdiocese. A high school seminary may seem an odd idea these days. It shouldn't. For just as boys dream of their potential professions from a young age, vocations must be nurtured among the tender hearted. Often the signs of call are present in the character seen from boys of this time in life. Oh, it is argued, that "These are just boys." But boys (and girls) in teenage years get married, have sex (and babies), prepare diligently for other careers. They work, play sports, take on all kinds of responsibilities. So many are ardently pursuing college and futures filled with hope. Indeed, parents now plan these things from the time a child is born with more passion than that of trying to sign up for potential Bozo show tickets used to be in town. Why not, then, encourage some among our brotherhood to consider a life of ordained service to their fellow man?
It should be noted that no one becomes a priest upon graduating from high school. No, it is a long road. For the diocesan priesthood, one must complete college and four years more thereafter until the time they enter ministry. Possibly more for those in religious life. So seminary is a time of learning: about oneself, the Church, God, and others. It is an opportunity to grow: Physically, Intellectually, Emotionally, Spiritually. Twelve years gives you a lot of time to mature. Nor are today's seminarians isolated from the "real world". To the contrary, those who attended this high school lived in its midst, right among the rest of society in bustling downtown. What they received at Quigley, then, was an invitation and opportunity more than anything.
The school has a storied history. Back to the early days when it was founded as Cathedral College of the Sacred Heart in 1905. The institution grew and by the nineteen teens, a new Archbishop (Mundelein) with grand visions decided to build. What Chicago needs, he noted, is a place of particular dedication and grandness to properly foster such a work. And so, a beautiful piece of praise in Architecture was designed downtown. In its day, the facilities were cutting edge. The faculty, too, intended to be the best in town. This was set to become the showpiece school for Chicago. And it was! So much so as to rival the other grand institutions, including Jesuit run St. Ignatius. Named "Quigley" in honor of the founding Archbishop who started Cathedral College, the reputation it built stands strong to this day.
Indeed, it flourished to the point of an expansion wing being built only 10 years later. And it continued to grow. In the early 60s (a peculiar period) so crowded was "Le Petit Seminaire" that a South Side branch was opened. "Just give me good men and I'll have good priests," then Cardinal Meyer exhorted the faculty at their opening luncheon. Quigley did just that! Many men who chose priesthood, marriage, service to Church and secular society in Chicago and well beyond came forth from her arms.
Due to restructuring, the South branch closed (perhaps unnecessarily) in 1990. It was re-merged at the downtown campus, and a new stage in the school's life began. Much turmoil resulted and vocations declined. Only in recent years have the growing pains of Chicago's seminary system started to again yield more fruit in numbers continuing forward through the later stages of seminary discernment. That isn't to say that it didn't still serve its mission even when it's alumni failed to continue onward or make it the remaining 8 years to the altar. Truly, it exposed them to something unique. It fostered serious questioning about the purpose of life, their place in the world, exploring of talents, the need for self giving sacrifice, where one can do the greatest good, listening to God's voice, finding your calling. It focused these questions in a way that no other school could. It provided a safe environment where self conscious teens could find it acceptable to "go inside" and ask such things. Not everyone knew with absolute clarity when high school was completed where they would end up. But Quigley set them on their way and gave them wings to fly.
Upon this past Spring ending, Quigley closed. Archdiocesan interests decided it was no longer of any value or worthwhile use. Other things could be done with its millions in endowment funds, perhaps. And the beautiful building, intended to inspire young men to dream, to understand the mystery of Christ, could simply be reclaimed for something else. Into diaspora the students were sent. Alumni who considered this a loving home, also, out of their ass. Tossed to the streets with the rest of those homeless beggars who graced the blocks encompassed; slept on the school's steps.
Last week it all hit me. Hard. In the area around 3 O'clock, I looked up to that familiar sight which became a centerpiece for students of recent decades: the John Hancock Building. I realized that school should be letting out. The Quigley seminarians of today hitting the streets surrounding, enriching the environment and partaking of one like no other in a way which none other can. But no one was there. The sidewalks which were trod for the past 100 years by footfalls, growing steps, of so many young men now met with absent silence. A terribly empty environment.
Sure, there was an ancillary outreach established. But it won't be the same. Nor am I convinced it can succeed when something similar was tried and failed not too long ago. And, really, what does it say when an Archdiocese abandons its long standing showpiece school? Can the Church's commitment to Catholic education's importance be trusted? What does this say for the value of priestly discernment when we don't support it with our best endeavors possible? Or when the archdiocesan vocations spokesmen are repeatedly quoted in press reports that they don't believe in our youth's potential to discern their call? No, it just isn't as good of a thing.
The building, last I heard, was set to be reinvented. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it will get gutted. So much for significant sites. Yet it seems to be the story of Chicago. Knock down, rebuild. Oh, the facade will stay in place. But it won't be the same. For it was built as a school. A question I often hear is, "Will the chapel at least remain." A glorious space, modeled after France's "Sainte-Chapelle", the Gothic room has astounding stained glass and awesome acoustic. The answer is, yes. It is the only space in the building to be retained entire. Still it will not serve it's purpose. For it was constructed not as a stand alone piece, but part of a larger whole. It was intended (and used 90 years running) as the pinnacle of the rest. It was a place of prayer, of transition, of music and ministry, growth for a continuous stream of boys and young men who passed through or paused. Now it sits simply empty, this living bloodstream cut off. The Sacred Heart, long pulsating, stopped. The sound of so many male voices filling it's resonant space eerily quiet.
The warmth of the place will be destroyed. Old woodwork, marble steps. Human elements which speak to us strongly tossed to the trash. For what? An administrative office building of the Archdiocese which will cost too much to run. Indeed, this takeover (though certainly savored by it's occupant bureaucrats to be) will not even house all of the necessary offices the Catholic Church needs. Instead, after they sell off their present downtown "Pastoral Center" for a hefty price, yet another old South Side building must be converted to house the heads and staff offices for "pastoral" ministry. This will disunify that which needs to be brought together. Nor will the Church have availability of a wonderful auditorium room which has long been employed for conferences and receptions. Where will they go for such things in the future and how much extra will it cost when the grand space is subdivided as they allegedly intend? A wasteful endeavor, overall. And, ironically, one which could be easily avoided were they only to have enough sense of building upon the large space available across the street from Holy Name Cathedral only two blocks away on State. Indeed, the latter possibility holds much hope of providing not only unified space, but a new and efficient building with expanded parking and plenty of economic sources for future income. But this would make too much sense. The Catholic Church, after all, proves itself worthy to the world, usually, in her ability to survive despite age old power grabs and the only consistent: incompetence.
Yet the loss not only of a great institution, but a beautiful place is something which should cause all Chicagoans pause of concern. Why is no one complaining? Typically, when an historic building is threatened, one will hear all kinds of outcry. But precious little has been expressed here. Does no one understand or appreciate what this place is, what it means, what is being tossed to the pits? Perhaps. It was not the case that many came to spend much time within the school's walls. Unless they taught there or are among the alumni. Maybe the call of concern for the chapel is precisely because of increased public use of this space in recent years. Would only those who seem satisfied that it will last talk to those who know the rest of the place all too well. Were they to see the photography, feel the wood, walk the floors. Get a sense of what it means.
Here, then, I would like to share with you what little I can. Though I will post only a couple of pictures on this blog, I invite and implore you to visit this album which has an extensive photo essay. Perhaps it will inspire you to object to the massacre of a gorgeous building meant to last. Yes, the walls will continue to stand mostly as is. But it won't look the same - even from the outside - with an entirely different inside. The grandiosity of something so significant ought not be destroyed.
Indeed, why not build upon what already is, making positive use with relatively minor modification? Certainly Loyola University, next door, would covet the opportunity to partner with the Archdiocese in employing the facility for their own growth. In fact, the next level of Chicago's seminary system is operated in conjunction with Loyola. Its students could use the facility for classes, discernment, chapel prayer and liturgical training. Other preparatory programs, such as the one for Spanish speaking students, Casa Jesus, could benefit from it, too. Thus the history and purpose of this place could be continued. It might become the center for Chicago's revamped vocations office. Discernment programs would be hosted here.
But not only this, it could serve as a downtown cultural center for the Archdiocese. Quigley's courtyard was once a grassy space. What better thing to do for downtown than return it to such for the public? Rest awhile amidst the beauty, embraced by her loving arms. Come in and eat at a lunch buffet in a renovated room of grace which once served school cafeteria purposes. Visit a historic display of Archdiocesan artifacts, now housed in far away Mundelein where few visit them - or even know of their existence. Attend prayer of liturgy in the chapel, artistic events in the auditorium. Have a cup of coffee and sandwich in a first floor converted Rush Street cafe. This would be a great thing of goodwill for the entire city of Chicago, the Archdiocese, the alumni, and vocations. Athletic facilities might even be employed as a downtown gym, or for sporting programs supporting disadvantaged youth. And any modifications of such a project would be modest, mainly preserving the historic integrity of the facility.
Here, then, is my plea. Look at the pictures, Appreciate what is being lost. Then DO something. Whatever it may be. Call your alderman and the mayor. Stop donating to the Church - especially the annual "Catholic Appeal". And LET THE CHANCELLOR, Jimmy Lago, know WHY. Organize with architectural aficionados to decry and plan alternatives. Encourage arts or educational groups to suggest worthwhile uses. Perhaps it is not too late. Possibly not all is lost. At least not yet. So much good can be done with a classic Chicago building. We are all bankrupted when we just sacrifice such culture, our heritage and history. Instead, the Archdiocese of Chicago, and indeed, all the residents of this fine city or its one time inhabitants should commit ourselves to doing something truly positive and forward thinking with one of our greatest treasures to serve of society well.
Indeed, I must return to the constant question which gets asked regarding the retention of Quigley's chapel. I have begun to respond, "What would you do if I said it, also, was set to be destroyed?" If people are passionate enough about the chapel to inquire and possibly do something in response were that answer to its lasting, "No," then all it would take is some simple concern and like outrage for the reality of the rest of the historic facility.