CHICAGO –– A community of women religious in suburban Chicago hosted about 500 of its neighbors March 22 in a prayer vigil in hopes of stopping the planned opening of a new strip club on a street adjacent to the nuns’ property.
The club, to be named “Get It,” would feature alcohol and partially nude dancers on a site that was formerly a factory. It was to open on or near April 1, which this year is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week.
The community of the Missionary Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo, also known as Scalabrinians, say the club will degrade the community, depress property values and create dangerous situations for children who sometimes play in the alley that runs along the property.
It will also further harm the reputation of the community of just under 5,000 people, which already has at least five adult entertainment venues, according to a community group calling itself Neighbors United for a Better Stone Park.
The sisters’ property straddles the border of two Chicago suburbs, Melrose Park and Stone Park.
The club “goes against the Christian values of the neighborhood,” said Sister Noemia Silva.
“Residential homes are all over the place. There will be more violence, more drunk driving, who knows, even human trafficking. We want a healthy Stone Park, without another strip club.”
Participants in the vigil gathered in front of the convent under threatening skies early in the evening; processed around the block in quiet, peaceful prayer; and returned to the convent parking lot for testimonies, music and speeches.
Father Larry Dowling, pastor of St. Agatha Parish on Chicago’s West Side, read a letter from Chicago Cardinal Francis E. George to the participants.
It read in part: “A strong community is one where families and neighbors see their shared paths, become engaged and directly involved, and seek to build the communities they desire: health, safe and united communities, where families are respected, where children can be safe, where we can converse as neighbors and as brother and sisters in the Lord.
“I pray that as a community, with your leaders, you find the courage and perseverance to stand for what is just and what is right –– for yourself, your families and your town.”
More than 100 people, including the sisters, who object to the club attended a Stone Park village board meeting March 12, but received no relief. Stone Park earlier turned down the club’s owner’s petition to rezone the property, but reversed course in 2010 after the owner, Bob Itzkow, sued.
The village settled and later approved the project.
The sisters said they never got notification of the proposed rezoning, although village officials say they did post notices in local newspapers. A courtesy letter — not required by law — was apparently sent to the wrong address and never received.
Meanwhile, the Thomas More Society, a Chicago-based legal group, planned to challenge the village’s approval of the club because it believes such approval violates a state law that imposes a mile-wide buffer zone between adult entertainment facilities and houses of worship.
Because the convent property includes chapels in addition to housing for active sisters, novices and retired sisters, it should qualify, according to a statement from Thomas More Society executive director Peter Breen.
If the sisters and other neighborhood residents are able to stop it, Sister Silva says she can think of other things the building could be used for.
“Stone Park doesn’t have its own library,” she said. “That would be a good thing for that building.”