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00000179-e1ff-d2b2-a3fb-ffffd7950001WNIJ's Friday Forum features in-depth interviews with state officials, community leaders, and others whose decisions influence your life. You can hear it every Friday during Morning Edition on 89.5 FM and WNIJ.org.

Rockford Diocese Wants To Prioritize 'Relationships Over Buildings'

Jenna Dooley
The exterior of the former Chancery in Rockford

In a previous Friday Forum, we spoke with former Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey about his opposition to the Catholic Diocese of Rockford's plan to demolish its former chancery, which is the traditional name for a diocese's administrative offices. It was built in 1929 and has been vacant for nearly a decade. Morrissey joined a group calling for historic designation for the chancery and a pair of surrounding buildings near Court Street. On this week's Friday Forum, we hear from Patrick Winn, the director of Catholic Charities at the Diocese of Rockford.

Former Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey would like the Diocese of Rockford to consider tax credits to repair aging structures which include its chancery. Morrissey points to projects in Madison, Wis., where the Catholic Church partnered with the private sector to turn unused properties into housing. Catholic Charities director Patrick Winn says it's not a fair comparison.

Patrick Winn, Diocese of Rockford, Catholic Charities Director

"ThepropertyontheCathedralofSt. Peter, whichiswheretheformerchancery stood,amountstounderhalfanacre," Winn said. "Ifyou'retalkingaboutthepropertyupinMadison, that'sover70acres. Soyou'retalkingaboutthedifferencebetweenprobablythesmallinfieldofasoftballfieldversusthepropertythatwouldcovermorethananineholegolfcourse."

Another property, a school, would not be demolished under the plan. It will no longer be used next year as an elementary school, but Winn says it will continue to be used for religious education during the day and at night.

Critics of the plan say the move to demolish the chancery amounts to the church turning its back on the local neighborhood. Winn says the priority is to meet the needs of residents through services.

"Itwasanadministrativebuildingandnowit'sanabandonedemptyadministrativebuilding," Winn said. "Wecandobetterthanthat. AndthefactthattheCathedralChurchofSt. Peter willremainthereisourstrongeststatementofoursenseofhistory."

Still, some say it's a missed opportunity for the Catholic Church to build bridges.

Winn says his response came in focus during a recent conference he attended on fighting domestic violence and human trafficking.

"Inordertocombatthosecoupleofevils,it'snotaboutthebuilding,it'sabouttherelationships," Winn said. "FromtheCatholicChurch'sperspective, therelationshipthatwehaveboth to ourGodandthemembersofourchurch. ThenfromCatholicCharities'perspective --thepeoplewhowe'reabletoserve -- it'sabout therelationships."

Additionally, Winn says it is within the organization's First Amendment right to choose how to use the properties it owns. He says the Diocese of Rockford serves 11 counties in northern Illinois and has a duty to be good stewards of the money its receives from members.

Winn says open space dedicated to the Immaculate Conception is planned for the space currently occupied by the former chancery.

"Wethinkit'simportanttorecognizethatwehavegotauniqueopportunitytoreflectonthecampusoftheCathedraloftheDioceseofRockfordarealhonortoourpatroness,andwethinkthat'llbeasignificantopportunityforustoexpressourfaithgoingforward," Winn said.

The demolition plan has already been on hiatus as the city considers landmarks status for the properties. On Thursday night, Rockford's Historic Preservation Commission voted unanimously to recommend the three properties as landmarks. The issue now goes to the full council for a vote.

Jenna Dooley has spent her professional career in public radio. She is a graduate of Northern Illinois University and the Public Affairs Reporting Program at the University of Illinois - Springfield. She returned to Northern Public Radio in DeKalb after several years hosting Morning Edition at WUIS-FM in Springfield. She is a former "Newsfinder of the Year" from the Illinois Associated Press and recipient of NIU's Donald R. Grubb Journalism Alumni Award. She is an active member of the Illinois News Broadcasters Association and an adjunct instructor at NIU.
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