“It’s been very long and very tenuous, and it appears like we got back to where the decree started, and that is to be used for educational purposes,” said Mayor James Sexton.
Trustees unanimously voted to approve the construction of Mercy Circle at 10024 S. Central Park Ave., land given to the nuns by the village almost 60 years ago, after three proposals.
The plan allows for a center about half the size of the original proposal given in 2008 that would be built for women and men of religious orders. Lay people would not be allowed to live in the center, as they were under the first two development proposals.
The village of Evergreen Park filed a lawsuit against the nuns that same year, because the proposal didn’t adhere to the original intent of the land. In 1954, the village gave the land to the Sisters of Mercy under the condition that it would be used for "religious educational purposes."
Two drafts later, the plans have made their way back to the original intent, said Sexton. “It was always, at least from what I can read, in my opinion, a place where the clergy expected to retire and live out their remaining years,” according to Sexton. “It still needs to be used for educational purpose, but it appears that from the original agreement, that this was planned, to have nuns and clergy retire on the premise.”
Village attorney Joseph Kainkar added “so it’s not educational purposes solely…we see it’s broader than that, and we think the court certainly would have interpreted it broader than that, because the nuns had always lived on there and received health care.”
The new 110-unit,267-square-foot independent-living and assisted-living facilities will stand three-stories tall. The plan allows for 10 nursing care rooms and 12 assisted living memory care rooms. Parking spaces have been reduced from 108 to 82, and the 99th Street setbacks were increased to allow more space from the curb.
The October, 2010 plan proposed a 146-unit, 173,833 square-foot facility that would be open to lay people after a certain amount of time, but under the condition that the sisters would have to petition the village to request that. Trustees Jerome Bosch and James McQuillan voted against the majority of the board.
The 2008 draft proposed a 212-unit a five-story, independent-living building; and a four-story, assisted-living building that would be 307,180 square feet.
According to John George, the attorney representing the nuns, the sisters were in dire need of more living space, so about eight years ago, they expanded their cell-like rooms. However, they moved from accommodating 70 nuns to only 35 nuns.
“The women that had to move out of there are now living in the various communities here,” said George, “with the hope that this building gets put up, they’d move back in and occupy this space here.”
George says that the current facility “will probably be used for green space” once the new development is built.
According to Sister Judith Frikker, president of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas West Midwest Community, many religious order members have expressed interest in living in the center.
Some residents who were against the development remained opposed after seeing the newest plans. president Kathy Rohan insisted that “there is just no educational benefit” to the retirement center. “It’s the use of the building that’s the main concern. Once this is built, there is no going back,” Rohan said.
According to Frikker, “There will be an interaction with the students from Mother McAuley (High School), but also, I would think with the students in various programs from Saint Xavier University” she said. “Education is more than what you get from a textbook.”
Amy Fitzgerald continues to be concerned with possible environmental effects associated with unearthing soil that had been treated with chemicals for nearly six decades. She requested to see a complete environmental study on the land.
Resident Cathy Manahan, who has been opposed to the development since the sisters gave the original proposal, had little to say about the agreement, but assured that she and Beth Amado will continue to pursue their suit against the city of Chicago. “If there’s a valid course of action, we will definitely take it," said Manahan.
To update yourself on the Sisters of Mercy Litigation, READ: