Our Lady of the Angels coming back to life with help of unions

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Our Lady of the Angels Mission on Chicago’s West Side has been a labor of love — and not just for its director, Father Bob Lombardo, a Franciscan Friar of the Renewal.

Lombardo has tapped wide networks of Catholics and others to get the buildings of the former Our Lady of the Angels Parish in shape to serve the mission, and perhaps no contributions have been as significant as those provided by members of the building trades unions.

Carpenters, pipefitters, plumbers and bricklayers are among the tradespeople that worked on the mission, mostly on the convent building, which was dedicated last spring, although some also worked on the rectory building and will likely work on the church building as well.

The church will be the last building to be renovated following the rectory, the new Kelly Hall YMCA and the convent, which will house people on retreat, volunteers and members of the new men’s and women’s Franciscan discernment communities.

God provides

The unions recruited volunteers and brought in apprentices for hands-on training. No one has calculated the total value of the services, not to mention materials donated by contractors, the unions themselves and other sources.

“It’s just been marvelous,” Lombardo said. “God does provide.”

The project was a win-win for the Chicago regional Council of Carpenters, said Bruce Nelson. Carpenter apprentices who would normally spend a week every three months learning new skills in the classroom learned them at the OLA mission, Nelson said. The apprentices did metal framing, drywall and other jobs.

“Instead of building a mock-up wall that would be torn down, they built a real wall,” he said. “And they had to deal with the idiosyncracies of the real world,” such as uneven floors and angles.

“When they found out what the project was for and what the mission was all about, they felt good about being able to use their talents to help,” Nelson said.

Joe Albergo of the Plumbing Council agreed that the apprentices enjoyed the work.

“Not only did they get some very good experience, they got to give something,” he said.

‘What convent?’

Albergo said he first got involved at Our Lady of the Angles Mission through his parish, St. Paul of the Cross in Park Ridge, and volunteered in the renovation of the rectory after Lombardo arrived in 2005. When he was asked if he could help with the convent, he said “What convent?”

“Lo and behold, here’s this three-story building that has mostly been unused. It was quite a project,” Albergo said. “I thought, ‘Oh, my God, what have we gotten ourselves into? There are at least 50 rooms, bathrooms, a kitchen … everything was so old.”

Well over 100 plumbers — mostly apprentices, with some journeymen and some retired volunteers — signed into the job site over six to eight weeks, he said.

Members of the pipefitters union worked on the boiler and heating system.

Andy Gasca of Bricklayers Local 21 said he was part of a group that tore out old entryways and put in new, wider fire doors. Tuckpointers who belong to the union ground down and repaired the front steps. Marble setters — also part of the union — are planning to work on the terrazzo floors, he said.

Workers included apprentices and other volunteers.

“It’s experience for them,” he said. “Plus they did some work they can be proud of.”

Now that the plumbing in the convent is done, he said, he’ll likely be back to work on the church later this year.

“You just can’t say no to Father Bob,” he said.