Sisters protest against adult club opening nearby: Scalabrinians say club will degrade community, put children at risk

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Sunday, April 8, 2012

Sisters protest against adult club opening nearby

The Missionary Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo hosted about 500 of their neighbors March 22 in a prayer vigil in hopes of stopping the planned opening of a strip club on Lake Street adjacent to their property.
More than 500 people came together for a prayer vigil and march to protest the opening of a strip club near the Convent of the Missionary Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo in Melrose Park on March 22. At press time "Get It" strip club had not opened. (Karen Callaway / Catholic New World)
Scalabrinian sisters (clockwise) Ruth Marostica, Bertila Scola, Aurelia Bordignon and Laura Migliorini hold a sign while attending the vigil in the backyard of their home. (Karen Callaway / Catholic New World)

The Missionary Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo hosted about 500 of their neighbors March 22 in a prayer vigil in hopes of stopping the planned opening of a strip club on Lake Street adjacent to their property.

The club, to be named “Get It,” would feature alcohol and partially nude dancers on a site that was formerly a factory.

The sisters 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.

“It goes against the Christian values of the neighborhood,” said Scalabrinian 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.”

The club had not opened as of April 3; Sister Noemia said the sisters heard it might open on Good Friday, and planned to protest if that turned out to be true.

Participants in the vigil gathered in front of the convent under threatening skies early in the evening of March 22; 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 Cardinal 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: healthy, safe and united communities, where families are respected, where children can be safe, where we can converse as neighbors and as brothers 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 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, whose property straddles the border of Melrose Park and Stone Park, say 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, said they will challenge the village’s approval of the club because they believe it 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 Noemia said 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.”