Old Chancery Status Decision Feb. 28
By Penny Wiegert, Editor
February 21, 2019

Landmark status of one diocesan and two parish buildings debated at Rockford commission hearing Feb. 12. Diocese plans prayer grotto for cleared space.

ROCKFORD—For nearly three hours Feb. 12, members of the City of Rockford’s Historic Preservation Commission heard presentations supporting and opposing a recent petition to apply landmark status to the former chancery building, the Cathedral of St. Peter School and a former convent adjacent to the school. 
All the buildings are located on a strip of land that is part of the entire Cathedral of St. Peter campus in the Signal Hill neighborhood in west Rockford.
Whether or not the buildings will be recommended as landmarks will be decided at the commission’s next meeting on Feb. 28. This meeting will be for deliberation and not for public comment. 
If landmark status is recommended, the matter will move on to the Rockford City Council for approval. 
Speakers present both sides
Gary Carlson, former Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey, Michael Smith and Don Bissell presented reasons on behalf of the Friends of Ziock on why the former chancery should be saved despite opposition of the diocese. 
They argued that the buildings are architecturally significant. The group also wants the diocese to seek developers to convert the old chancery for residential use. 
Representatives for the Rockford Diocese including attorney Rick Porter, architect Daniel Roszkowski and Catholic Charities Director Patrick Winn provided contrary presentations on why the diocese, or any religious entity, should not be forced to develop buildings for uses unrelated to their mission. 
A statement was also submitted from Cathedral of St. Peter Rector Father Stephen St. Jules.
The Friends of Ziock maintain that the buildings are significant because of their design by architect and Rockford native W.J. Van der Meer II. 
Roszkowski, speaking for the diocese, provided photos and drawings proving that none of the buildings “have retained the integrity and spirit of their original design,” and it was his professional opinion that “none of the buildings are historically significant.”
The Diocese of Rockford maintains that proposing landmark status for these buildings would place substantial burdens: 
– on its First Amendment right to exercise its religious faith and mission, and
– on the people of the Diocese of Rockford by diverting funds from diocesan ministries to maintain empty buildings.
It would also be a breach of the separation of Church and state.
After the formal presentations by those representing the Friends of Ziock and the Diocese of Rockford, the commission allowed time for public comments. 
In addition to those in the neighborhood who said they would miss “the whimsical presence” of the building, Jeff Furst, a finance council member of the Cathedral of St. Peter Parish outlined the financial strain that refurbishing and maintaining the former convent would place on the parish. 
He said the parish has no need for the building and it has reached its end of useful life. 
In December 2018, after the City of Rockford issued building code violations on the former convent, the Cathedral of St. Peter finance and parish councils agreed to raze the building rather than make repairs on an empty building. 
After consultation and recommendation from the diocesan consultors and finance council, Bishop David Malloy announced that the former chancery would be razed at the same time to minimize cost and disruption to the families and students at the Cathedral of St. Peter School, located between the old chancery and unused convent. 
Just before the scheduled demolition, the diocese learned that demolition permits were denied because The Friends of Ziock filed a petition for landmark status of the former chancery building, preventing it from being razed. 
The group then filed two more petitions seeking landmark status for the former convent and the Cathedral of St. Peter School, which is still in use. That petition halted the demolition of the convent.