Rockford City Council Delays Vote on Landmarking
By Penny Wiegert, Editor
April 4, 2019
ROCKFORD—The Rockford City Council voted April 1 to lay over the vote that would decide landmark status for the former chancery, former convent and Cathedral of St. Peter School, all located on the Cathedral of St. Peter Parish campus in West Rockford.
 
The diocese and Cathedral  parish sought to raze the former chancery and convent building following building code citations by the City of Rockford on the former convent building. 
 
Demolition plans were halted when a local group, The Friends of Ziock, petitioned for making the buildings historic landmarks against the consent of both the Cathedral parish and the Diocese of Rockford.
 
The decision came before the City Council after being referred to the Codes and Regulations Committee by the Historic Preservation Committee. In a unanimous decision, the Codes and Regulations Committee voted not to recommend the buildings for historic status.
 
The preservation commission had voted in favor of landmarking.
 
Because the petition was filed against the wishes of the property owners, the matter must have a majority vote by the City Council to receive historic designation.
 
Aldermen voted without discussion to lay over the vote until the next City Council meeting on April 15.
 
The diocese has opposed the designation based on several facts: 
 
n The three buildings do not meet the criteria for historic designation.
 
n The ruling would violate the free exercise of its faith and is an overreach of government.
 
n It would place a financial burden on the Cathedral parish and force the diocese to divert funds from vital ministries that  serve the entire diocese toward maintaining buildings to a certain standard even though the parish and diocese have no practical use for the structures.
 
n It would thwart future use of the property to benefit both the future of the diocese and the Cathedral parish. 
 
The Diocese of Rockford had planned to raze the buildings and expand the parking area along with creating a prayer garden and meditation space to honor the Virgin Mary under her title of the Immaculate Conception, patroness of the diocese and the United States. A garden in the space of the former convent would honor Our Lady of Guadalupe. 
 
Those opposing the diocese are arguing that the Cathedral parish and diocese should allow private developers to renovate the buildings into residential or commercial spaces. 
 
“We are very much invested into the neighborhood and into retaining our property. We do not see that developing this property for commercial use would be consistent with our mission as church,” said Patrick Winn, director of Catholic Charities.
 
Leading the support for landmark designation has been Larry Morrissey, former mayor of Rockford. 
In the public comment portion of the council meeting Morrissey argued that historic designation would not require any burden to the diocese.
 
“The only thing the diocese would have to do is the same thing that they have been required to do all along, which is maintain the property at a basic level, which means keeping it secure and boarded up,” Morrissey told the council.
 
“We really believe that a beautifully landscaped campus that invites people to prayer is of far greater benefit to the community and people of God and a far better use of our land and finances than maintaining empty buildings,” Winn said after the meeting.
 
The City Council will again take up the matter during its next regular meeting April 15. 
 
Diocesan Catholics who want to join the opposition to these landmark petitions should contact the City of Rockford and its aldermen and women. Names and contact information are available at https://rockfordil.gov/mayors-office/  and https://rockfordil.gov/city-council/