Joliet Diocese move doesn’t sit well with City Hall
By Bob Okon email@example.com May 15, 2012 5:54PM
Joliet Mayor Thomas Giarrante
Updated: June 17, 2012 8:18AM
JOLIET — The Catholic Diocese of Joliet is not likely to leave with the blessings of City Hall when it moves to Crest Hill.
The diocese could potentially leave three large buildings vacant in a year when it starts to move to a strip mall it is acquiring out of foreclosure along Weber Road.
Besides that, just the fact that the Diocese of Joliet won’t be in Joliet bothers some people.
“It is a Joliet diocese, and I’m disappointed that they’re leaving,” Mayor Thomas Giarrante said. “I understand they have a deal on where they’re going. But I hate to see them leave.”
No plans for name change
There are no plans to rename the diocese, which stretches across seven counties, the Diocese of Crest Hill, a spokesman for the bishop said.
And, there were attempts to find a place to stay in Joliet before the announcement Friday that the diocese plans to move to Crest Hill, said Doug Delaney, executive assistant to Bishop Daniel Conlon.
“The bishop’s preference is that he wanted to be in Joliet. He wanted to be in downtown Joliet,” Delaney said. “It just didn’t work.”
City Manager Thomas Thanas said he had guided diocesan representatives to the 2 Rialto Square Building, a six-story, updated office building that is part of the Rialto Square Theatre complex. He also had suggested that the diocese consider the campus that Silver Cross Hospital vacated when it moved to New Lenox earlier this year.
Thanas said he had been involved in an “ongoing conversation over the last four years” with diocese representatives as they looked for new offices. But, he said, “We had not been informed in advance of the diocese’s decision to look outside of Joliet.”
In one place
Delaney described the new location as one that became available because of the foreclosure. It also solved a problem that the diocese had been trying to solve for years — how to put its administrative staffs in one place.
While the diocese chancery and tribunal buildings are in Joliet, about 80 percent of the staff actually works at the St. Charles Borromeo Pastoral Center in Romeoville, Delaney said.
The bishop’s office and staff is in Joliet. But educational, vocational and other services are in Romeoville.
“It’s difficult to do business when you’re seven miles apart,” Delaney said.
No location in Joliet solved the problem the way the Crest Hill site did, he said.
“We looked at a few places,” Delaney said. “The costs are just astronomical to change anything or to build new.”
Exit of diocese’s impact?
While the diocese is buying foreclosed property, it’s getting a newly developed strip mall that has never been used. The shopping center was completed just before the economy nose-dived and has stood empty.
The diocese also is moving out of an older neighborhood into a newly developed commercial corridor bordered by new subdivisions, although Stateville Correctional Center also is located nearby on Division Street.
Also moving will be Catholic Charities, which will leave a downtown building the diocese owns at Cass and Ottawa streets. That would leave another vacancy that city officials worry about.
Delaney said there are no plans for the Joliet buildings now, but it is possible they could be used by other Catholic organizations.
In the meantime, Councilwoman Jan Quillman is worried about what impact the exit of the diocese will have on the Summit Street neighborhood where the bishop works now.
The near West Side neighborhood already had been designated several years ago as an area meriting extra attention as the city sought to improve its older areas. Since the city commissioned its Quality of Life study to improve conditions on the near West Side and East Side, the diocese also has closed two Catholic schools — St. Joseph’s and St. Patrick’s. Now, it could leave three more buildings empty.
“I’m miffed that they would buy a strip mall,” Quillman said. “They’re consolidating everything, and they’re closing schools. ... It seems to me that they’re abandoning the older neighborhoods that really need them right now.”