This miracle more than just bricks and mortar
By Dolores Madlener
The people of St. Ailbe Parish believe in miracles and they proclaimed that conviction on special lapel buttons when Cardinal George came to dedicate their new senior citizen housing complex at 9300 S. Kimbark Ave., July 17.
St. Ailbe Faith Apartments, on property of the former Our Lady of Hungary Church, has been made possible through an ongoing evangelical partnership with Catholic Charities for three years.
Father Michael Boland, administrator of Catholic Charities, who accompanied the cardinal, expressed his delight that the enterprise will not only provide affordable housing for seniors already living in the area on a modest fixed income, but day care service as well to seniors not necessarily living in the apartments.
Father John Breslin, pastor of St. Ailbe, with a strong belief in miracles himself, remembers driving past the closed church buildings on his way to Communion calls. The place was abandoned-the windows broken, and one day I got out of my car, stood in the parking lot and asked God, 'What's Your vision here?'
Breslin wondered if the buildings could be salvaged for a senior center, but architects rejected the idea. When they suggested, Have you ever thought of doing housing? Breslin says people rolled up their sleeves. They bought into the vision and faith built it!
Some residents have begun moving into the 76 one-bedroom apartments developed under a program of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), to be operated by Catholic Charities Housing Development Corp.
As St. Ailbe's pastoral associate Marie Davis recalls Things didn't happen overnight. There was this permit and that permit.
Through efforts by the late Cardinal Bernardin, Catholic Charities acquired the property from the archdiocese, and the old buildings were demolished. We eventually had a big ground-breaking celebration on Sept. 7, 1997, said Davis.
On that day, right after Mass, she says parishioners formed a 277-car motorcade led by a New Orleans-style jazz band on a flatbed truck.
Directed by the leader of the church's children's choir, the band snaked the five or six blocks from the church at 91st and Stony Island Avenue to the site. A bevy of local dignitaries, community reps and neighbors awaited its arrival.
After Bishop [Joseph] Perry celebrates our 11 a.m. Mass of thanksgiving on July 30, we're going to do the same thing, promised Davis.
This time Phase 1 of the miracle will be completed and open for tours and a celebration at 1 p.m.
New home gifts for the residents have been prepared by several parish groups.
Father Breslin says this is the first senior housing residence in the nation that includes an Adult Day Services Center.
While residents will enjoy an exercise room, library, laundry facilities, community room, kitchen and restrooms, he said, the day center will have activity rooms, a kitchen, dining room and garden area. Phase 2, an additional 76-unit senior building, St. Ailbe Love Apartments, is planned.
The miracle doesn't end here. St. Ailbe Hope Apartments, a third development, will be a six-unit residence for persons with physical disabilities to be constructed right across the street from the church in the near future.
For James (Jimmy) Carter, 66, a parishioner and one of the first tenants, It's something new, affordable for seniors and I'm looking forward to it. The church is caring for its people.