CHICAGO—Taking a page from the pope’s playbook, incoming Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich will forgo the historic Gold Coast mansion that has housed the city’s archbishops for more than a century, opting for more modest digs inside the rectory of Holy Name Cathedral.
While Cupich will continue using the residence at 1555 N. State Parkway to host guests for at least another year, Roman Catholic Church officials said Wednesday that he will move into a 945-square-foot apartment and will establish a committee to study how the property can best serve the mission of the archdiocese.
Cupich, who inspected the apartment for the first time in September and again Monday, has said he didn’t want to be rushed into a decision about whether to live in the grand mansion overlooking Lincoln Park.
“Wherever I live, I want to have a place where I can get some rest and feel the support of people who are around me,” he said.
“It is a lovely place, and I really want to honor that,” he said. “At the same time, I would have to say I’m going to take my time to make that decision. I’m going to see where I can be most effective.”
Many wondered if he would take his cue from Pope Francis, who after his selection last year chose to live in the Vatican’s guesthouse for visiting clergy instead of the Apostolic Palace, or pontifical household. In fact, Cupich already lives in a small apartment at the seminary of the Spokane, Wash., diocese, which he has led since 2010.
The move ends more than a century of tradition, which is not always viewed favorably in a city of neighborhoods like Chicago. Cardinal Francis George learned as much when he proposed selling the house to finance Catholic schools in 2002. Because the home is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and included in the Astor Street historic district, George said the lot would have been difficult to redevelop and therefore wouldn’t have fetched enough money to make a sale worthwhile. He has since found the residence useful.
“This is like the White House,” George said this week. “It’s a public office. You have to have receptions. The pope hasn’t sold the papal palace.”
Still, finding alternative uses for the house is “worth talking about,” George said.
“It’s a little disappointing, but everybody has to find their own way into the city and what makes sense for him too,” said Russell Lewis, executive vice president and chief historian of the Chicago History Museum.
The cardinal’s neighbors include the museum as well as the Latin School of Chicago, one of the city’s elite private academies; the Moody Church, a historic evangelical Protestant church; and an enclave of trendy bars and restaurants.
“I think it’s really great when somebody of that stature lives in the neighborhood,” Lewis said. “It gives the perception of accessibility, which I think is really important.”
The residence hosted St. John Paul II and two of his predecessors before they were elected pope. President Franklin D. Roosevelt also stayed there as an overnight guest.
Cupich recognizes the sentimental attachment to the home, acknowledging in Wednesday’s statement that its legacy was “made possible through the sacrifice and financial commitment of Archdiocesan Catholics.”
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Cupich will live in the former apartment of the late Bishop Timothy Lyne, who lived there from 1966 until he died last year. Monsignor Dan Mayall, rector of Holy Name, said he kept Lyne’s fourth-floor apartment vacant in case it was needed after the leadership transition in the archdiocese. At the time, he said, he hadn’t anticipated the new archbishop living there.
The three-room partially furnished apartment at the end of the hallway features hardwood floors, paneled walls, an ornate ceiling and several small chandeliers. It offers a living room, bedroom and bathroom. Built in 1929, it was updated with central heating and air conditioning during the cathedral renovation in 2010.
“For a priest, this is a good room,” Mayall said. “For an archbishop, this is really small. It’s not lavish at all. We’re not talking about the Ritz here.”
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The apartment also offers an easy commute for Cupich, who intends to celebrate daily Mass at the cathedral as his schedule permits, and whose office at the archdiocese’s pastoral center is just three blocks away. Another added benefit, Mayall said, is three meals a day, prepared by four religious sisters who live on the third floor.
It’s a far cry from the three-story Queen Anne mansion that occupies a manicured corner lot overlooking Lincoln Park. Built under the direction of Chicago’s first archbishop, Patrick Feehan, the home features an Italian Renaissance staircase with carved arches and balustrades; a private chapel with stained glass; a dining room brimming with silver and china; and numerous fireplaces — three working — for which the home has been dubbed “the House of 19 Chimneys.” George now lives in three rooms on the second floor. Five other priests live in the residence as well.
The nuns who manage the kitchen and housekeeping live in a former coach house in the back.
News reports and church documents from the 1880s illustrate the push and pull of the mansion’s construction.
People scoffed when Feehan spent $15,000 shortly after he arrived in Chicago on filling and grading the land at North Avenue and State Street, which was then abutting Lake Michigan. They said a house would only settle and sink. He said: “Some persons were never intended by God to be pioneers.” He moved into the mansion in 1885. At the time, it was an emblem of the church’s strength.
But ever since Pope Francis eschewed the opulent papal quarters, the Chicago archbishop’s residence and houses like it have become, according to some, emblems of weakness, highlighting what some see as the church’s disconnect with the poor.
Atlanta Archbishop Wilton Gregory, a native Chicagoan, came under fire earlier this year for moving into a $2.2 million mansion on property bequeathed to the archdiocese.
Worshippers at Holy Name Cathedral on Wednesday applauded Cupich’s decision. Silvia Larraga of the Noble Square neighborhood and her friend Eloisa Perez Maldonado suggested Cupich allow homeless and orphaned children to live in the North State Parkway residence. Perez Maldonado was visiting from Mexico.
“There are so many children that have nothing,” Perez Maldonado said in Spanish. “This house would mean everything.”
Michael Mac Rae, an occasional cathedral visitor, praised the incoming archbishop’s break from tradition. He said Cupich’s decision to live at Holy Name would make him more accessible to parishioners.
“He’s coming down to earth a bit. He’s getting off of his high horse,” Mac Rae said. “He’s coming down from his pulpit in this case.”
(Tribune reporter Dana Ferguson contributed.)
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