CHICAGO HEIGHTS | About 50 people bid a tearful, final farewell Wednesday to what was left of St. Joseph Catholic Church at a ceremony to open the church's 91-year-old time capsule.
Last January the Archdiocese of Chicago obtained a permit to demolish the building, which has stood at the corner of 15th Street and Portland Avenue since 1914. The church officially shut its doors in 1990, but many Chicago Heights residents hoped it would be historically preserved.
Demolition on the building began March 1.
Eugene Sadus, director of the Polish Sister City Project in Chicago Heights, said the area used to be mostly Polish. He said the church was attended by generations of Polish Americans, all whom have fond memories of the building.
"There are just so many memories here," Sadus said. "My grandfather helped dig the foundation for this church."
He said the Chicago Archdiocese has rights to the time capsule, but that the church's cornerstone and a large cross from the outside of church will be taken to the Polish American Community Fairgrounds in Glenwood. He said a final resting place for the two items will be decided in the future.
Chicago Heights resident Melody Froncek, who was baptized at St. Joseph Church, said she was a member of the church for 34 years.
"I have been here every day since demolition started, I just don't know what to say anymore," Froncek said.
She said that officials decided the building needed to be torn down because of its condition.
"This all started when the roof began to leak, but they should have done something," she said. "This church has been both a home and a friend to me. I feel like I'm attending a funeral today."
Rev. John Siemianowski, of St. Agnes Catholic Church in Chicago Heights, began the ceremony by reading a passage from the Bible. After he finished, those attending joined in a traditional Polish song.
He told the crowd not to be upset, but to hold on to their memories.
"We should celebrate the gifts that everyone here has received from St. Joseph," Siemianowski said. "This is not a day to be sad."
Chicago Heights Mayor Anthony DeLuca told the crowd that he knows that a lot of people are upset about the destruction of the church.
"We're working now to make sure a situation like this never happens again," DeLuca said.
During the last part of the ceremony, bricks were removed from the church's last standing pillar. Behind the bricks and the church's cornerstone, the time capsule was removed.
Many were disappointed to see that nothing was left inside the wooden box. The Polish letters that were said to be in the box had disintegrated.
Lee Bravo, president of the Ladies Rosary Group in Chicago Heights, was sad to see nothing inside, but tearfully said she has moved on with her life.
"Those papers have been in the box for over 90 years, we couldn't expect to see too much," Bravo said. "We as people are the church. This was just a building. I would still like to be in there though."