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Cardinal George hopes reopened Our Lady of the Angels becomes symbol of peace

Our Lady Angels Church RededicatiMass April 14 2012. Cardinal Francis George greets faithful after Mass. I Scott Stewart/Sun-Times

Our Lady of the Angels Church Rededication Mass on April 14, 2012. Cardinal Francis George greets the faithful after the Mass. I Scott Stewart/Sun-Times

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Updated: May 16, 2012 8:28AM

Cardinal Francis George led a rededication Mass at Our Lady of the Angels church Saturday — a spiritual rebirth for a Roman Catholic parish whose history is closely associated with tragedy.

Hundreds packed the church and choir loft at Augusta and Iowa — in the West Humboldt Park neighborhood — where the brilliant blue of the stained glass windows were accentuated by the creamy yellow of the church walls.

Ninety-two students and three nuns died in a fire at the parish school on Dec. 1, 1958; although it was rebuilt, the school eventually closed. And the church was closed in 1990, but two years ago, the Rev. Bob Lombardo, a Franciscan, led the push to renovate and reopen the church.

During the homily, the cardinal said the church’s rebirth mirrors the Easter season when Catholics celebrate the risen Jesus Christ.

The cardinal did not mince words about the reasons for the church’s closure more than 20 years ago.

“Part of that is the tragic fire,” he said.

Part of it, too, was the crushing poverty and crime in the surrounding neighborhood — problems that still exist. He said some residents have been “trapped by those who would bring death to our society” by their involvement in “gang warfare” and “drug dealing.”

But he also praised those neighbors who ultimately supported the restoration. After the service, he also praised the volunteers and workers involved in a project that goes beyond bricks and mortar.

That includes the renovated rectory — now the Mission of Our Lady of the Angels, a Catholic outreach as well as a fledgling Franciscan community that stepped up to help Lombardo.

Then there is the old parish center, rehabbed under a partnership between the mission and YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago. Known now as the Kelly Hall YMCA, the center provides everything from after-school tutoring for children to healthy living programs for the elderly and food for struggling residents.

There is still more work to be done, as Lombardo pointed out: the bathrooms weren’t ready to be used, but there were some available at the YMCA.

But as far as he’s concerned, “this church has new life,” a smiling Lombardo told parishioners.

Outside the church, a 1949 graduate of the school, who declined to be named, said: “I’m just glad to see the church is going again. It’s just a happy day for everyone — look around.”

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