Love Holy Trinity Blessed Mission taking up residency in Wicker Park -- cult or religion what will impact be?


<em>St. Paul's in 2012</em>

All are invited to Public meeting
Mar. 12, 7 p.m.
2215 W. North Ave.

Love Holy Trinity Blessed Mission (LHTBM) is the new owner of 2215 W. North Ave. (formerly St. Paul Evangelical Norwegian Lutheran Church), currently the home of the Near NorthWest Arts Council (NNWAC) which operates Wicker Park Cultural Center and partners with 12 other arts and community organization using the space. With a checkered history in Chicago's 36th Ward, Indiana, Wisconsin and Iowa, LHTBM's current actions are ramping up community concerns about who these new neighbors are...a cult, Catholic organization or what? How will this impact the community? How much more of the community's history will be ripped out of its core?

LHTBM purchased the North Ave. property on Dec. 9. In five days Jacek Jankowski delivered an eviction notice to NNWAC's Executive Director, Laura Weathered. Jankowski is LHTBM's representative and Treasurer of the organization.

"I asked to have a conversation with him about a friendly transition but all he would say was that he wouldn't talk about it. Every day they had people coming here putting up eviction notices everywhere. Our attorney talked with their lawyers John Robert Klytta and Anthony Michael Klytta, members of their congregation. Their lawyers and ours eventually negotiated an extension," explained Weathered. "Then we were served by another attorney who specializes in forcible entry."


Sanctuary, with stained glass behind the camera, shows original fixtures and wooden ceiling

In the meantime 1st Ward Alderman Proco "Joe" Moreno's office tried to assist in mediating the situation. They are getting no returned calls from LHTBM representatives according to Chief of Staff Raymond Valadez, "We have no friendly extension."

A court date was scheduled for Feb. 21 but the filings for LHTBM were done incorrectly so the court date was canceled with no indication of another date.

In the meantime, activities are scheduled well into April and the Near NorthWest Arts Council, which has been a major part of the community and a leader in the arts community is having to look at the reality of leaving Wicker Park.

LHTBM's Checkered History
LHTBM is a Chicago based organization that began as a bible study group in 1992. A Korean woman named Agnes Kyo McDonald, their spiritual leader, and Father Len Kruzel spearheaded the expansion of the organization.

It is reported that mission members say McDonald has a unique relationship with God. She got her calling when "God sat upon her lap." "If you would ask her, who does she report to, and she'd say she reports to God," said Roger Knott, the stepfather of young woman who is part of the mission and alienated from her family. "That's a pretty big jump in the chain of command."

In September 2005 the archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Dubuque banned LHTBM from meeting in any of the diocese's facilities after some families accused the group of using "cult-like" tactics. Archbishop Jerome Hanus said the diocese was concerned about the secretive nature of the group, its leader's authoritarian approach, possible harm to families and evidence of "characteristics of a cult." He could find no evidence of "appropriate formation in Catholic theology" in the mission leader's teachings, which he said are "close to fundamentalism."

Dick Vogt, a mission member who donated a 400-acre farm near Bellevue, IA, where the community planned to create a retreat center, denies the accusations.

After a six-month review of the ministry by pastors, canonists and theologians whose inquiries into the group's theology went largely unanswered, Cardinal Francis George stated that, "While they have been functioning here for a number of years, the 'Love Holy Trinity Blessed Mission' has no official approval as a lay movement or as a religious order in the Catholic Church." In addition allegations were made about the group using coercive tactics and misrepresenting Roman Catholic teachings.

On Nov. 9, 2005, Mary Ann Ahern, NBC 5 News Chicago, began reporting about LHTBM's mission that lured a young Iowa girl, Ashley Fahey, about to head off on a college scholarship to instead announce to her family that she was becoming a sister with the Love Holy Trinity Blessed Mission.

In December 2005, Cardinal George banned the mission from meeting in archdiocese facilities. George also said Rev. Len Kruzel, a Catholic priest, who had been working with the group full time, would be recalled to a pastoral position. Kruzel did not return to the archdiocese.

In mid-December 2005 a preliminary injunction shut down the mission's headquarters in the 7000 block of West Diversey. During the week of Jan. 23, 2006, city inspectors and Chicago police officers were allowed into the mission's headquarters in the 7000 block of West Diversey after a court-ordered inspection.  At that time Chris Murray, an attorney for the city said, "It's not zoned for a church unless you get a special use permit, and it's not zoned for a community center unless you get a special use permit. They have neither."

In an April hearing in Circuit Court of Cook County, the controversial group was fined $1,150 for zoning violations at the Diversey location and ordered to bring the buildings up to code. LHTBM agreed to make the changes but by Aug. 24, 2006, two buildings that served as its headquarters at 7011-17 West Diversey Ave., were up for sale according to the city's multiple listing service. However, it appears that LHTBM still owns at least the 7017 building.

Ahren, in April 2007, reported that the 300-member mission was moving 70 miles away, to the city of Belvidere, IL, where they planned to make a former hospital complex its new headquarters. In May 2007 the Bellevue farm was sold for $965,000.

Chicago Tribune's Jeff Long on July 13, 2007, reported that LHTBM's proposal to purchase the hospital prompted four months of boisterous debate within the Boone County community. In the end, the Belvidere City Council rejected the group's plan to convert the property into a monastery and convent. The discussion reopened questions about the secretive organization, which some say has torn families apart.

Former 36th Ward Alderman William Banks who served in that position from 1983 to 2009 and headed up City Council's Zoning Committee and whose ward included the Diversey properties, gives caution. "The LHTBM goes into neighborhoods and buys up properties. Community members should be aware of their activities. They are not good people."

Iowan Donna Backstrom, who has three family members that are part of the group and who as been researching the group for several years, says "The first thing they will do is to bring in a lot of Polish workers to work on the building. That construction period can take a long time as with a large home in a gated community in Barrington Hills were they have built up a burem and planted trees to block off view of their property. They have a lot of properties that they purchase at a low price in comparison to value.

"Once in place, members are not friendly. Neighbors say 'hello' and they scurry away. They do not shop locally, they bring food in by vans. Parking can be an issue because they bring in bus loads of people." She cautions, "Community members should be very careful because they will be out recruiting. They do that in groups and are not the way they claim to be."

LHTBM's Legal Counsel
Representing the organization for several years, the Klytta brothers were licensed in 1989 in Illinois and were both suspended in June of 2010. It appears that their probation is in effect until this summer.


Historic photo shows church before the rectory was built


St. Paul's Church
Originally organization in 1873 on Wicker Park  Ave., St. Paul's Evangelical Norwegian Lutheran Church congregation combined with St. Peter's Church in 1889. They purchased the land at 2215 W. North Ave. and laid the cornerstone in 1890. Opening its doors later in that year, they completed the structure and dedicated it in 1892.

It remained part of the Lutheran Church until the 1980s when it became a community church. As other community spaces disappeared, St. Paul's continued to serve the community, welcoming a broad range of people, gatherings and activities.

The Future
The structure is protected by historic landmarks. But, will:

  • its doors continue to be open to the community?
  • the historic interior remain...the tongue and groove ceiling crafted by Norwegian settlers and the magnificent stained glass window that looks so contemporary despite its creation 100 plus years ago?

Assimilating the new neighbors into the community appears to be a challenge. Reports from people in communities where LHTBM has put down or tried to put down roots include stories focused on four areas of concern:

  • Secrecy -- members of the group being uncommunicative, facilities having a closed door atmosphere
  • Alienation of family members -- individuals suddenly being separated from loved ones
  • Isolating their property from the rest of the community
  • Property use -- non-compliance with zoning ordinances

Repeated attempts to talk with the new owners of St. Paul's by different entities with in our community are falling into the same pattern as seen in other parts of the country. They are choosing to be non-communicative and secretive.

The St. Paul's structure has been an open welcoming part of our community's heritage. What do you think can be done to engage a group who appears to prefer secrecy rather than inclusion?



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