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February 1, 2009

Our Lady of Angels Mission, YMCA open new facility

By Michelle Martin


The West Humboldt Park neighborhood is no stranger to rebirth.

After the Our Lady of the Angels School at Iowa and Avers burned down Dec. 1, 1958, a new school opened in less than two years.

Eight years later, the parish was able to raise enough money to build a new parish center, Kelly Hall, at 824 N. Hamlin Ave.

But in the ensuing years, the neighborhood’s fortunes declined. Our Lady of the Angels Parish merged with St. Francis of Assisi in 1990, and its school building closed in 2000.

The parish center, with recreation facilities that the neighborhood sorely needed, sat vacant.

On Jan. 15, it was reborn as the Kelly Hall YMCA, a community center that will offer after-school care, fitness classes and recreation, as well as meals and food distribution provided by the Greater Chicago Food Depository. It opened with a blessing from Cardinal George, accompanied by the Orr High School Gospel choir.

The facility was created out of a partnership between the Archdiocese of Chicago, the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago and the food depository.


Father Bob Lombardo, a Franciscan Friar of the Renewal, spearheaded the process for the archdiocese after being invited to come to Chicago and maintain a Catholic presence in the former Our Lady of the Angels Parish.

Lombardo, who arrived in 2005, established the Our Lady of the Angels Mission in the former rectory, starting a food pantry immediately and being present to the people in the neighborhood, while inviting Catholics from Chicago and the surrounding areas to come and volunteer and pray.

The cooperation between him and executives at the YMCA and food depository made the creation of the Kelly Hall YMCA possible, he said during the dedication.

“We were not asking the question, ‘What’s in it for us?’ Rather, we were asking what we could do for our neighbor in need,” said Lombardo. “That relationship is life-giving, and that relationship has grown into a relationship of family.”


It started at a lunch meeting arranged by a YMCA board member who met Lombardo on a flight from New York to Chicago, where Lombardo knew not one soul, except for Cardinal George.

In his remarks, Cardinal George said he invited Lombardo because he knew his congregation has a history of serving in troubled neighborhoods.

“I didn’t know what to do,” the cardinal said. “But I knew we had to be present here as a sign of Christ’s love. I knew he would figure out what to do.”

Steve Cole, the executive director of the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago, had his own problem. The YMCA had decided to close the New City YMCA, which was no longer fulfilling its original mission of serving poor families as its neighborhood gentrified, and use the money to help maintain its other facilities. But the 27th Ward alderman, Walter Burnett Jr., said he would only sign off on the deal if the YMCA put a new facility somewhere else in the ward to serve needy families.

Enter Lombardo and Our Lady of the Angels with Kelly Hall, a large building with a gym, a kitchen and rooms suitable for use by the community. After more than five years of disuse, it was in a shambles, Cole said, but the $2.3 million price tag to renovate it could easily be accommodated by the $55 million sale of the New City YMCA.

“I’m no prouder of anything I’ve done than this,’ Cole said.