Dominican Friars leaving River Forest Priory
Dominican University in River Forest
Updated: June 4, 2012 11:28AM
After 86 years, the St. Thomas Aquinas Priory in River Forest will no longer be a residence for Dominican priests. the order announced this week.
The Friars, who are a part of the Province of St. Albert the Great, have been in residence at the landmark campus near Harlem Avenue and Division Street since the verdant stone campus was built in 1926.
The priests will now be housed at other Province sites throughout the Chicago area and elsewhere, including St. Louis.
Previously known as the House of Studies, the Priory was sold to Dominican University 10 years ago, but Dominican Friars continued to rent residence and office space.
The decision to close the residence hall comes after a “broad assessment” of the Province’s Chicago area properties.
“Our River Forest history is very important to us,” said the Rev. Charles Bouchard. “But we have now rooted our priesthood education programs at Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis.”
Bouchard called the move from the tranquil and classic setting “a sad departure,” but one in keeping with his order’s long tradition.
“We’re known as ‘itinerant friars’ who go where we’re needed,” he said. “It’s just part of our lives.”
Dominican University spokesman Jessica MacKinnon said Tuesday that the university was preparing plans for the space being vacated at the Priory, but wasn’t prepared to offer details immediately.
The university already uses a majority of the 125 resident rooms as student housing, offices and classrooms. The vacated space will include the Priory chapel.
Bouchard said the chapel will be deconsecrated as part of what under canonical law is termed receiving “permission to suppress the priory.”
Asked to hazard a guess about the re-use of the chapel space, Bouchard said “Event space, I suppose.”
He noted that the long and narrow high-ceilinged room was originally intended to be the Priory’s refectory, or dining hall. But when the Great Depression hit, plans to build a separate chapel were scrapped and the dining hall became a chapel.
“You may have noticed the fireplace along one side wall,” he said. “Most chapels don’t have a fireplace.”
Bouchard said closing the priory will have no impact on the order’s involvement with either Fenwick High School in Oak Park or St. Vincent Ferrar parish on North Avenue.
“These are both very important ministries, and we intend to sustain them long into the future,” Bouchard said.
Twelve or 13 priests will remain in residence at the St. Vincent rectory, he said.
The friars will also stay connected to Dominican University.
“We have enjoyed the university’s hospitality and we will continue to collaborate with the university in a number of ways.”
A farewell Mass will be performed at the Priory chapel by the Friars at 9 a.m. Sunday, June 10.