The president of the board of directors at St. Nikola Serbian Orthodox Church in Brookfield has confirmed that the parish is interested in purchasing the St. Barbara Church campus, including the church building, parish hall, school and convent.
St. Barbara Church, 4008 Prairie Ave. in Brookfield, serves as one of two worship sites for Holy Guardian Angels Catholic Parish, which was created by the consolidation of St. Barbara and St. Louise de Marillac in 2019.
The school building and convent have been for sale for more than a year, but there had been no indication previously that the archdiocese would contemplate parting with the church and parish hall.
St. Nikola Church board President Tom Milutinovic told the Landmark in a phone interview on Aug. 23 that acquiring the St. Barbara properties was being considered, although he recognized the idea is not universally popular among the St. Nikola Church faithful.
“We’re dealing with people’s emotions and desires, and there’s not always logical decisions being made,” Milutinovic said. “That’s why the board is there.”
If St. Nikola Church’s board was able to close a deal on the St. Barbara properties, the plan would be to sell its current land at the corner of Prairie and Shields avenues, which include the existing church/hall, a parking lot, vacant field lot and four single-family homes.
One single-family home immediately south of the church on Prairie Avenue serves as the parish rectory. Three homes immediately south of the church property on Forest Avenue houses are used to house parish assistant priests and those arriving in the United States from Serbia, providing temporary accommodations, said Milutinovic.
St. Nikola Church relocated from Chicago to 4301 Prairie Ave. in Brookfield in 2010. The parish has since paid off the mortgage and in the past two years has drawn up plans to construct a new Byzantine-style church on the southeast corner of the property.
In April, the Brookfield Village Board voted unanimously to approve the parish’s plans for a new building, but that plan has been put on hold as the board and pastor explore the possibility of purchasing the St. Barbara Church properties.
“St. Barbara is perfect,” said Milutinovic. “It has a gym, rooms for gatherings, a beautiful church, a school and the convent, where people can stay and we can help out their families.”
The Rev. Brian Kean, pastor of Holy Guardian Angels Parish, confirmed that representatives from St. Nikola Church had visited St. Barbara and expressed an interest in purchasing the entire campus.
However, Kean said that as far as he knew, there was no formal offer on table and he was unaware of any negotiations happening. That said, any negotiations would be handled by the Archdiocese of Chicago’s real estate department, not Holy Guardian Angels, though Kean said he likely would be notified of any serious offer.
Asked whether there was any action imminent, Milutinovic said, “We’d like something imminent, but with all of the commotion, we don’t know which way to go.”
The “commotion” publicly revealed itself last week in the form of an online petition among church members which as of Aug. 23 had garnered 187 signatures after being posted Aug. 17. The petition does not mention the potential purchase of St. Barbara Church, but it does mention the possible sale of the property the parish already owns and where it currently holds services and other parish activities.
Titled simply “Save Our Church,” the petition was created by a parishioner who references the fact that the church is debt-free and that the village has already approved the construction of a new house of worship at that site.
“Currently the new parish priest and some church board members want to partition this property and sell it,” the petition states. “Please sign this petition if you want to SAVE our CHURCH and stay at the current property!”
Several of those signing the petition also offered comments, with a particular sore point appearing to be the board of directors not involving the larger parish in the discussion of possible options.
“I’m signing this petition because major decisions such as buying/selling and moving the church should be discussed with the larger group of members and parishioners,” one person commented. “These actions are incredibly disrespectful and likely unlawful decision making/execution by the board and current priest. No transparency on funding, cost, liabilities or strategy shared with the greater community. A real disappointment and a poor example of what is expected of church leaders.”
How exactly the purchase of the St. Barbara Church properties would be funded is unclear, but Milutinovic indicated that part of the reason for the delay in building a new church is that they haven’t yet been able to raise enough money.
“Financially we haven’t gotten the fundraising to go in any direction,” Milutinovic said.
Another reason for the delay, he said, was that not everyone is satisfied with the design for the new church.
“It’s been very difficult to get everybody on board,” Milutinovic said.
The online petition, which Milutinovic said should not have been posted and contains “false information” implying the church is in danger of closing, has complicated matters. From his point of view, however, the St. Barbara properties make the most sense in terms of parish growth.
“St. Barbara is the future,” he said. “It’s got everything.”