Roman Catholic nuns in a suburban Chicago convent vow to take their years-long feud with their next-door neighbors — a high-end gentleman's club — to court.
The Missionary Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo in Melrose Park tried to stop Club Allure Chicago from opening in the property right next door to their convent, just over the border in neighboring Stone Park.
They staged protests — at one point releasing balloons inscribed with prayers and messages of concern and protest into the air — and appealed to Stone Park municipal officials, but the club was approved and opened for business in the spring of 2012.
This week, Melrose Park's village board voted to join the sisters in their lawsuit.
"This goes against our whole fiber, our well-being," Sister Maria Noemia Silva told NBC 5 Chicago. She lives in the convent, which includes a building primarily to elderly and sick sisters and one for young novitiates seeking to enter the sisterhood. "We've been here more than 70 years. ... We're fighting for a safe, healthy environment here. And for the club to close."
The club's managing partner, however, counters that he operates the "cleanest version of what we are."
The ladies in the club only go topless, O'Brien said, and the club offers great food, an upcoming all-male dance revue, and luxurious decor. O'Brien also said the club has been a good community citizen, helping neighbors last year during local floods.
"I can't imagine why they would dislike us, except for the morality of it," he said.
The nuns who live at the Missionary Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo property hail from around the world and are living out their golden years here.
On the legal front, they are represented by the Thomas More Society, which intends to file the suit this week.
"Strip clubs don’t belong next to convents and single-family homes," said Peter Breen, vice president and senior counsel of the Thomas More Society. "We are dedicated to standing up for the rights of the Sisters, residents, and the people of Melrose Park, all of whom have been suffering disruption and damage from this strip club in their back yards."
Melrose Park Mayor Ron Serpico, a devout Catholic, has been on the side of the sisters since this dispute began in 2010.
The nuns are hanging their habits and their lawsuit on a provision in state law that bars strip clubs and other such businesses from operating within 1,000 feet of a place of worship. Allure is so close to the convent property, the sisters can stand at the fenceline and touch the building. The club can be seen from the front door of one of the nuns' chapels.
Stone Park officials believe they are within the law. So does the club's lawyer.
"The business is legally constituted," attorney Robert Itzkow told NBC, which reported this story in partnership with the Better Government Association.
The club, originally called Get It, opened in 2012.
Stone Park, a town of some 5,000 residents, has somewhat of a reputation in the Chicago area, with strip clubs, adult bookstores and prostitutes plying their trade on the streets. Al Capone is said to have run a brewery in town during the 1920s, and organized crime reputedly still has its dirty hands in Stone Park's business.
O'Brien said Club Allure Chicago is a different kind of gentleman's club, eschewing full nudity and trying to bring a touch of class to everything with its "five-star" meals, comedians, knife acts and upscale digs.
And O'Brien promises sex will "never, ever" take place in the club's private rooms.
Regardless of the club's promise, Sister Silva said nude dancing "degrades the human person," and the nuns will not let this rest. The sisters worry about what they will find in their back yard when they go out to tend their garden."We're fighting this fight because we want (a) safe environment, healthy environment here in Stone Park and we have children, you know, who go through this, and they're exposed to this, and that's not our values as a community," Silva said.
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