French nuns edge closer to expanding Illinois operations
MARENGO, Ill. (AP) — A French religious order has reached a preliminary agreement with a northern Illinois county that would allow nuns to build a winery, brewery, gift shop and a co-ed boarding school there.
The consent decree reached between McHenry County and Fraternite Notre Dame Inc. would end nearly four years of litigation and local opposition to the order's planned expansion of its operation in Marengo, 60 miles (100 kilometers) northwest of Chicago.
In 2015, the order sued the county's officials, alleging that by blocking the expansion the county was violating the U.S. Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act and the Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Fraternite Notre Dame, Inc. was established in 1977 and consists of nuns and priests with a Mother House in Chicago. It is not part of the Roman Catholic Church, which the lawsuit alleges was also the basis of complaints against the order.
Before U.S. Magistrate Judge Iain Johnston decides the case, he is scheduled to preside over a public hearing Oct. 21 in federal court in Rockford, the Chicago Tribune reported.
County board Chairman Jack Franks and McHenry County State's Attorney Patrick Kenneally, whose office negotiated the agreement, declined to comment.
Fraternite already runs a church, convent, monastery and bakery on the site. Under the consent decree, the order would also be allowed to build a 15,000-square-foot (1,400-sq. meter) barnlike winery and brewery, and a three-story, 28,000-square-foot (2,600-sq. meter) boarding school for up to 80 kindergarten through high school students, with separate dorms for boys and girls.
The area is mostly rural and some residents of a nearby neighborhood cited concerns about potential traffic and other problems.
Kristin Ottolino, who said she lives several miles from the site and has spearheaded much of the opposition, called the potential agreement "horrible." She said the nuns would be running a tax-free business while also bringing crime into the area by operating a school for troubled youth. The children would likely come from a crime-ridden Chicago neighborhood, Ottolino claimed.
"We moved out of Chicago to get away from crime," she said. "I think it's awful they're not listening to the community."
James Geoly, an attorney for Fraternite, disputed Ottolino's claims.
"I think the risk of crime by the children under the nuns' supervision is between minimal and zero," he said, saying the school would be run in "the most strict traditionalist Catholic tradition."
Under the decree, the nuns agreed to keep at least 60% of the site undeveloped. The business would be restricted to four 26-foot (8-meter) box trucks or smaller. Any construction must be completed within five years.
Information from: Chicago Tribune, http://www.chicagotribune.com