Romanian Church opens new location in Sauganash on former Monastero banquet site
SAUGANASH – The new Romanian Pentecostal Church of Elim has been in the making for almost four years.
The three-story church at 3935 W. Devon Ave. has a modern design that stands out from the neighborhood, typically housing bungalows, single-story malls, and historic buildings.
The new church house will allow its growing congregation to have access to more services and be closer to its members, said Pastor Cristian Ionescu.
“The location is much better and the facilities are better organized to meet our needs,” said Ionescu. “The design is also pleasing to the eye. “
Since opening in 2001 in Albany Park, the congregation has grown to its current size of around 900 people.
The Romanian church was caught in controversy last year for organizing weekly services throughout the pandemic, which has frustrated its neighbors in Albany Park, who feared for their safety. It is one of the churches that sued Governor JB Pritzker in an attempt to overturn state rules that prohibited large gatherings, including for religious services, during the pandemic.
Ionescu was cited and fined for having more than 10 people in the old shrine for worship during the shutdown, but he hasn’t stopped hosting events in person. Illinois churches and places of worship were once again allowed to host in-person activities after Pritzker stepped down after a few weeks.
Charges against Ionescu were dropped earlier this year, coinciding with the smooth opening of the Sauganash Church.
Ionescu said he did not regret violating government rules, which he called “arbitrary” and not applicable to places of worship.
“These rules were a death sentence,” he said. “The church is not made to exist without physical gatherings. “
Other churches have returned to online services as the city is hit by a fifth wave of COVID-19 cases. Ionescu said his church’s in-person gatherings will continue, although the congregation is also posting their services on social media. The church will continue to be sanitized daily and people will have room to spread out, he said.
The new church house takes over the Ristorante & Banquets de Monastero, which closed in 2017 after 55 years in the neighborhood. The owners accepted an offer from the church, which also took over M&M Landscaping, just east of Monastero, to use for more parking.
The church moved from its location in Albany Park earlier this year. This place was getting too small for the Romanian church and did not have a community hall, said Raffi Arzoumanian, the main architect of a + c architects, who designed the building.
“The congregation has grown too big for space and most of the members live further north, like in Lincolnwood, Glenview and that area,” Arzoumanian said. “A lot of people come from the north. It is an ideal area in terms of location.
Arzoumanian is not a member of the church but worked closely with Ionescu and many of its members – including Dorel Ardelean and Danut Balint – to complete the building.
Ardelean and Balint assisted the Arzoumanian team in their tasks throughout construction and were among at least 30 volunteer members who set up the 1,200-seat shrine for its grand opening.
“Before the opening, everyone was there until midnight,” Arzoumanian said. “You needed everyone’s time and effort to make it happen. … It is really the result of faith because every construction project has problems [but] I cannot tell you that we encountered an obstacle or a blockage that was not easily overcome. It was the smoothest project ever, considering its size.
In addition to the sanctuary, the three-story building includes a banquet hall for weddings and events, 10 classrooms, a bookstore, smaller common areas and an upcoming bookstore and rooftop terrace.
When asked what their favorite part of the building was, Ardelean and Balint replied, “Everything” and laughed. But if they had to choose, they said they would say the shrine or the banquet halls, which have more space for events.
“We’ve had two weddings here already,” Balint said, adding that around 600 people were present at one of them.
Both are also fans of increased on-site parking. The church has 140 parking spaces, an improvement over the location of Albany Park.
Ardelean is happy to have helped work on the construction and work in a building that will be part of the history of the congregation and allow for more programs, resources and events for families.
“I am proud to be a part” of the congregation, he said.
Arzoumanian said the church project could be one of his favorite projects so far – and he has designed several religious buildings like synagogues, mosques and multi-purpose community centers. He especially liked the challenge of adding the stained glass artwork from the old space to the new shrine.
“That in itself was a huge achievement because stained glass is very fragile… especially in these sizes,” he said.
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