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Religious Order Expansion

A nun from the Notre Dame Monastery tends to the landscaping around their church in Coral Township in Marengo in 2015. 

MARENGO — 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 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 barnlike winery and brewery, and a three-story, 28,000-square-foot 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.

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