This year, for a second time since 2019, Preservation Chicago has chosen to “spotlight” the consolidation, deconsecration, combining, closure and sale
of many of our City’s finest religious structures. We are focusing once again on the decisions by the Archdiocese of Chicago to consolidate or close so many parishes and churches.
These immensely beautiful structures were constructed at great cost, and often at significant sacrifice, with pennies, nickels and dimes, by the faithful of the community. They are often the very cornerstones of our communities and neighborhoods, throughout Chicago. In addition to their sheer beauty and providing the necessary space for religious services for worship, they are also community centers, providing everything from food pantries, shelter services, counseling and child care. In days of the past, and even today in some places, a resident may refer to their parish church and community to define the neighborhood in which they live.
When one of these churches close and the parish is disbanded, relocated or merged, the impact is often felt hard and even beyond the traditional borders of a community–by the community at large. It’s not only the loss of an institution, but the loss of human services, often a lifeline to both families and individuals. These closings, consolidations, sale of buildings and sometimes demolitions, are painful in every way, and the loss of these institutions and their sacred spaces, should not occur in such ways and in such magnitude.
The Archdiocese of Chicago has many complex and complicated issues, many extending back more than 50 years, that are seen elsewhere in the nation and world. However, the rush to closures under the guise of a relatively new program called “Renew my Church,” appears to be anything but renewal, and more akin to the wholesale Urban Renewal programs of the 1950s and 1960s, where much is lost and discarded, without the great sensitivity that many would expect from the owner—the Archdiocese of Chicago. This often results in demolition, as the buildings are often left vacant, rather than mothballed, often without the required and necessary care of their structures, including heating during inclement months, which in turn can lead to more costly repairs by future potential uses or buyers. To further complicate potential reuse efforts, by another congregation of the same faith or another entity, the costs of acquiring these structures is often exorbitantly expensive, as the asking price can often be equated simply to the land value or the community’s conceived land values by a developer.
This is all very disturbing, as these glorious structures, and their ancillary buildings were built by the faithful and given to the Archdiocese of Chicago, to steward, maintain, and staff for use in perpetuity, as sacred places and sites. While some structures may be more modest than others, over the past 50 years, we’ve often witnessed a general and overall wholesale disregard for these holy and consecrated buildings, with many of us in Chicago, descendants of the original builders–the parishioners.
Reasons for these closures given by the Archdiocese, extend from a shortage of priests, to suggestions that parishioner enrollment decline is not what it once was, to costly repairs that were not addressed by the self-insured owner—the Bishops and Archbishops of the Archdiocese of Chicago. Yet, the threshold for consideration of closure is a parish of 800 members, and yet many other religious organizations would be honored to have a fraction, or even half of that number of parishioners/members in their congregations.
The Diocese of Chicago, formed on November 22, 1843 in Chicago, recognized by Pope Leo XIII, under Bishop William J. Quarter, arriving on May 5, 1844 from New York. At that time only one parish existed, St. Mary, organized in 1833 by the Reverend John Mary Irenaeus St. Cyr, said to be the first priest assigned to Chicago. Reverend St. Cyr was said to have established 30 churches and three new parishes, in addition to St. Mary of the Lake University.
The Chicago parishes established during those early years and the decades that followed from 1833 to 1875, within the city limits include Old St. Mary (1833), St. Joseph-Orleans Street, (Old) St. Patrick- DesPlaines Street and (Old) St. Peter (all in 1846). Holy Name Church, later Cathedral (1849), St. Bridget, St. Louis-Polk Street (1850), St. Henry (1851), St. Michael-Cleveland Avenue (1852), St. Francis of Assisi-Twelfth Street/ Roosevelt Road (1853), St. James-Wabash Avenue (1853). Also, Holy Family-Twelfth Street/Roosevelt Road and St. Patrick-Commercial Avenue (1857), St. Columbkille, Immaculate Conception-North Park Avenue and Old St. John (both 1859). St. Wenceslaus-DeKoven Street (1863), St. Boniface and Notre Dame de Chicago (1864), Annunciation, St. Paul (1866) and St. Stanislaus Kostka-Noble Street (1867). Continuing with Nativity of our Lord (1868), St. Anne, St. Jarlath, St. Stephen-Ohio Street, St. Thomas the Apostle (1869). Also, St. John Nepomucene (1871), Sacred Heart-19th Street (1872), St. Anthony of Padua-Wallace Street, Holy Trinity-Noble Street (1873), St. Adalbert-17th Street, St. Margaret of Scotland, Our Lady of Sorrows, St. Pius (all 1874) and All Saints-Wallace Street, St. Procopius, St. Vincent de Paul (1875)
In 1980 the Archdiocese of Chicago had 447 parishes, with 278, which may have been perhaps closer to 298 in Chicago and 169 in the suburbs. At the time their records indicated an estimated 2,341,500 parishioners in total within the Chicago Metropolitan Area, according to their documents, making it still the largest Catholic Archdiocese in the nation. In the years since, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles has become the largest Archdiocese in the nation, with Chicago second in the number of congregants.
Current trends have noted a drop in population and attendance across almost all faith communities in recent decades, due to a number of factors, resulting in the painful loss of these houses of worship and the communities of people which are often left behind. While the architecture and preservation community may not be able to address these issues of faith, we can assist in the preservation and reuse of these many buildings, which in themselves are cornerstones and landmarks in our communities across Chicago and elsewhere.
Since its beginnings, the Archdiocese of Chicago has closed approximately 110 churches and parishes in just the city limits of Chicago, until about 2019, with approximately 57 of the 110 churches also demolished over time. In 2020-2021 the program “Renew My Church,” under Cardinal Cupich is responsible for more than 88 churches and parishes are scheduled to consolidate, merge and close, with 25 of the 88 to be sold. This does not include the ancillary structures of convents, rectories or school buildings, which in total are potentially hundreds of properties. The magnitude of these closings have been devastating, and what appeared to be a rock-solid institution, here for the ages—in perpetuity and along with these massive Diocesan organizations stewarding these basilicas of faith, have also fallen sharply. Something must be done to save these sacred structures and several non-profit organizations are challenging these consolidations, closings and the sale of structures in the Vatican. These 19 cases, all from the greater Chicago metropolitan area, are the largest number of Canon Law filings challenging any archdiocese in the United States.
The individuals involved in these legal actions are parishioners seeking to save their parishes, their communities and their sacred shrines. Assistance is offered though pro-bono services of a Canon Law attorney and these cases are filed in English, translated into Italian and then once again into Ecclesiastical Latin, where they are debated each third Thursday of the calendar month, before the Vatican Courts. When a verdict is reached it is translated from Latin, to Italian and then to English, where it is then conveyed back to the parishioners. In some instances elsewhere in the United States, Canon Law rules and structures have not been properly followed, or violations have been observed occurring in these closings, resulting in a wide volume of churches and parishes reopened.
Canon Law also suggests that if faith options for the church buildings exist and are aligned with Catholic liturgy, for them to be gifted or first offered to another owner or religious body for the continuation of the faith. Those rules are oftentimes not shared as an option, and adherence to such policies are sometimes further challenged and debated.
Furthermore, protecting religious structures in Chicago has been extremely difficult since the introduction of the religious buildings consent ordinance (verify actual name of ordinance) of 1987, introduced to the Chicago City Council, by former Alderman Burton Natarus. This City Ordinance was invoked to protect the plans of the Fourth Presbyterian Church on North Michigan Avenue from potentially replacing one of its ancillary Gothic-Revival inspired structures with a new tall residential building.
The theory was that a Chicago Landmark Designation of the church and its complex, could potentially prohibit such plans from materializing, which could also be an additional future source of income for the well-to-do church. As time passed, it was clear that the Near North Side neighbors were not pleased with such plans and the tall residential building concept was shelved. In its place on the site of the demolished ancillary Gothic structures has risen a community center structure, which has had tremendous benefits.
Yet the damage of the religious buildings consent ordinance has continued to hamper efforts to give Chicago Landmark Designation to active congregations and their historic religious buildings, without their consent. In almost every instance, the Archdiocese of Chicago has refused designation of its most amazing church properties and has often greatly challenged attempts to Landmark its buildings. This all despite these are viewed as shared community assets, often built and gifted to them by parishioners, yet those assets like the Landmark Buildings of our City are not allowed to be honored, shared and designated and become official Chicago Landmarks, with all of the accolades and protections offered our Landmark buildings in Chicago. This is very unfortunate on so many different levels.
Preservation Chicago has been working to preserve many of Chicago’s historic buildings since our founding, twenty years ago. This preservation advocacy work has extended to religious buildings, churches, synagogues and houses of worship since our early years.
Preservation efforts and campaigns include the Landmarking of the former St. Clara-St. Cyril/St. Gelasius, now known as The Shrine of Christ the King, and the Minnekirken Chicago—The Norwegian Lutheran Memorial Church on Logan Square. Also, advocacy efforts to preserve St. James Roman Catholic Church on South Wabash Avenue (demolished), Anshe Keneseth Israel on West Douglas Boulevard (demolished), Stone Temple Baptist Church, originally known as the First Romanian Synagogue and the site of many visits by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which is now a Landmark, The Episcopal Church of the Epiphany, the Landmark building now to be reopened as the Epiphany Center for the Arts. The list also continues to include Agudas Achim North Shore Congregation Synagogue (converted to residential), St. Peter Episcopal Church on Belmont Avenue, the Church of the Advent on Logan Boulevard (converted to residential), which is also a Designated Chicago Landmark. Efforts to save, preserve and Landmark St. Adalbert in Pilsen, All Saints-St. Anthony in Bridgeport, St. Michael the Archangel in South Shore-“The Bush ” and 17 others have been ongoing. These are just several of the religious structures that have been part of our advocacy efforts, with many more in which we have provided supporting testimony towards a Chicago Landmark Designation.
We want to encourage the Archdiocese of Chicago to consider inviting other Religious Orders to Chicago, as was done under the direction of Cardinal Francis George, OMI (1937-2015), in the past, to occupy and staff many of these remarkable and sacred structures, when the Archdiocese can no longer support them. Many of these buildings can be retained and reused as chapels, monasteries, places of contemplation, retreat houses and sites, and a retreat from a visitor’s hectic traverses of the day.
We at Preservation Chicago are also requesting that the 1987 religious buildings consent ordinance be overturned, as for 34 years, all other buildings and structures in the City of Chicago can be considered for Chicago Landmark Designation without the consent of the owner. Yet this special provision and ordinance applies unfairly to buildings in which religious services are conducted, often creating an unbalanced playing field. This ordinance hamstrings many potential Chicago Landmark Designations, of some of the City’s finest buildings, some constructed by the same world-famous architects of our downtown Landmarks.
We are also of the opinion that since many of these structures were gifted to organizations like the Archdiocese of Chicago, by the many faithful, that they should not vigorously challenge such efforts, but share them with the community and work with parishioners and the community to determine a path to preserving these sacred places and buildings.
Additionally, if it is determined that a church or house of worship can no longer function in such a capacity by all stakeholders and the City, plans should be considered to encourage cultural reuses for these most sacred structures. Such reuse efforts may include a reuse as concert venues, music centers, cultural centers for the community and other such respectful uses.
After all, many of these religious structures, and in this particular case, Roman Catholic Churches are often cornerstones and visual gateways, which are so associated with our communities across Chicago. They are worth the effort and robust conversations to find alternative owners and potential and creative reuses for these magnificent structures, which were built for the ages and designed to inspire all who gaze upon them in perpetuity.
The following Roman Catholic Churches are to be consolidated, closed or sold and are of great concern to us at Preservation Chicago and to the larger communities of our City.
St. George Church (closed 2020)
Architect: William J. Brinkman, 1903
9546 S. Ewing Avenue, East Side, Community Area 52, 10th Ward
CHRS status: Orange-Rated
St. George Church was established in 1903 to serve Slovenian immigrants who settled near the steel mills in South Chicago. This national parish was founded within the territorial parish of St. Patrick at 95th Street and Commercial Avenue.
The origins of the St. George national parish were found in the St. Florian Benevolent Society, organized in 1893. After a short affiliation with the Slovak Fraternal Union, the group joined the Grand Carniolian Slovenian Catholic Union of America in 1894. Rev. John Plevnik, the pastor of a Slovenian parish in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, celebrated Mass for the small South Chicago Slovenian congregation for a time in a German Catholic church at 91st and Exchange. He also encouraged them to form a national parish. The group bought land on 95th Street between Avenues M and N, and had secured the services of a Slovenian priest who began to work with the St. George parish in May 1903.
Initial plans to build a small wooden church were revised when the parishioners acquired a new site at the northwest corner of 96th and Ewing Avenue. With the help of Croatian Catholics who were among the large numbers of Southern Slavs settling in the neighborhood, the large brick church of St. George was constructed in Gothic style with a prominent bell tower. Ground was broken at the end of June 1903, the cornerstone was laid at the start of August, and the first Mass was celebrated in the new church on December 6, 1903.
In January 1904, the church bells were blessed. They had been a “gift of the single men” of the parish. In June 1904, Auxiliary Bishop Peter J. Muldoon dedicated the church. In 1906, Andrew Carnegie made a “sizeable donation toward the purchase of the church organ.”
By 1911, the parish debt was reduced by $8,000. The following year, the membership of the church decreased when the Croatians decided to form their own national parish west of the Calumet River. After several changes of the pastorate, beginning in 1922, St. George parish was staffed by the Slovenian Franciscan Fathers from Lemont, Illinois. In the 1920s, the parish hall was enlarged, the Slovene artist John Gosar was commissioned to redecorate the church interior, and later, stained glass windows were installed in the church. From the end of the 1930s, worshipers other than Slovenians were encouraged to participate in parish life at St. George.
Parish debt was liquidated in 1943 and shortly thereafter, a new fundraising campaign began for construction of a parish school and community center. The entire amount was raised within seven years. Construction of the community center began in 1949 and of the school in the following year. The school opened for the academic year in 1951. A new rectory was built in 1963.
Decades before the 75th anniversary celebration of St. George parish in 1978, the parish was no longer exclusively Slovenian. By the 1970s, Masses were no longer celebrated in Slovenian. The parish had become ethnically diverse, serving a congregation that included a large number of Italians, among others. Despite its welcome of worshipers of all backgrounds, St. George Church was closed by the Chicago Archdiocese in 2020. It was one of four South Chicago parishes that were combined with only two churches, Annunciata and St. Kevin, remaining open.
St. Bride Church (closed 2020)
Architect: Unknown, 1908-09
7801 S. Coles Avenue, South Shore (Windsor Park), Community Area 43, 7th Ward
CHRS status: not listed
St. Bride Church, built in a French Gothic style, was established in 1893 as a mission of St. Kevin Church at 105th and Torrence Avenue to serve 45 families who lived north of 87th Street, in the neighborhoods of South Shore, Windsor Park, and Cheltenham.
At the time of St. Bride’s organization, South Shore was sparsely settled. However, it was south of Jackson Park, the site of the 1893 Columbian Exposition, and north of the steel mills in South Chicago. The area was linked to downtown Chicago by the Illinois Central railroad. The original church building was a single-story brick edifice built at a cost of $3,000, which was dedicated on August 6, 1893. St. Bride remained a mission until 1900. That year, Rev. Timothy D. O’Sullivan, who had established the mission, resigned his pastorate at St. Kevin’s, and became pastor of St. Bride. Two years later, the Carmelite Fathers from Mount Carmel High School (then known as St. Cyril College) volunteered their assistance at St. Bride’s.
In 1907, the parishioners voted to build a new church, and in September ground was broken at the southeast corner of 78th Street and Coles Avenue. The cornerstone was laid on June 14, 1908. On June 6, 1909, the new St. Bride Church, with a seating capacity of 600, was dedicated by Archbishop James E. Quigley. The parish roster then listed 300 families.
The old mission church was remodeled into a school, which opened in September 1909. The St. Bride School was the first Catholic grammar school in South Shore. The following year, Rev. O’Sullivan died and was succeeded as pastor by Rev. William J. Lynch, who began construction of a new school. In 1911, a new school opened with a capacity of 400 students.
During the 1920s, Father Lynch led a program of expansion:
- After remodeling a three-story building into a convent in 1920, a rectory at 7811 S. Coles was completed in 1925, on the site of the original St. Bride Church.
- In 1929, more classrooms were added to accommodate the increasing number of Catholic children who lived in the area.
After Fr. Lynch died in 1933, the following pastors served St. Bride during a period of
continuing growth. The post-World War II years into the 1960s saw construction of a number of high rise apartment buildings along the lakefront. Many of the Catholic residents who moved into these buildings became members of St. Bride parish.
For several decades, South Shore was a largely Catholic and Jewish neighborhood. However, the demographics changed beginning in the late 1960s when South Shore became a majority Black neighborhood. New and old parishioners celebrated the 75th anniversary of St. Bride Church in December 1968. During the 1970s, ties were strengthened between the new Black and Haitian parishioners and the older parishioners of Irish and German descent. By 2005, student enrollment had declined to such an extent that St. Bride School closed its doors in June, with the graduation of its 96th class.
In 2020, all four of the South Shore parishes, including St. Bride, were merged by the Chicago Archdiocese into one newly created parish, Our Lady and Ss. Bride and Philip Neri. On July 1, 2020, St. Bride Church was closed. Our Lady of Peace and Our Lady Gate of Heaven were also closed. St. Philip Neri Church is now the surviving Catholic church in South Shore.
St. Michael Archangel Catholic Church (to be consolidated)
Architect: William J. Brinkmann, 1909
8237 S. South Shore Drive
South Chicago, Community Area 46, 7th Ward
St Michael’s was founded in 1892 to serve Polish immigrants who flocked to America’s shores in search of work to build a better future for themselves and for their children. For a century or more the faith community formed from these immigrants expanded to include Croatians, Slovaks, and later Mexican and Mexican Americans, Nigerians, African Americans, Asian Americans, Haitians, and Filipinos who have worshipped together within this soaring, highly ornamented Gothic church, resembling a grand cathedral.
The present St. Michael’s is the third church building constructed to serve the people of this area, having been completed in 1909 under the pastorate of Bishop Paul Rhode. Bishop Rhode was the first Polish American to be consecrated auxiliary bishop of Chicago. Bishop Rhode later became the Bishop of Green Bay, Wisconsin.
The church’s architecture and expansive interior is Gothic in style. It features two soaring steeples that rise over the South Side of Chicago, which can be seen towering over the community, truly “the cathedral of South Chicago.” The architect was William J. Brinkmann.
The main altar reredos and two side altars are constructed of butternut and bird’s eye maple wood. The central statue of St. Michael, the two incensing angels and the statues on the side altars were sculpted and painted by hand. A beautiful and rare communion rail is carved in oak with a white marble top. The interior of the church can seat approximately 1,100 people. This is truly a landmark worthy of saving and a gateway to South Chicago.
Of interest to lovers of music is the grand piano which belonged to famed composer Ignace Jan Paderewski.
A shrine to Our Lady of Czestochowa, the National Patron of the people of Poland, is located in the sanctuary. The shrine was constructed in Poland in the early 1960s.
The Magnificent stained-glass windows were made by F. X. Zettler of Munich, Germany. Of special note are the two transept windows on the east and west sides of the church. These windows have been considered by some in the parish to be perhaps the largest most beautiful stained-glass windows in the Archdiocese of Chicago. The window on the east side of the church depicts the Pentecost event — the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Virgin Mary and the Apostles. The window on the west side of the church gives imagery to the vision of Saint Michael the Archangel at the Last Judgment.
Among other churches in Chicago which claim to house relics, St. Michael’s enshrines a relic said to be of St. Cyprian, Bishop and martyr.
Our Lady of Victory
Architect Herman J. Gaul, 1910-1911, E. Brielmaier and Sons, 1927, Meyer and Cook, 1954
5200-5240 W. Agatite Avenue
Jefferson Park, Ward 38, Community Area 15
Our Lady of Victory has been serving the Jefferson Park community since 1909, with its church building dedicated in 1911. During the church’s formation, the community was largely composed of Irish, German, and Polish immigrant families.
The establishment of Our Lady of Victory and the construction of the new church was a turning point for the Catholic community on the Northwest Side. This seminal event encouraged the settlement of an influx of Catholics from denser parts of the city. In the following years, thousands of Catholics moved to the far Northwest Side to begin a new era; an era in which the community was to solidify itself as a Catholic American melting pot, a part of the broader fabric of Chicago.
Despite a solid congregation and no debt against the church, the Archdiocese announced in December 2020 that the church would be closed.
The cornerstone for Our Lady of Victory was laid on May 22, 1910.This three-story structure was dedicated on May 28, 1911, by Archbishop James E. Quigley. The architect for this new church was Herman J. Gaul. Born in Germany around 1870, Gaul apprenticed under Louis Sullivan in the 1890s and joined the Illinois Society of Architects in 1898.
Between the building of the church in 1910 and 1925, the city’s population had increased by 1 million, with the bulk of that population moving to the newly established “Bungalow Belt” in the more outlying neighborhoods in the city. Our Lady of Victory had a full school and enough parishioners to warrant expansion.
To this end, in 1927, plans for a new convent, church and rectory were created by the architectural firm of E. Brielmaier & Sons, from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The firm designed the convent and rectory as symmetric, classical style buildings that would abut each side of the new church. These buildings included two open courtyards and a grotto, harmonious with their placid surroundings in the quiet but growing neighborhood.
In the early 1950s, the firm of Meyer and Cook was commissioned to design the upper church of Our Lady of Victory. At a cost of over $1 Million (well over $10 Million in 2021 dollars), the magnificent structure was completed in 1954 and opened for services on April 18 (Easter Sunday). The firm designed the upper church in the Spanish/Mission Revival style, an extremely rare style for Chicago and one of a few of its kind.
By 1950, Our Lady of Victory parish numbered 2,500 families with approximately 1,100 children enrolled in the school. A new school addition had been completed in 1949, and soon work was to begin on the upper church, that would sit atop the current church that was on a lower level. The firm of Meyer and Cook designed elegant and unique buildings throughout the Chicago area, including the Chicago Landmark Laramie State Bank Building.
The church was designed by multiple significant Chicago/regional architects in three different time frames. Its complex of structures housed a unique part of the fabric of Catholic Chicago, initiating an era of blended English-speaking ethnicities. It is uniquely located on a side street in a residential district; the steeple is a landmark identifying marker for the community and towers over the surrounding blocks.
The strong immigrant community has built and stewarded this church through more than a century of growth and change on the Northwest Side of Chicago. Their spiritual home, the hub of their community, is at risk of being closed and potentially lost to demolition or substantial alteration.
This extraordinary complex of buildings could be considered for a reuse by another institution or religious organization, and it also could be used as a residential facility. The community needs permanent, affordable housing, and its proximity to the second largest transit center in Chicago makes it an ideal location. In addition to two large church facilities, the complex includes living quarters, a chapel, classrooms, and multiple hall facilities that could be used for events and celebrations. Additionally, the large parking lot could be used as further rental income to maintain the complex and/or partially used to build a complementary income-driving facility.
All Saints – St. Anthony Catholic Church (to be closed)
Architect: Henry J. Schlacks, 1913
518 W. 28th Place, Bridgeport, Community Area 60, 11th Ward
Romanesque or “Norman” in style, All Saints – St. Anthony Catholic Church is one of the magnificent churches of the Bridgeport Community with its soaring towers and amazing detailed brickwork and mosaics. Immense in scale, the structure is a landmark in the community and was designed by Henry Schlacks, one of Chicago’s most noted architects. St. Anthony of Padua was consolidated with All Saints in 1968 and renamed at that time.
A communication of All Saints – St. Anthony Parish recently announced that St. Therese Chinese Mission and St. Barbara Parish will unite into one parish and one parish school operating out of the existing campuses on Alexander and Throop streets. St. Mary of Perpetual Help and All Saints – St. Anthony Parish will unite to form one parish operating out of the current St. Mary campus. The communication stated, “The existing property at AS-SA will be closed no later than June 2020.”
The earlier message read: “The faith communities of St. Jerome Croatian and Santa Lucia-Maria Incoronata will unite to form a new parish. St. Jerome will serve as the active worship site, and Santa Lucia – Santa Maria Incoronata Church will close no later than June of 2020. The name of the new parish will be determined by the combined parish communities within the next year.”
In addition, there was this announcement: “Nativity of Our Lord and St. Gabriel will be united to form one new parish, with both churches open as worship sites. The name of the new parish will be determined by the combined parish communities within the next year.”
The decision maker in such developments was indicated by this message: “Cardinal Cupich has requested additional time for further discussion and consultation regarding the parishes of All Saints – St. Anthony, St. Barbara, St. Mary of Perpetual Help and St. Therese Chinese and the Archdiocesan Center for Chinese Apostolates. Therefore, a decision regarding these parishes will be delayed until at least mid-January.”
As mentioned previously, the decision regarding All Saints – St. Anthony Parish has been made and communicated as of February 2019. More detailed information on the parish has been made by Father Peter in a bulletin article.
As far as schools are concerned, a segment in the church communications made on the Internet by the All Saints – St. Anthony Church came under the ironic title: “Renew My Church: BCC Grouping Update for schools: St. Jerome School will serve as the parish school. Santa Lucia School will close effective June 30, 2019. Bridgeport Catholic Academy and St. Gabriel School will unite as one school with two campuses to serve the new parish formed by Nativity of Our Lord and St. Gabriel. Each campus will be led by its own principal reporting to the new pastor of the new, unified parish. St. Therese Chinese School will assume responsibility of St. Barbara School, retaining campuses at both school properties under the leadership of St. Therese school and name.” This new responsibility was not sought by the St. Therese Chinese parish which already was achieving a union of Chinese and Italian Catholics, as well as others. As to the unwelcome announcement by the Archdiocese which has been relayed on the Internet by the All Saints – St. Anthony Parish, the following was added in the initial “Renew My Church” message: “School leadership structure will consist of one principal with two administrators, one at each site. The school will be led by the current St. Therese Chinese school principal. The current St. Barbara principal will serve as an administrator at St. Barbara campus.”
Holy Cross Church (consolidated 2020)
Architect: Joseph Molitor, 1913-15
1740 W. 46th Street, Back of the Yards, Community Area 61, 15th Ward
CHRS status: Orange Rated
The majestic twin towers of Holy Cross Church, topped by shining copper-clad cupolas, have been a landmark for the Back of the Yards community on Chicago’s Southwest Side for more than a century. In 1904, Holy Cross parish was established as a national parish to serve Lithuanian immigrants who settled near the Union Stock Yards. Within 10 years, construction began on this grand baroque style church building.
In the 1890s, there were swamps and ponds in the area, known as “Town of Lake,” where the church was later built. Lithuanians began to settle there, and in 1902, the St. Vincent Ferrer Lithuanian Benevolent Society started organizing efforts to create a parish. The society rented a building on Hermitage Avenue to use as a school and it secured the services of nuns from St. George parish in Bridgeport to teach catechism to the Lithuanian children.
In February 1904, the Benevolent Society purchased land to build a temporary combination church-school structure. The cornerstone was laid in December of that year. Before construction was completed, parish Masses were conducted in the nearby St. Rose of Lima Church. The first Holy Cross Church was ready for use in May 1905, and the school in the same building opened that fall. In 1909, a rectory was built.
The parish grew so quickly that work on a larger church began in 1913. The cornerstone of the massive church designed by Joseph Molitor was laid that year by Archbishop Quigley; construction costs were estimated to be $200,000. The church’s facade features a portico with eight Corinthian columns supporting a frieze and pediment. A Latin inscription on the frieze translates, “In the Holy Cross is the life of the world.” Three niches above the pediment contain sculptures of Christ, St. Isidore, and St. George. The soaring towers are “rich in balustrades, arches, finials, pilasters, ornamental copper work, and cupolas.” *
The vast interior “features a lofty, expansive dome, admired by the experts as an architectural marvel.” The vaulted ceiling, supported by marble columns, is lined by more than 2,000 electric lights, each within a rosette. Solid oak pews provide seating for 1,400. There is a richly ornamented wooden altar, numerous statues and paintings, and a double choir loft with a huge pipe organ.
Stained glass windows from the Chicago firm of Arthur Michaudel were installed in 1943-44.
In addition to large rose windows in the transept and nave windows depicting scenes from the life of Christ, smaller windows feature depictions of apostles and saints. Ornate stations of the cross were created by renowned painter Thaddeus von Zukotynski. Four paintings on Lithuanian and American historical themes by Lithuanian artist Adolfas Valeska were added in the early 1950s.
The parish continued to grow in membership, remodeling the previous combination church-school building in 1919 to provide more classrooms. In the 1940s, parish debt of more than $100,000 was liquidated; the church, school, and rectory were remodeled; and a new convent was built. In 1962, a new school building was completed.
Despite the introduction of English in the 1930s, the Lithuanian language remained predominant for decades. An influx of Lithuanian refugees in the post-World War II years into the 1950s further strengthened the Lithuanian character of the parish. Even as parishioners moved out of the Back of the Yards neighborhood, they continued to support the church and to return on major feasts and for special celebrations. A Lithuanian choir continued to sing at Masses in the years leading up to the 75th anniversary of Holy Cross parish, and Lithuanian parish organizations continued their activities. Yet, the parish welcomed parishioners of various national backgrounds. As the neighborhood became predominantly Spanish-speaking, a new group of parishioners found a home at Holy Cross. In 1981, Holy Cross parish was merged with Immaculate Heart of Mary parish, to serve the growing Spanish-speaking population.
Holy Cross Church has served low-income, working class immigrant parishioners for its entire history; it has successfully met the needs of its original Lithuanian base while welcoming diverse national groups and eventually becoming a Mexican-American parish. This should be considered a model parish, providing social services for the poor and the newcomers, while respecting the diverse backgrounds of all; and most importantly, offering Mass in a grand and beautiful sacred space. This majestic church should continue to provide spiritual strength and solace to the underserved and poor.
Yet, the Chicago Archdiocese has consolidated the parishes of Back of the Yards: Holy Cross, previously merged with Immaculate Heart of Mary, St. Joseph, and St. Michael the Archangel.
St. Joseph has been designated the parish church of the newly created entity, which will be named by July 1, 2021. Holy Cross Church will be a “Sunday worship center,” with an uncertain future.
*Chicago Churches and Synagogues, George Lane, Loyola University Press 1981, p. 134
Providence of God Church (consolidated 2016)
Architect: Joseph Molitor/ Leo Strelka, 1914-1927
717 W. 18th Street, Pilsen, Community Area 31, 11th Ward
CHRS status: Green-Rated
The Romanesque-style Providence of God Church, standing in the shadow of downtown Chicago, embodies the history of its immigrant founders. Overcoming numerous difficulties in its early years, parishioners of Providence of God built a magnificent house of worship that later accommodated members of a former parish and welcomed newer immigrants but now faces an uncertain future.
Lithuanians who settled in the port-of-entry neighborhood of Pilsen at the end of the 19th Century sought creation of a Lithuanian parish on the West Side of Chicago. In 1892, they formed the Providence of God Society in St. George parish in Bridgeport. A few years later, as their efforts progressed, one of the reasons cited for a new parish was the high cost of travel to St. George — $0.20. In 1900, a committee had located a site for a new parish, which was established that same year, becoming the second Lithuanian parish in Chicago.
The parish’s early years were marked by contentious relationships with several priests from St. George Church who were designated to lead the new parish. The controversies involved language—one of the priests did not know Lithuanian—and primarily finances and the role of parish trustees. The new parishioners sought to continue traditions from their homeland, whereby the trustees would control the finances and hold the deed for the church, rather than the bishop. Despite those concerns, in 1901, construction began on a combination church-school building on Union Avenue.
In 1910, property on Union was purchased for construction of a larger church. In 1913, Joseph Molitor was hired to design the new church, and the cornerstone was laid the following year. However, due to financial difficulties, only the lower portion of the church was completed. The combination church was remodeled into classrooms to accommodate an increasing enrollment, which had grown to 518 students by 1916. A convent was also built in this period.
By the mid-1920s, parish school enrollment reached 750 students, and there were more than 20 benevolent societies and religious confraternities in the parish. Finances had improved enough to allow work on the church to resume in June 1926. The Romanesque church with twin bell towers was completed according to plans of architect Leo Strelka. The beautiful interior features a barrel-vaulted ceiling, elaborately decorated main and side altars, carved wooden pews, ceiling paintings, and beautiful stained glass windows — including a rose window in the apse. Cardinal Mundelein dedicated the new church on June 12, 1927.
In subsequent decades, parish membership began a slow decline, along with school enrollment. Nonetheless, its 50th anniversary in 1950 was celebrated by Cardinal Stritch.
In 1959, a fire destroyed the nearby Sacred Heart Church at 19th and Peoria, which was a territorial parish. The Archdiocese decided against rebuilding, and instead consolidated Sacred Heart parish into Providence of God in 1960.
In December 1962, the Dan Ryan Expressway opened to traffic, and a heavily traveled elevated section leading into downtown conducts commuters within “a few hundred feet of” church. In the 1960s, Pilsen’s population became predominantly Mexican-American. Providence of God was among the first churches to offer a Spanish-language Mass. By 1975, the parish’s 75th anniversary was celebrated with one Mass in Spanish and one in English and Lithuanian. Both parish membership and school enrollment increased again.
Providence of God is unique as the site of a historic event of significance to Catholics of all backgrounds: the church hosted a visit by Pope John Paul II in October 1979. Although the pope’s stop at Providence of God was brief, it is notable because he was later declared a saint of the Catholic Church. Thus, Providence of God is one of the very few Catholic churches in Chicago that can claim the presence of a saint.
In 2016, the Providence of God parish was consolidated with St. Procopius parish, which is now known as St. Procopius-Providence of God. According to one news report after the consolidation, Masses were to continue at Providence of God, but the pastor of St. Procopius would determine if any other sacraments or services would be held there. Currently, there do not appear to be Masses regularly scheduled there and the church’s future appears uncertain.
Located in east Pilsen, close to a planned major residential development along the river, a great potential exists for Providence of God to regain members and again draw a diverse parishioner base. Unlike the hard-working immigrant poor who have filled Providence of God’s pews for more than a century, the new residents would likely differ in economic status, but would share the same spiritual needs that could be satisfied within this beautiful church. The church is seen literally by thousands of expressway commuters every day and its proximity to downtown can further encourage programming to draw a new population. In addition to these practical concerns, the beauty of the church and its strong connection to a saint make it important to preserve.
Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church (to be consolidated)
Architects: Worthmann & Steinback (1915), Joseph W. McCarthy (1929)
4640 N. Ashland Avenue/1601 W. Leland Avenue Lincoln Square/Ravenswood
Ward 47 (Community Area 03) CHRS Orange Rated
Located in Chicago’s Ravenswood neighborhood, Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church has a very interesting history involving several changes in location within the same intersection of Ashland and Leland Avenues. On October 8, 1892, Rev. Peter J. Muldoon, then Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Chicago, preached the sermon at the first Mass in the original frame church building located on the southwest corner of Ashland and Leland Avenues. In 1903, the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary founded a parish grade school which welcomed 340 pupils in its inaugural year. Described as one of the most modern schools in the city, thousands of students received an excellent Catholic education at the school before it closed in 2004. The predominantly Irish parish continued to grow, and so did the need for a larger church. The original church was demolished, and Father Francis N. Perry commissioned prolific church architects Worthmann & Steinback to build a new church across the street on the southeast corner of Ashland and Leland Avenues. The church by Worthmann & Steinbeck was modeled in the Spanish Renaissance-style architecture to resemble a church in Valladolid, Spain. Unfortunately, Father Perry did not live long enough to see the edifice completed. He died January 29, 1914. Rev. James M. Scanlan began his tenure as pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Church and the first Mass was celebrated in the new church on Christmas Day 1915. It was dedicated on May 21, 1916 by Archbishop George W. Mundelein.
After WWI, the Ravenswood neighborhood experienced an influx of residents, and parish membership increased rapidly. In 1929, the City of Chicago decided to widen Ashland Avenue. The parish, under the guidance of Father Scanlan, planned a move and expansion of the church across the street to its original location on the southwest corner. The Worthmann & Steinback church building was moved in its entirety across the street, garnering international acclaim for executing one of the greatest engineering feats of the early-twentieth century. The 10,000-ton building was lifted from its foundation by 50 men operating steel jacks and placed on steel rails that acted as rollers. The structure was then pulled across the street with six heavy chains, 72 pulleys and two teams of horses at the rate of “a foot a minute.” The building was then rotated 90 degrees to its present position and cut in two so that a 30-foot section could be added to accommodate up to 300 additional parishioners. Joseph W. Mc Carthy, another notable ecclesiastical architect, was hired to design the new expanded interior of the church. Our Lady of Lourdes has a cruciform plan with a large masonry dome above the crossing of the nave and transepts. There are now six bays in the nave with large stained glass windows at the ground level and pairs of smaller windows in the clerestory. The Leland Avenue elevation has a broad Spanish-style entranceway embellished by a beautiful ornamental iron screen. The entrance is flanked by square brick towers with cupolas and red tile domes.
Father Scanlan served as pastor until his death in 1934. He was succeeded by Rev. John P. Campbell. Father Campbell oversaw an extensive renovation of Our Lady of Lordes School, construction of a new convent, and directed the renovation of Our Lady of Lourdes grotto to make it a faithful replica of the grotto in Lourdes, France. In 1992 the church grotto was made a perpetual adoration site and remains the area’s only chapel open 24/7 for worship. After serving the people of Our Lady of Lourdes parish for 29 years, Msgr. Campbell died in 1963. Rev. Thomas J. Goldrick was named fourth pastor of the North Side parish. On October 7, 1979, parishioners gathered for a special Mass which celebrated the 50th anniversary of the rededication of the church after it was moved across Ashland Avenue. Our Lady of Lourdes parish went on to serve over 1,500 families of nearly 20 different ethnic backgrounds who live in the area, and it has Spanish and English Mass on its Sunday schedule.
The fate of the 127-year-old Our Lady of Lourdes church and cherished grotto has been called into question as the Archdiocese of Chicago has announced its latest round of consolidations. Our Lady of Lourdes will be merged with St. Mary of the Lake at 4220 N. Sheridan Road. St. Mary of the Lake, which was on Preservation Chicago’s Endangered Church watch list in 2019, will serve as the main campus for the combined parish to be named St. Mary of the Lake and Our Lady of Lourdes Parish. Our Lady of the Lourdes’ long vacant school building will be listed for sale by the Archdiocese and the future of the church is to be reviewed on an annual basis giving consideration to “supporting the pastoral presence and importance of the Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto, while also balancing what is financially sustainable,” the Archdiocese said in a statement.
Our Lady of Lourdes is an orange-rated building in the Chicago Historic Resources Survey. It was designed by notable architects Worthmann & Steinbeck, its interior expansion in 1929 was designed by another notable ecclesiastical architect Joseph W. McCarthy. The perpetual adoration grotto, that is housed within Our Lady of Lourdes, has become an important place to many Catholics in the Ravenswood community where they can come to worship at all hours of the day. The architectural and historical importance of Our Lady of Lourdes and the allegiance that worshipping Catholics in this Chicago neighborhood have to the church support allowing Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church to remain an asset to the Ravenswood and larger Lakeview community.
Corpus Christi Church
Architect: Joseph W. McCarthy (1915)
4900 S. Martin Luther King Drive
Grand Boulevard, Ward 3, Community Area 38
CHRS Rating: Orange
Corpus Christi Parish, dedicated in 1915, is one of the grandest designs by Chicago church architect Joseph W. McCarthy. The church is noted for its soaring coffered ceiling, rich marble work, and Renaissance ornamentation.
Corpus Christi, Latin words for the Body of Christ, refers to the sacred bread which Jesus gave to his followers at the Last Supper. The artwork throughout this church portrays scenes related to the history of this sacrament. The painting above the main altar is a mosaic replica of Leonardo di Vinci’s painting of the Last Supper in Milan.
Corpus Christi is cruciform in plan with a semicircular apse containing a white marble altar. The church has a magnificent coffered ceiling with 650 octagonal plaster panels decorated in white and gold. The worship space in this church is bright and open. Brilliant colored stained glass windows, designed in Germany by F. X. Zettler, depict the original church members with Pope Pius X. An adjacent cloister forms a lovely garden for parishioners. A 1932 New World Article called the church “an object of wonderment” and “one of the finest churches in Chicago.”
In 1914, ground was broken at the southwest corner of 49th Street and Grand Boulevard (now Martin Luther King Drive) for the present church which was opened for Mass on Christmas Day 1915. This magnificent edifice and the adjoining rectory at 4920 Grand Boulevard were designed in an Italian Renaissance style.
In the 1920s, the Grand Boulevard area began to change racially, from a predominately Irish-American neighborhood to a Black community. By 1928, less than 100 persons attended Corpus Christi Church on Sundays and only 28 children were enrolled in the school. As a result, the pastor resigned, and the parish and the school were closed in 1929.
In 1929, Cardinal Mundelein entrusted the parish to the Franciscan Fathers, who have been in charge ever since. Under the Franciscan Fathers, Corpus Christi became a retreat center. When the retreat center failed, Cardinal Mundelein granted the Franciscan Fathers permission to minister to the needs of the Black community. Although a majority of the Blacks who lived in Chicago in the 1930s were concentrated in the South Side’s “Black Belt,” only a small percentage were Catholic. The Franciscan Fathers reopened the church for Black people in 1932. The Corpus Christi parish flourished once again and became an important center of Black Catholicism in Chicago.
On September 11, 1945, the Franciscan Fathers opened Corpus Christi high school – the second Black Catholic high school in Chicago – in the former Sinai Temple at 4622 South Parkway. The coeducational school was staffed by the Franciscan Sisters of the Holy Family and by Franciscan Fathers in residence at the parish. In 1962, Corpus Christi high school was consolidated with the new Hales Franciscan high school which opened at 4930 S. Cottage Grove Avenue.
In June of 1975, one of the plaster panels fell from the coffered ceiling. The whole ceiling was found to be in danger of falling because the sisel which held the panels up was rotting. The church was declared unsafe and was closed. However, the people of the parish wanted their church to open again. Under the direction of architect Paul Straka, each of the 650 plaster coffers was rehung with wire, the church was renovated, and eventually reopened for the 75th anniversary of the parish.
Today, the life of the Corpus Christi parish centers around its liturgical celebrations which are prepared by a liturgy committee. The parish also sponsors bible study, discussion groups, pre-sacrament instruction classes for children and parents, and a nine-month Catechumenate program. The Christian life is lived through involvement in the social needs of the community, parishioners distribute food and clothing to the needy, participate in programs for better housing, and work for police reform programs.
After serving the Grand Boulevard community for more than a century, the fate of this distinguished building is uncertain. The Archdiocese has determined that Corpus Christi will be consolidated with four other parishes, and that one of those parishes will be the main worship site. The beautiful structure, much like other former churches, may be in danger of demolition, which would result in the loss of a historic building and an important center of support for the local community.
It should continue to serve this traditionally disinvested community as an anchor and a much-needed resource and social services center. Preservation Chicago encourages the Archdiocese and Corpus Christi to repurpose the church in partnership with community representatives, nearby institutions, elected officials and the City of Chicago. Such an impressive space with auditorium seating could provide a much-needed gathering and meeting space for concerts, lectures and other events as well as a center for social services.
We also encourage this remarkable building to be considered for official Chicago Landmark designation as the building would clearly meet the criteria for designation and would fulfill long-standing conversations in the community and with public officials for such a designation.
St. Matthias Catholic Church (to be consolidated)
Architect: Hermann J. Gaul, 1915-16
2310 W. Ainslie Street
Lincoln Square, Ward 40, Community Area 03 Uptown
CHRS: Not Listed
St. Matthias Catholic Church was organized on August 1, 1887 by the Rev. Matthias Erz to serve German Catholics who lived in Bowmanville, a farming community in the Town of Lakeview. This is now the Lincoln Square neighborhood on the North Side of Chicago.
Father Erz oversaw the construction of a frame church and school building on Ainslie Street which continued to serve an exclusively German parish for decades. Following Father Erz’s death in 1899, the Rev. Christian A. Danz was named pastor of St. Matthias. Rev. Danz was also involved with the organization of St. Benedict parish at Irving Park Boulevard and Leavitt Street. After Father Danz stepped down as pastor of St. Matthias, he was replaced by Rev. Francis Sixt who went on to build a new rectory at 2306 W. Ainslie Street.
Father Sixt died in 1910, and was replaced by Rev. Dennis M. Thiele. During Father Thiele’s long tenure, the majority of what is presently the St. Matthias complex was built with the cornerstone of the church at the corner of Ainslie Street and Claremont Avenue being laid on May 2, 1915. Designed by well-known German architect Hermann J. Gaul, with its impressive red brick Romanesque edifice, St. Matthias held its first mass on Christmas Day 1915 and was dedicated by Archbishop George W. Mundelein on May 28th 1916.
For the past 105 years, Sunday Masses have been celebrated at St. Matthias. Tens of thousands of Catholics in the Lincoln Square neighborhood have received the sacraments there, and over 100 graduating classes of St. Matthias School have had their commencement ceremony in the grand cathedral. St. Matthias parish serves over 1,000 members today with the parish boundaries being Peterson Avenue to the north, Montrose Avenue to the south, the north branch of the Chicago River to the west and the Chicago and North Western railroad tracks at Ravenswood Avenue to the east.
In November 2019, as a part of the Archdiocese’s “Renew My Church” program, plans to close St. Matthias were announced. St. Matthias was selected for consolidation with Queen of Angels at 2330 W. Sunnyside Avenue in Ravenswood and closure because of a $4.6 million debt that had accrued and a shrinking number of parishioners. Parishioners of St. Matthias have filed a lawsuit within the Church’s legal system stating that they were originally told that St. Matthias would remain open for worship after the consolidation and that the decision to close the church and leave the school open violates the Church’s order for due process. A modest request to delay the consolidation and closing of St. Matthias was presented to the Chicago Archdiocese but was denied by Archbishop Cupich stating that “hierarchical recourse against my decision is sufficient reason to refuse the postponement being sought.”
A nonprofit seeking to keep St. Matthias open was formed, and petition efforts began to keep the church open for Sunday services. More than 3,700 signatures have been collected, and yard signs posted with the message “Keep St. Matthias Church Open” can be seen throughout the Lincoln Square neighborhood. Only contributing to the sting of closing St. Matthias is the $350,000 that was raised by parishioners for necessary renovations and restorations prior to the announcement that St. Matthias would be closing. As far as the “pending canonical litigation,” it could take years to resolve and requires a specialist attorney based out of Rome so it is difficult to assess whether or not this will impact the decision to close St. Matthias Catholic Church.
Preservation Chicago advocates that all Roman Catholic Churches being slated for consolidation and closure remain available to the community for worship. If this is not possible, eligible buildings should be Landmarked before being sold. This would ensure that the historic integrity and the building’s ties to the neighborhood would be protected. Many of the churches being closed by the Archdiocese will be sold to developers looking to build luxury housing. These sacred places were built by the communities that supported them for those communities, and they should be preserved and sustainably reused — ideally for a greater community purpose.
St. Ignatius Church
Architect: Henry Schlacks, 1917
6559 N. Glenwood Avenue
Rogers Park, Ward 49, Community Area 77
CHRS Rating: None
St. Ignatius is located in Rogers Park on the North Side of Chicago. The church, one of the surviving classical gems of Chicago churches, was designed by Henry Schlacks. He is considered by many to be one of the finest of Chicago church architects.
St. Ignatius Church is named after the soldier-saint, founded by the Society of Jesus in the Sixteenth century. Henry Schlacks patterned the church after the Gesù, the mother church of the Jesuit order in Rome. The church is constructed of Bedford stone with a tile roof. A six -tory bell tower stands at the southeast corner of the building. Six columns, each 30-feet high, weighing 13 tons and carved from a single block of stone, support the portico of the church. The classic motif is continued inside where classical columns support the canopy of the baldacchino, are embedded in the walls around the church, and are found in the dome above the altar.
The golden canopy of the baldacchino is modeled after Bernini’s canopy in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Above one of the side altars stands a painting of St. Joseph. The image of St. Joseph with the Christ child in this painting known as “The Light of the World” has been called the most popular religious painting in the world. Four large stained-glass windows on each side of the nave and two huge windows in the transepts help illuminate the interior of the church. St. Ignatius is honored in a series of 10 oil paintings by the Chicago artist Augustine Pall. These paintings are affixed to the ceiling above each of the stained-glass windows.
St. Ignatius Parish was founded in 1907 by the Jesuits and initially was served by a small church. In the early 20th century, the “L” train’s route was expanded from Wilson Avenue to Howard Street which led to a great population boom in the neighborhood. St. Ignatius Parish rapidly outgrew its small original church. In 1915, parishioners voted to build a new, bigger church which was formally dedicated on September 16, 1917.
Throughout the 1920s and 1930s numerous social, sports and entertainment organizations were formed to meet the needs of parishioners. Philanthropy also played a part, with the St. Vincent de Paul Society distributing food, clothes and money to needy Rogers Park community members.
After World War II, St. Ignatius focused on family-oriented activities and education. Sports, theater, youth, and family activities flourished.
The period from the 1960s to the 1980s was a time of great change for the parish. Hispanic parishioners began attending St. Ignatius in significant numbers in the 1960s. A Liturgy Committee, Parish Council and lay ministers began to serve the parish. In the early 1970s, Ignatian Services was founded to provide a wide variety of social services.
In 1994, St. Ignatius Grammar School was consolidated into the Northside Catholic Academy (NCA). Despite the school consolidation, parishioners remained dedicated to the parish and its ministries. The parish expanded programs for youth and teens with the hiring of a youth minister, instituting a children’s liturgy of the word on Sundays, and forming the children’s choir.
In the late 1990s the Jesuits determined they were no longer able to staff the parish. The Archdiocese officially took over in 2000 and two permanent deacons were ordained. In addition, many areas of the church were renovated with the proceeds of several fundraising initiatives.
Today, St. Ignatius is home to over 700 registered families. It is a diverse and multicultural worship environment and community that continues to follow the traditions set forth by its founders with emphasis placed on fellowship, service and charity, as well as support of cultural and educational endeavors.
After serving the Rogers Park community for more than a century, the fate of this distinguished building is uncertain. The Archdiocese has determined that St. Ignatius will cease to be a parish in 2021. Although St. Ignatius has been directed to engage with the Loyola University and the local Jesuit community regarding their interest in developing an outreach center at the St. Ignatius campus, the church will continue to explore all other options to reduce facility operations and capital expenses.
This beautiful structure, much like many other older churches, may be in danger of demolition, which would result in the loss of a historic building and an opportunity for it to continue to serve the community as an anchor and a much-needed resource and cultural center.
Recommendations Preservation Chicago encourages the Archdiocese and St. Ignatius to pursue their discussions with Loyola University and the local Jesuit community to repurpose the church campus and to explore other opportunities to preserve the church in partnership with community representatives, nearby institutions, elected officials and the City of Chicago. Such a universal space with auditorium seating could provide a much-needed space for concerts, lectures and other events, as well as a center for various social and community activities.
We also encourage this remarkable building to be considered for official Chicago Landmark designation as the building clearly meets the criteria for such a designation and would fulfill long-standing conversations in the community and with public officials.
St. Roman Church (closed 2020)
Architect: John F. Schrambeck & Sons/ Sandel & Strong, 1929-30
2311 S. Washtenaw Avenue, Marshall Square, Community Area 30, 24th Ward
CHRS status: not listed
St. Roman Church came into existence to serve a burgeoning Catholic population in Marshall Square just before the Great Depression. St. Roman was established in 1928 to relieve overcrowding at the Polish parish of St. Casimir at Cermak Road and Whipple Street. In September 1928, the first Mass was held in the parish hall of St. Casimir. Marshall Square was so densely populated a neighborhood that not a single tract of vacant land was available for the new parish. Eleven properties at the southeast corner of 23rd Street and Washtenaw Avenue were purchased, and the homes were temporarily rented. The income from the rentals and donations of the early parishioners was supplemented by a gift of $40,000 from the pastor of St. Casimir.
This allowed work to begin on a new combination church and school building by John F.
Schrambeck & Sons in April 1929. The cornerstone for the building was laid in June and the parish school opened in September. Shortly after work on the church began, the stock market crashed on October 29, 1929. Yet St. Roman Church was completed according to plans by the architectural firm of Sandel & Strong, and was dedicated in October 1930 by Auxiliary Bishop Bernard J. Sheil.
The completed church, with a seating capacity of 700, featured a prominent three-tiered bell tower on the corner of 23rd and Washtenaw. Its interior design reflected the Polish heritage of its original parishioners. The entire L-shaped building also contained 16 classrooms and an assembly hall.
Just five years after the church was built, St. Roman parish had a membership of 900 families and a school enrollment of 900 students. By 1950, parish membership had increased to 1,650 families. With continued growth and hard work, St. Roman was clear of debt by 1951. Subsequently, a modern three-story convent was built.
From its thoroughly Polish roots, with population changes during the 1950s, St. Roman
became home to a diverse congregation, termed “a veritable ‘League of Nations’”. The following decade, St. Roman became trilingual in character, with a large influx of Spanish-speaking families joining the Polish- and English-speaking parishioners. Beginning in 1968, Spanish language Masses were offered to accommodate the needs of the new parishioners.
Despite some initial difficulties, the multicultural nature of the parish became a source of unity and stability in the neighborhood. Membership of parish organizations increasingly began to reflect the Spanish-speaking population, and services were offered to those who were undocumented. By its 50th anniversary, St. Roman’s membership was majority Hispanic. The heritage of St. Roman Church is one of beating the odds: built in the first year of the Great Depression in an overcrowded immigrant neighborhood where no land was available, its diversity became a sign of hope and stability. Its history is one of service to multicultural populations at a location near the major commercial area of Little Village. However, in 2020, the Chicago Archdiocese consolidated St. Roman and Assumption parishes into Our Lady of Tepeyac. The Archdiocese then closed St. Roman Church.