Monday, February 23, 2015

Have you ever noticed...

...this church when driving into Chicago on the Kennedy Expressway? It's Saint Mary of the Angels, on North Hermitage Avenue in Bucktown. I walked past it yesterday and plan on attending a Mass there soon. (I haven't decided if it will be in English, Polish or Spanish.)

St. Mary's is just one of a number of churches in the Polish Cathedral style visible from the Kennedy. The parish was founded in 1899 and the present structure was completed in 1920 at a cost of $400,000. Its first pastor was a Rev. Francis Gordon who served until his death in 1931.

(If that name sounds familiar, it's because Gordon Tech was named after him when it opened in 1952.)

During the peak years of the 1920s, more than 1,600 families belonged to St. Mary's with nearly 1,200 children enrolled in the parish school. Like St. John Cantius to the southeast, construction of the Kennedy Expressway significantly impacted the parish. Many homes in the neighborhood were razed to make way for the highway, which cut through the heart of Chicago Polonia. By the time the segment of the expressway which extends from Lake Street to Foster Avenue opened to traffic on November 5, 1960, the parish had lost a sizable number of families and school enrollment had declined by one-third.

The church was closed and slated for demolition in 1988 due to unsafe conditions. Three years later, in 1991, the parish was turned over to the priests of Opus Dei, who fully restored the church -- including 26 rooftop angels! -- in time for its 100th anniversary in 1999.

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