St. John Cantius in Chicago

St. John Cantius Church (Polish: Kościół Świętego Jana Kantego) is a historic church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago located in Chicago, Illinois.

It is a prime example of the so-called 'Polish Cathedral style' of churches in both its opulence and grand scale. Along with such monumental religious edifices as St. Mary of the Angels, St. Hedwig's or St. Wenceslaus, it is one of the many Polish churches that dominate over the Kennedy Expressway.


Founded in 1893 by the Congregation of the Resurrection to relieve overcrowding at St. Stanislaus Kostka, the city's first Polish parish. The parish retained its Polish character for years, but the building of the Kennedy Expressway which cut through the heart of Chicago's Polonia began a period of decline for the parish as many longtime residents were forced to relocate. The parish was slated for closure as Chicago's inner city neighborhoods declined further through the 1960s and 70s. A revival of the parish began in the late 1980s when the parish became the focus of a renaissance of Traditional Catholic rituals and devotions that had fallen out of favor after the Second Vatican Council, such as the Tridentine Mass in Latin as well as Vespers and Benediction, the Corpus Christi procession, the Stations of the Cross, Tenebrae services, and the St. Joseph and St. Anne Novenas. Today the parish has a rich program of sacred music supported by seven parish choirs. The parish is presently administered by the Canons Regular of Saint John Cantius, a religious community founded at the parish in 1998.

St. John Cantius church has witnessed a number of famous visitors within its walls. In March 1989, the parish hosted a visit by Tadeusz Mazowiecki, Prime Minister of the newly-democratic Poland, while in 1998, Józef Glemp, the Cardinal Primate of Poland came to celebrate a Mass of Thanksgiving and bless the church's new copper cupola.

Although the parish's school has closed, the building now houses the Chicago Academy for the Arts, often called the "Fame" school and compared with New York City's High School of Performing Arts.

St. John Cantius in literature and film

St. John Cantius church's majestic elegance has always drawn the attention of those who happened to pass by, making it an area landmark since its building over a hundred years ago. Authors and filmmakers have seen it natural to use the church both as a point marking familiarity as well as from the purely aesthetic pleasure of its beauty. Some of the more notable examples are:

St. John Cantius serves as the backdrop for Steffi Rostenkowski's great realization in Nelson Algren's work Never Come Morning where, night after night, she heard the iron rocking of the bells of Saint John Cantius. Each night they came nearer till the roar of The Loop was only a troubled whimper beneath the rocking of the bells. "Everyone lives in the same big room", she would tell herself, as they rocked. "But nobody's speakin' to anyone else, an' nobody got a key".

St. John Cantius has also been featured in two films that were both shot in the summer and fall of 1990. The first was a made-for-television movie, entitled Johnny Ryan. The second was a major Hollywood film entitled, Only the Lonely, directed by John Hughes and starring Maureen O'Hara and John Candy.


The Church building's design is by Adolphus Druiding. Work began on this grandiose structure in the spring of 1893 and was completed by 1898. The building has a façade of rusticated stone in the High Renaissance style which dictated the use of classical elements such as columns, capitals and arches. At the very top is a monumental pediment decorated with the coat of arms of Poland's failed January Uprising, under which is found the inscription "Boże Zbaw Polskę" (God Save Poland in Polish). Just below this on the entablature, is the Latin inscription "Ad maiorem Dei Gloriam", a text which proclaims that this building is for the Greater Glory of God, a Jesuit motto popular in many churches built around the turn of the century. Three Romanesque portals set in receding arches lead into the interior. Like St. Michael's, the entrance is flanked by two asymmetrical towers topped with copper cupolas, 200 feet (61 m) and 100 feet (30 m) in height, styled after St. Mary's Basilica in Kraków. The whole structure is 230 feet (70 m) long and 107 feet (33 m) wide and can easily accommodate 2,000 people.

The interior reflects the High Renaissance style of the exterior. Eight stone columns with Corinthian capitals support the vault. The present decoration is the result of several interior decorations within the first forty years of completion. The church's main altar, as well as its matching two side altars reputedly originate from the 1893 Columbian Exposition. In 1903 the interior was painted for the first time, and it was at this time that all the plaster and wood ornament were added and the church received the character it has today. The stained glass windows were made by Gawin Co. of Milwaukee, while the interior murals were painted by Lesiewicz around 1920. In addition to religious scenes, such as the Resurrection under the main altar, the artist decorated the side walls with paintings of Polish patron saints.

A new inlaid hardwood floor was installed in St. John Cantius Church in 1997 in a design by Jed Gibbons . Sixteen varieties of wood from around the world were used for the inlaid medallions. The floor is not only a beautiful contemporary work of sacred art but it is also designed as a teaching tool. The medallions inlaid into the main aisle tell the story of salvation: Star of David—Jesus was born as a Jew; Three Crowns—with the arrival of the Three Kings Jesus was made manifest to the world; Instruments of the Passion—Christ's suffering for our Salvation; Banner—the Resurrection; Star—Christ is the Light of the World. This floor, which is reputedly the only of its kind in the United States, has already won three national awards.

In 2003, work was completed on a replica of the Veit Stoss Altar. Carved by artist Michał Batkiewicz over an eight year period, this imposing one-third scale copy is the largest and most detailed of work of its kind, and was commissioned as a tribute to the Galician immigrants who founded the parish in 1893.

A permanent exhibit of sacred art, located in the church's north tower is open on Sundays, as well as on special request. The collection's centerpiece is an elaborate Neapolitan "praesepio" (Italian creche) from Rome. Among St. John Cantius's many other treasures are: a nineteenth century copy of the icon of Our Lady of Częstochowa adorned with jeweled crowns personally blessed by Pope John Paul II; a reproduction of the famous miraculous crucifix from Limpus, Portugal, a nineteenth-century Pietà from Bavaria, Germany as well as several hundred authenticated relics of saints.

St. John Cantius in architecture books

St. John Cantius is featured in a number of books on Chicago architecture, most notably The AIA Guide to Chicago by Alice Sinkevitch (Harvest Books 2004). St. John Cantius is found in a number of books on church architecture, among them Heavenly City: The Architectural Tradition of Catholic Chicago by Denis R. McNamara (Liturgy Training Publications 2005), Chicago Churches and Synagogues: An Architectural Pilgrimage by George A. Lane (Loyola Press 1982), Chicago Churches: A Photographic Essay by Elizabeth Johnson (Uppercase Books Inc, 1999), and The Archdiocese of Chicago: A Journey of Faith by Edward R. Kantowicz (Booklink 2007).


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