St. Mary of the Angels in Chicago

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St. Mary of the Angels in Chicago

Saint Mary of the Angels (Polish: Kościół Matki Boskiej Anielskiej) - historic church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago in Chicago, Illinois.

Located at 1850 North Hermitage Avenue in Chicago's Bucktown neighborhood, it is an example of the so-called 'Polish Cathedral style' of churches. Along with St. Stanislaus Kostka, St. Hyacinth Basilica, St. Hedwig, St. Wenceslaus, and Holy Trinity it is one of the monumental Polish churches visible from the Kennedy Expressway.


Like a number of other Polish churches in the so-called Polish Cathedral style such as St. Josaphat's Basilica in Milwaukee or Immaculate Heart of Mary in Pittsburgh, the architectural firm of Worthmann and Steinbach modeled the church's design on St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. It has been acclaimed as one of the finest specimens of Roman Renaissance architecture in the United States. The imposing brick edifice with its twin bell towers and magnificent dome was constructed at a cost of $400,000-a testament to the zeal of Father Gordon and to the generosity of the members of St. Mary of the Angels parish.

In 1948, John A. Mallin decorated the interior of the church with ornate designs and paintings. The W. W. Kimball pipe organ was installed at a cost of $23,750. Its four manuals and 57 ranks equipped with theater stops make it practically one of its kind in the Archdiocese of Chicago. The cost of overhauling this organ in 1962 amounted to $15,000.

In 1973, extensive repairs were made on the exterior of the dome of St. Mary of the Angels Church and the Holy Name Society donated the blue "Guiding Light" in the cupola which can be seen at a distance-especially from the nearby Kennedy Expressway.


Beginnings and the building of the parish plant

St. Mary of the Angels Church was organized in 1899 by Rev. Vincent Barzynski, CR, pastor of St. Stanislaus Kostka Church, the oldest Polish parish in Chicago.

The parish was founded to serve the large number of Poles who had settled in Bucktown, which was a part of Chicago's Polish Downtown. Two city blocks totaling 96 lots at the corner of Hermitage and Cortland (formerly Clybourn Place) were purchased for $60,000. One block was subdivided for residences while the other became the site of the parish. The first pastor, Rev. Francis Gordon laid the cornerstone of the first building of what has become the school on July 2, 1899. The cornerstone of the first parish building at 1810 N. Hermitage Ave. was laid on July 2, 1899. The three story brick building was designed in the Renaissance style by Henry J. Schlacks and completed at the cost of $65,000. The basement contained meeting rooms, a gymnasium, and an auditorium. Twelve classrooms and convent quarters were constructed on the main floor; the church was located on the second floor; and living quarters for the priests were constructed in the attic. The dedication ceremony was led by the Archbishop and was witnessed by a crowd of 20,000 including the mayor, Carter Harrison Jr.

On February 15, 1900 four Sisters of the Congregation of the Resurrection opened St. Mary of the Angels School with an enrollment of 425 students. In 1905, the new building at 1849 N. Hermitage became the home of the novitiate for the sisters order. In 1909, Fr. Gordon began planning a new church building at the corner of Hermitage and Cortland. Although work commenced on Sept. 28, 1911, the cornerstone of the church was not laid until Aug. 2, 1914. Due to the numerous delays caused by strikes, World War I, and the critical shortage of building materials, construction continued over a period of eight years and eight months. In the meantime, the present rectory at 1825 N. Wood St. was completed in July 1912.

According to The New World of Sept. 21, 1912, St. Mary of the Angels parish had "grown so rapidly that it is now one of the largest parishes in the Archdiocese" with a membership of approximately 1,200 families. In nearby Annunciation parish membership continued to decline as Irish families moved away from the neighborhood. Once a flourishing Irish parish, by 1916 Annunciation parish numbered only 150 families.

In 1915, the novitiate of the Sisters of the Resurrection was transferred to Norwood Park and plans were made to open a Day Nursery for children in the building at 1849 N. Hermitage Ave. Beginning on Feb. 21, 1917, children of working mothers were cared for by the Sisters of the Resurrection.

Finally, on May 30, 1920, St. Mary of the Angels was dedicated by Archbishop George Mundelein. Like a number of other Polish churches in the so-called Polish Cathedral style such as St. Josaphat's Basilica in Milwaukee or Immaculate Heart of Mary in Pittsburgh, the architectural firm of Worthmann and Steinbach modeled the church's design on St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.

In 1899, only one parish committee and three societies were in existence. During the 1920s, a parish committee, two building and loan associations, 28 confraternities, sodalities, fraternal societies, and clubs were active in St. Mary of the Angels parish.

In 1925, 1,099 students were enrolled in the parish school under the direction of 22 Sisters of the Resurrection. The parish also supported a Day Nursery and a Home for Working Girls.

From 1918 to 1924, Father Gordon served as regional superior of the Resurrectionists in the United States. In recognition of his many accomplishments on behalf of Polish Catholics in Chicago, he was awarded a papal medal in 1924.

Father Gordon continued to serve the people of St. Mary of the Angels parish until his death on Feb. 13, 1931. When a branch of Weber high school was reorganized in September 1952 in quarters at Division St. and Haddon Ave. it was named Gordon Tech in honor of the first pastor of St. Mary of the Angels parish.

From March to October 1931, Rev. Leonard Long, CR served as pastor. He was succeeded by Rev. Thaddeus Ligman, CR, who remained as pastor for one year.

In 1932, Rev. Edward Brzezinski, CR began a long pastorate at St. Mary of the Angels parish. Not only had he grown up in the parish, but he had served as an assistant for three years. Under Father Brzezinski's leadership, the $250,000 parish debt was liquidated.

Over the years, additions, alterations, and improvements have been made in the parish complex. In the 1930s, the auditorium became known as the "Polish Aragon," in reference to the popular (and still existing) Aragon Ballroom in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago. It was a popular meeting place for the young people of the neighborhood and they turned out by the hundreds to attend the weekly dances sponsored by St. Mary of the Angels parish.

Rev. John Grabowski, CR succeeded Father Brzezinski as pastor in 1951. He directed the construction of the present convent building at 1800 N. Hermitage Ave. Completed at a cost of $450,000, it was dedicated by Cardinal Samuel Stritch on Aug. 16, 1953.

In 1954, Rev. Chester Brzegowy, CR was named pastor. He was succeeded in 1957 by Rev. Anthony Rybarczyk, CR.

Decline and renewal

When it was founded, St. Mary of the Angels parish numbered about 300 families. During the peak years of the 1920s, more than 1,600 families belonged to the parish with nearly 1,200 children enrolled in the parish school. The construction of the Kennedy Expressway had a significant impact on the parish. Many homes in the neighborhood were razed to make way for this highway, which cut through the heart of Chicago Polonia. On Nov. 5, 1960, the segment of the expressway which extends from Lake St. to Foster Ave. was opened to traffic. Due to a loss of a sizable number of families, the school enrollment was diminished by one third.

Rev. Joseph Polinski, CR served as pastor from 1963 until 1967, when Rev. Stanley Majkut, CR was appointed pastor.

On Mar. 13, 1974, Rev. Edward Karlowicz, CR was appointed pastor. He grew up in nearby St. Stanislaus Kostka parish and was ordained in 1948. From 1954 to 1960, Father Karlowicz served as principal of Weber high school.

In preparation for the diamond jubilee of the founding of St. Mary of the Angels parish, the church was renovated. Auxiliary Bishop Alfred Leo Abramowicz presided at the special jubilee Mass on Oct. 13, 1974. A parish dinner on Dec. 8, 1974 at the House of the White Eagle concluded the diamond jubilee festivities. Since the organization of this parish, 20 young men have been ordained, nine of them as Resurrectionists. Of the 36 young women from the parish who entered religious orders, 27 joined the Sisters of the Congregation of the Resurrection.

In 1975, a Parish Council was organized. With the approval and cooperation of Father Karlowicz, a Concerned Citizens Group-composed mainly of St. Mary of the Angels parishioners sponsors meetings and talks for the benefit and welfare of all in the neighborhood.

In 1978, diocesan authorities announced that the territorial parish of Annunciation would be consolidated. Spanish families who had belonged to the parish were invited to join St. Mary of the Angels Church, St. Stanislaus Kostka Church, St. Hedwig Church, or St. Aloysius Church-all of which had Spanish speaking parishioners. Following the last Mass in Annunciation Church on June 25, 1978, the parish records were transferred to St. Mary of the Angels rectory, 1825 N. Wood St.

The church was closed and slated for demolition in 1988 due to unsafe conditions. Citizens and historians rallied to save the historic structure but feared the cause was already lost.

Three years later in 1991, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, then Archbishop of Chicago, entrusted the administration of the parish and school to the priests of Opus Dei. The Rev. John Twist was the first Pastor under this new administration, followed by the Rev. Hilary Mahaney. It was then that the parish began to see new parishioners and grow once again. Several restoration campaigns were launched by the parish and through various private donations the church structure was brought to life once again with major repairs of the dome, the roofs and the stained-glass windows. Repairs continued in 1997 with the church interior. At the 100th anniversary of the Parish, the church's interior decoration had been fully restored, new lighting, new doors and a new sound system have been installed. The 26 roof angels, fully rebuilt, are all present and accounted for, gleaming cheerfully from Saint Mary's roof tops. A chapel dedicated to St. Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer, the Founder of Opus Dei, was built in 2002 in newly remodeled lower level.

St. Mary of the Angels today

Located in the heart of Bucktown and open from dawn to dusk, seven days a week, Sunday Masses are celebrated in English, Polish and Spanish. Every week, hundreds of persons come here to receive the sacrament of Penance. On Thursdays, the Blessed Sacrament is exposed for adoration throughout the day. The parish school, the Religious Education Program, the classes of Christian Formation and other activities for adults, bring the message of the Gospel to a growing number of believers every year.

The parish is staffed by priests of the Prelature of Opus Dei. Founded in 1928 by Saint Josemaria Escriva, Opus Dei helps people seek personal sanctity in and through the ordinary circumstances of their lives.

In 2002 the parish opened the St. Josemaria Chapel in the lower level of the church. This chapel features a mural to St. Josemaria and hosts daily masses and Eucharistic Adoration.

The area around the church is often referred to as 'Marianowo' by Poles. In recent years, the ethnic character of St. Mary of the Angels parish has undergone a gradual change from an exclusively Polish parish to one that is multicultural and multiracial, as the neighborhood first witnessed an influx of Hispanic immigrants and then Yuppies as the area has begun to gentrify.

Mass Schedule:

Sundays English: 8:00 a.m. 11:00 a.m. 7:15 p.m. Polish: 9:30 a.m. Spanish: 12:30 p.m.

Saturdays English: 8:00 a.m.* 5:00 p.m. (Mass of Anticipation)

Weekdays English: 7:00 a.m.* 5:30 p.m.*

(*in St. Josemaría Chapel located in lower level)

Church in architecture books

  • Howe, Jeffery (2003). Houses of Worship: An Identification Guide to the History and Styles of American religious Architecture. Thunder Bay Press. 
  • McNamara, Denis R. (2005). Heavenly City: The Architectural Tradition of Catholic Chicago. Liturgy Training Publications. 
  • Johnson, Elizabeth (1999). Chicago Churches: A Photographic Essay. Uppercase Books Inc. 
  • Lane, George A. (1982). Chicago Churches and Synagogues: An Architectural Pilgrimage. Loyola Press. 
  • Kantowicz, Edward R. (2007). The Archdiocese of Chicago: A Journey of Faith. Booklink. 
  • Kociolek, Jacek (2002) (in pl). Kościoły Polskie w Chicago {Polish Churches of Chicago}. Ex Libris. 

St. Mary of the Angels also appears in The Dresden Files urban fantasy series.


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