Which church do you like best?

Have you ever thought about why the church in your neighborhood looks the way it does, or why it was built in that specific spot?

For centuries, houses of worship have been a crucial anchor in their communities, binding people together in shared ceremonies and rites. For the purpose of this post, I’m interested in two aspects of the physical form of Roman Catholic churches in Chicago. The first is how some of them were located within the city, and the second is the prevalence of one particular architect.

In the late nineteenth century, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese began creating “national” parishes to serve immigrant communities.
This (very blurry) map from the Encyclopedia of Chicago shows the location of some of these parishes:


By 1926, the predominantly Irish parish of St. Bridget’s (#34) in Bridgeport had been joined by numerous ethnic parishes created to serve specific immigrant communities.

These included Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary (#97, German), St. Mary of Perpetual Help (#141, Polish), St. Barbara’s (#24, Polish), and St. George (#73, Lithuanian). While many of the descendants of the members of these ethnic communities have moved elsewhere, it’s useful to know how these parishes played a role in the development of neighborhood identities, and in the evolution of those neighborhoods today.

After Cardinal George Mundelein came to Chicago in 1916, he discouraged the proliferation of national parishes. He wanted to help the Church and its members to assimilate to his perception of the cultural mainstream. In contrast to the earlier philosophy of reinforcing ethnic enclaves, the Cardinal repeatedly chose to work with an architect who was able to produce religious buildings in a variety of styles.

According to the AIA Guide to Chicago, Joseph W. McCarthy became the Cardinal’s “favorite architect” because he was able to do that. McCarthy produced at least 28 churches and other religious buildings for the archdiocese between 1901 and the late 1930’s, scattered from West 80th Street on the south to Mundelein College at 6363 N. Sheridan Road on the north. These ranged from at least three Classical Revival designs to at least four Gothic Revival buildings and one Art Deco school. I haven’t yet been able to find appropriate photos to include here; I’d love to go out and photograph them all.

I’d like to figure out how many people would be interested in exploring this topic as a Jane’s Walk event. It could be organized a few different ways: a tour of McCarthy’s ecclesiastical buildings on the south side; a tour of his buildings on the north side; a presentation in an auditorium, that would provide a survey of all his buildings; or a presentation on certain stylistic themes (Classical Revival vs. Gothic Revival). Or maybe there’s something I haven’t thought of yet? Do tell.

3 thoughts on “Which church do you like best?

  1. I prefer the general presentation on all the styles. This would be great to host atLpooyola University which showcases a wonderful art deco “Madonna Del Strada”.Then break it into two actual tour groups–a south side and a north side group.

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