Holy Family Church, Chicago
by: chicago designslinger
[Holy Family Church (1857-1878) Dillenberg & Zucker, John M. Van Osdel, and John P. Huber, architects; (1990-on) John Vinci, supervising restoration architect /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
In March, 1857 the United States Supreme Court by a vote of 7 to 2 declared that African Americans, both free and slave, had no legal rights in the United States since they were not, and could never be, citizens of the United States. The justices also invalidated the 1820 Missouri Compromise saying that Congress had no authority to stop the spread of slavery into the territories. In June of that year Springfield, IL. lawyer Abraham Lincoln made a speech outlining point by point where the Court had erred in their "reasoning," kick-starting his march to the White House. That same year the last remaining sections of Chicago's old Fort Dearborn complex were demolished, where it had stood, in one form or another, since 1803. On April 20, 1857 Mary Shays sold 25 lots to Mr. John Drayts who in turn held the mortgage on the property acquired by the city's Roman Catholic bishop, and construction began on a church 3 miles southwest of the Fort in what had been open prairie just a decade before, but was swiftly filling-up with houses and the people who live in them.
[Holy Family Church, 1080 W. Roosevelt Road, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
When the Bishop of Chicago sent out a call for a Jesuit to come to Chicago and establish a presence in the city, Father Arnold Damen of St. Louis answered. Damen was offered the pastorship of the already up-and-running Holy Name congregation located on the city's north side, but decided to establish his own parish on the south side. So the archdiocese turned over their recently acquired plot of land on 12th Street (Today's Roosevelt Road) near the diagonal run of Hoosier Street (Blue Island) to the Jesuits. Irish immigrants were moving into the area to work in the city's expanding industrial belt along the south branch of the river, and the old neighborhood clustered around St. Patrick's Church at Des Plaines and Adams street was quite a walk - or even a long horse ride if you were lucky enough to have one - from the area around 12th and Hoosier. Damen collected parishioner's pennies, nickels and dimes, and raised enough money to begin construction on Holy Family Church in August, 1857.
[Holy Family Church, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
The growth of the Irish immigrant community and the spread of the "Roman" religion made a certain segment of the city uncomfortable. Joseph Medill the publisher and owner of the Chicago Tribune, an ardent anti-slavery abolitionist and rabid anti-Catholic, added a few buzz words to signal his true feelings about the growth of papism in Chicago on June 27, 1859 in an article titled, The Progress of Romanism. "In order to acquaint our readers with the operations of the Catholic propaganda in this city, we now present the doings of that of the Holy Family under control of the Jesuits." Yet when the church opened for business on a hot summer day in 1860, the paper covered the story without mentioning the spread of papist "propaganda" under anyones "control."
[Holy Family Church /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
As the congregation grew in size, so did the building itself. Transepts were added creating a cross in the plan, the front was pushed out 40 feet closer to the street, and by the mid-1870s the tower finally grew to its finished size. Chicago's first official architect John Van Osdel had been involved in the project from its inception in 1857, along with a pair of designers named Dillenberg & Zucker. But it was architect John Huber who put the final touches on the tower - which became the tallest structure in the city when it was completed. The building missed-out on the fire eating flames of the 1871 inferno - which had started just a few blocks to the east - but barley survived into the 21st century. By 1984, a congregation that had once number in the tens of thousands, had dwindled to a few hundred. The fate of the immense structure was still in the hands of the Jesuits who decided that the $1 million it would take to make the building safe and habitable was too high a price tag and were talking demolition. As word spread that the massive structure was going to become landfill fodder, a committed group of volunteers was able to raise money to not only save the building but undertake an extensive restoration project - which continues to this day.