St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral
by: chicago designslinger
[St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral (1915) Worthmann & Steinbach, architects /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
Around a thousand years years ago Vladimir, the Prince of Kiev worked to consolidate the Kievan Rus territories. He then decided to leave paganism behind and join-up with with the with a sect of Christians based in Constantinople. He could have chosen to go with the nearby Ottoman Muslims but apparently he wasn't a fan of their prohibition against the consumption of alcohol. Since there was no such prohibition on the Constantinople side of things he became a member of the Eastern Greek Orthodox branch of the followers of Christ. The Eastern church was tied by history and circumstance to the western-based Roman Catholic Church and under the rule of the Roman Pope, but Constantinople was far from the ancient Italian capital and the Eastern Rite bore little resemblance to their brethren in Rome. In the year 1054 the two branches split apart, and for the next 500 years the people of the Rus territory known as the Ukraine followed the Christian gospel under the authority of the Patriarch of Constantinople.
[St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral, 835 N. Oakley Blvd., Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
In 1595 however seven bishops in and around Kiev decided they wanted to be brought back into the papal fold but they weren't willing to give up their Eastern traditions and go totally Roman. Apparently that didn't bother the Bishop of Rome, aka the Pope, and he said come along, keep your traditions, and we'll worship in communion, with me at the top of the patriarchal heap. The bishops said okay and the Ukrainian Catholic Church was born, maintaining their Slavonic language and keeping their icons draped in layers of incense. Jump another 500 years and a wave of Ukrainian immigrants begin their migration to Chicago, establish an enclave in and around Chicago Avenue and Noble Street, and hunt for a Catholic Church to go to.
[St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral, Ukrainian Village Historic District, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
The Roman Catholics in Chicago didn't exactly welcome their Eastern Rusyns brothers with open arms. A big sticking point - in Chicago and beyond - was the fact that the Eastern clergy were not celibate like their Western brothers. Plus their style of worship made a lot of the other immigrant Catholics in the city uncomfortable. By 1905 a group of Ruthenian Slavic worshippers decided they'd had enough and formed their own parish. In 1913 they purchased 20 contiguous vacant lots along Rice Street just north of Chicago Avenue running from Leavitt to Oakley Boulevard, and began to undertake the building of a church. They hired the architectural firm of Worthmann & Steinbach who had been cranking-out churches all around the neighborhood, from German-speaking Lutherans to Polish-speaking Catholics.
[St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
The architects topped the building with 13 domes, one for each of the 12 apostles and one for their leader, and chose the chose the bulbous-shaped onion dome, a familiar site across the Orthodox landscape of the Ukraine and Russia. The building was massive and cost an astonishing $175,000 to complete, and St. Nicholas church became the focal point of an ever growing Ukrainian immigrant population. By the late 1950s, there were enough Ukrainian Catholics living in the United States that St. Nicholas became a cathedral and the seat of a bishop whose eparchy stretched from the western border of Ohio all the way to Hawaii. Ukrainians continued migrating into the neighborhood in a steady stream, especially under a succession of repressive Soviet Union regimes, well into the 1980s. In 1977 the congregation completed a 5-year renovation and restoration of their then 70-year-old structure. And although the flood of new arrivals has slowed somewhat, the church continues to thrive and remains a focal point for Ukrainian Catholics from Chicago to Honolulu.