St. Procopius Church, Chicago
by: chicago designslinger
[St. Procopius Church, Chicago (1883) Julius H. Huber, architect /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
In the early 1880s architect Julius H. Huber was asked by a group of parishioners in Chicago's Bohemian enclave to design a church. The residential community, known as Pilsen, had burst on to the scene after the big fire in 1871. Prior to that event, the plotted but sparsely residentially populated area was already home to the city's massive lumber industry and soon-to-be place of residence of the mega-sized McCormick Reaper Works. The neighborhood was hemmed-in by the south branch of the Chicago River and the rail lines of the Burlington and Northern Railroad, which helped to physically isolate the tight-knit ethnic enclave.
[St. Procopius Church, 1641 S. Allport Street, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
The Bohemian Czechs had settled in Chicago around the soon-to-be infamous neighborhood of Mrs. Catherine O'Leary and worshiped at St. Wencelaus Church at the corner of DeKoven and Des Plaines Streets, just down the street from the O'Leary's DeKoven Street cottage. After the fire, the Bohemian nationals settled-in around Halsted & 18th Streets where the former parishioners of St. Wencelaus purchased a group of vacant lots at the northeast corner of 18th and Allport Street and set about establishing a new parish. A congregation of Methodists were already worshipping in a small building down the block and were looking to build a more substantial edifice. So in 1875 the Bohemian Catholics purchased the one-story frame structure, moved it down 18th Street, and secured it to their corner property. As the West Slavic-speaking, immigrant population increased the time was right to ditch the old frame house of worship and get to work on building their own more substantial church.
[St Procopius Church, Pilsen National Historic District, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
Julius Huber came to the project with a bit of an architectural pedigree. His father was an architect and Julius had attended the Polytechnic Institute in Munich, at a time when most practicing architects had only been trained as apprentices in established offices. And he worked in his father's office for several years before going out on his own in 1880. The church was a big project for a young architect who had recently put his own name on the office door, but the parish's building committee liked what they saw in the designer and gave him the job. The exterior of the church was built with a low-cost common brick, but the dull brown clay was worked into a multitude of interesting undulating surfaces and topped with a steeple that towered over the neighborhood. Soon after the building was consecrated in 1883, St. Procopius would have over 10,000 Czech adherents attending weekly Sunday masses.
[St. Procopius Church, Pilsen, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
When an order of Benedictine monks took over the reigns of the parish in 1884, an abbey was established on the property, then a chapel, a school, and the home of the Benedictine Press. The Bohemian/Czechs were the dominant force in the parish and the community for the next 70 years, but by the time the Second World War ended and the 1950s rolled around, second and third generation Czech-Americans were moving on and out of the old neighborhood. They were followed by a primarily Mexican Spanish-speaking population, who numbered in the 100s in the early 50s, but numbered in the tens of thousands by the 1970s. And the Hispanic community embraced St. Procopius as fervently as the church's Bohemian Catholic founders had before them. The parish established a shrine to the Mexico's patron saint Our Lady Of Guadelupe, and in 1977 St. Procopius was one of the founding churches of the Via Crusis, or Way of the Cross procession which is held every year on the Roman Catholic Good Friday.