Sunday, February 22, 2015

Assumption Catholic Church, Chicago
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Assumption Catholic Church, Chicago (1886) Giuseppe Beretta, architect /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The subtitle of this post might read, "The little church that could." Built in 1886, Assumption Italian Roman Catholic Church survived as a parish without parishioners because of a determined pastor and a steady stream of faithful worshipers.

  [Assumption Catholic Church, Chicago, 321 W. Illinois Street, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The church and parish got off the ground in 1880 when a Servile priest Sosteneus Moretti purchased a plot of land on Illinois street, just north and east of the Chicago River. Back then the area was a mix of working class residential housing with some commercial and industrial properties thrown in, especially close to the river's edge. Moretti wanted to build a church that would serve Chicago's growing Italian community and have the non-Latin portions of the Roman Catholic mass said in Italian. At the time many, if not most Catholic churches conducted services in their local immigrant community's native tongue, but nothing existed for native Italian speakers. If there was such a thing. The country we know today as Italy didn't even exist until the 1860s, and many "Italian" immigrant identities were defined by the region they came from, not by their country. Plus, regional dialects could be so different that one "Italian" might not understand what their fellow countryman was saying. Moretti looked past all these dissimilarities and was able to unite the disperse local community around the similarity of their shared Italian culture, and jump-start his church.

  [Assumption Catholic Church, Chicago, River North, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Money was raised, and in 1881 a foundation and basement was dug, a roof put over it, and services began. The parish thrived, and in 1886, architect Giuseppe Beretta's church building, with its prominent bell tower, rose up over the neighborhood. For the next 10 years, if you wanted to attend a Catholic mass where the priest said the homily in Italian, this was the place to come to. But with the establishment of other Italian-based parishes, and a neighborhood that became almost exclusively commercial and industrial, Assumption needed to look for worshipers who might not necessarily be parishioners to keep the ball rolling.
In 1938, Father Thomas Ferrazzi was made pastor of the struggling church and he came up with an idea to help insure Assumption's survival. Market yourself to the thousands of workers who flooded into the neighborhood every day to labor in the nearby factories. It worked for a while, but by 1954 the jig was up. Assumption now found itself worshipper challenged as manufacturers left the city for the suburbs, and then  discovered that the church had been included in a master plan calling for the demolition of the building and the surrounding block, to make way for the $400 million Fort Dearborn development. Father Ferrazzi started Friends of Assumption and began a campaign to raise money to save the church.
Needless to say, it worked. And by 1973, Pastor Ferrazzi was able to once again make his claim that this was a church without a parish, but overflowing with worshippers. Today the bell tower, once the tallest structure in the area, is hard to find among the high-rises of the now chic, River North neighborhood. And with all the loft conversions and the construction of muilt-story apartment buildings nearby, a new group of residents - and parishoners.

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