Friday, February 20, 2015

Notre Dame de Chicago
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Notre Dame de Chicago (1892) Gregory Vigeant, architect /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

You may have heard about Chicago's large Irish population, or that the city was once   home to the second largest Polish population outside of Warsaw, or home to one of the nation's largest African American populations and known as the Black Metropolis. But if you go way back, French-speaking people made up the largest percentage of the city's inhabitants, and Notre Dame de Chicago stands as a reminder of that far away time.

  [Notre Dame de Chicago, 1336 W. Flournoy Street, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The city's non-native founder Jean-Baptiste Pointe du Sable's language was French. He traded in furs and built a log cabin and settled in along a river bank near a lake in the 1780s. Other traders and enterprising businessmen followed, and while Jean-Baptiste soon moved on, many of his fellow Gallic-speaking comrades stayed on. It was this group of permanent settlers who founded the tiny hamlet's first Catholic church, with masses in Latin, and French. Soon Anglo-speaking pioneers began arriving, and as their numbers increased, they founded their own parish, sans French.  

 [Notre Dame de Chicago, National Register of Historic Places, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

By 1861 Chicago was a boom town. People were pouring in from around the country and the remaining French-as-a-first-language settlers decided to create a new parish just west of the old town center. They constructed a modest frame building, and christened their new home Notre Dame de Chicago. Twenty years later they were on the move again, not far, but closer to the city's dwindling Francophile population. First they constructed a school in 1887, then a parish house, and finally in 1892 a church. Designed by architect Gregory Vigeant, dedication blessings were given in French by Cardinal Taschereau of Quebec, Archbishop Fabre of Montreal, the church's pastor Rev. Father Achille Bergeron. Thrown in for good measure, Chicago's non-French speaking, Irish-surnamed archbishop Patrick Feehan, provided prayers in Latin.
By 1910, the majority of the neighborhood was made up of Irish and Italian immigrants   and Notre Dame stopped saying masses in French. Church membership didn't falter though and reached a peak of 15,000 in the mid-1930s. But, times changed as did the neighborhood and by the early 70s, the school was torn down to make way for a parking lot, and in 1977 the statue of Mary at the top of Vigeant's towering dome was struck by lighting causing a devastating fire. Parishioner's rallied and the church was restored, but only in name does it speak to its origins.

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