Chicago is home to a rich tapestry of architectural marvels, and among its most captivating treasures are its historical Catholic churches. These sacred structures stand as testaments to the city’s vibrant religious heritage and the immigrant communities that shaped its cultural fabric. Each church bears witness to a unique blend of architectural styles, reflecting the diverse origins of the faithful who sought solace and community within their hallowed walls.
From the striking Polish Cathedrals with their grand facades and intricate ornamentation to the magnificent Baroque interiors adorned with awe-inspiring frescoes and stained glass windows, these churches are not only places of worship but also living museums that transport visitors to a bygone era. Stepping inside, one is enveloped by the aura of devotion and the meticulous craftsmanship that went into every detail.
In this article, we embark on a journey to explore the captivating historical Catholic churches of Chicago. We will delve into their fascinating histories, uncover the architectural influences that shaped their design, and marvel at the artistry that adorns their sacred spaces. Join us as we discover the spiritual and cultural gems that grace the city’s skyline and offer solace and inspiration to believers and admirers alike.
The Holy Name Cathedral
Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago, the seat of the Archdiocese of Chicago, is a remarkable testament to Roman Catholic faith and architectural grandeur. Built in the Gothic revival style, this sacred edifice replaced its predecessors, the Cathedral of Saint Mary and the Church of the Holy Name, which were tragically destroyed during the devastating Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
With Cardinal Blase J. Cupich serving as the current Archbishop of Chicago, Holy Name Cathedral holds significant historical and cultural importance. It witnessed a pivotal moment in 1979 when Pope John Paul II, the first Pontiff to visit, held a prayer service and a memorable concert featuring Luciano Pavarotti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
The cathedral’s architectural splendor is truly awe-inspiring. Its Gothic features harmoniously blend with modern Church symbolism, creating a space that invokes a spiritual connection. The massive bronze doors, intricately designed by Albert J. Friscia, beckon worshippers to enter the sanctuary, where they are greeted by breathtaking elements such as the suspended Resurrection Crucifix by artist Ivo Demetz and the bronze Stations of the Cross by Goffredo Verginelli.
Noteworthy sculptures grace various areas of the church, including the Ambo of the Evangelists, depicting the authors of the Gospels, and the Ambo of the Apostles, representing the authors of the apostolic letters. The magnificent altar, adorned with monolithic red-black Rosso Imperiale di Solberga granite, carries the weight of Old Testament scenes in bronze relief, symbolizing sacrificial offerings and preparation.
Musical worship finds its resonance through two impressive pipe organs within the cathedral—one crafted by the Flentrop firm from Zaandam, Netherlands, and the other by Casavant Frères from Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec, Canada. These instruments enhance the spiritual ambiance and add a melodic dimension to the faithful’s prayers.
Preserving tradition, Holy Name Cathedral upholds the practice of raising the galero, a tasseled hat, of deceased cardinals over the cathedra in the semicircular, domed apse. These gallant symbols remain until they are reduced to dust, serving as a poignant reminder of the transient nature of worldly glory.
As you explore Holy Name Cathedral, you will discover a haven of reverence, history, and devotion. Its significance within the Archdiocese of Chicago and its architectural magnificence make it a cherished spiritual destination, inviting visitors to contemplate the divine and experience the profound beauty of faith.
St. Nicholas Cathedral
St. Nicholas Cathedral, located in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village, serves as the Ukrainian Catholic cathedral and the seat for the Eparchy of Saint Nicholas of Chicago. Its origins date back to the late 1890s when Ukrainian immigrants arrived in the area.
The parish of St. Nicholas was established in 1906 after purchasing a former church building from a Danish Protestant congregation. In 1915, the present-day church was completed on Oakley Boulevard and Rice Street. A cemetery was acquired in 1925, and a parish school was constructed in 1936, later expanded in 1954.
In 1961, the Eparchy of Saint Nicholas of Chicago was established, and St. Nicholas Church became the cathedral. A renovation of the cathedral’s interior took place from 1974 to 1977 under the guidance of iconographer Boris Makarenko. The Liturgy is conducted in both Ukrainian and English.
Designed by the architectural firm Worthmann & Steinbach, the church is modeled after Saint Sophia’s Cathedral in Kyiv. Thirteen domes symbolizing Christ and the Twelve Apostles adorn the exterior. The interior is adorned with mosaics and frescoes depicting the life of Christ, the Virgin Mary, and numerous saints. The magnificent chandelier, crafted in Greece, hangs from the main dome and is illuminated by 480 lights.
Stained glass windows created by the Munich Studio of Chicago enhance the church’s beauty. The cathedral’s decor showcases the rich Ukrainian Catholic heritage and architectural influence, including an image of St. Sophia’s Cathedral in the fresco above the main altar.
St. Nicholas Cathedral stands as a spiritual and cultural centerpiece for the Ukrainian community in Chicago, preserving its traditions and faith in a vibrant and visually stunning setting.
St. Mary of Perpetual Help Church
St. Mary of Perpetual Help is a historic church located in the Bridgeport neighborhood of Chicago, known for its Polish Cathedral style and grandeur. Established in 1882 as a Polish parish, it served the workers of the Union Stockyards until their closure in the 1970s. Over the years, the neighborhood has experienced a surge in new housing and diverse residents.
Designed by Henry Engelbert in a Romanesque-Byzantine style, the church was completed in 1889. Its exterior, made of brick, conceals a lavishly adorned interior adorned with stations of the cross and stained glass windows featuring Polish inscriptions.
The church boasts three domes, with the central dome soaring 137 feet above the neighborhood, illuminated by a ring of lantern windows. Extensive restoration work has been undertaken since 1999 to preserve the original structure, the interior decoration by John A. Mallin in 1961, and the 1928 Austin organ, Opus 1602. The Art Institute of Chicago recently restored the historic paintings in the Shrine Altars, dating back to 1890.
The church showcases the Joyful Mysteries in the “Shrine of our Blessed Mother” and depicts the Holy Family, the Flight into Egypt, and the Marriage of Joseph and Mary in the “Shrine of St. Joseph.” Intricate scagliola work adorns the nave, and a suspended pulpit topped by a wedding cake cupola adds to the church’s charm. Notably, a new mosaic of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, crafted by the Soprani Studios of Rome, has been installed, along with the unveiling of a time capsule containing precious historical documents.
St. Barbara Church
St. Barbara’s in Chicago, a historic church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese located at 2859 South Throop St., exemplifies the opulence and grandeur of the Polish Cathedral style. It stands alongside St. Mary of Perpetual Help as one of the prominent religious structures in the Bridgeport neighborhood.
Established in 1909 as a Polish parish to alleviate overcrowding at St. Mary of Perpetual Help, St. Barbara’s has been a vital social center for the community throughout the decades. It has welcomed diverse generations and traditions, expanding its outreach efforts in the 1990s to embrace individuals from around the world.
Designed by Worthmann and Steinbach, the Renaissance-style church was completed in 1914. It stands out as one of the few octagonal houses of worship in the archdiocese, boasting 25 exquisite stained glass windows depicting the Gospel and the lives of saints. The main altar, crafted with Scagliola in colored marble effects, was specially designed and executed by the renowned Daprato Statuary Company.
In 2019, St. Barbara’s faced changes with the Archdiocese’s “Renew My Church” program, as it merged with St. Therese Chinese Catholic School. However, unlike other mergers, St. Therese assumed possession of St. Barbara’s school campus, administration, and rectory quarters.
St. Barbara’s rich history and architectural splendor continue to captivate visitors, with its unique design and remarkable craftsmanship exhibited in the main altar and throughout the church, showcasing the exquisite artistry of the Daprato Statuary Company.
St. Adalbert Church
St. Adalbert Church, a historic Roman Catholic church in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, has served as a spiritual home for Polish and Mexican immigrants. Founded in 1874 by the Polish Catholic community, the church adapted to the changing demographics over time, holding masses in both Polish and Spanish.
Despite facing challenges such as declining attendance and extensive repairs, the church remained a cultural anchor. In 2019, St. Adalbert closed its doors, merging with St. Paul Catholic Church.
Designed by Henry J. Schlacks, the church’s interior is inspired by the papal basilica of San Paolo fuori le mura. It features a stunning marble altar dedicated to St. Adalbert, adorned with a large white-marble statue of the patron. The original marble altar rail and pulpit complement the overall aesthetic.
Notable elements include a mural depicting significant events in Polish history and a grand choir loft with organ pipes and a central rose window. The exterior showcases baroque towers inspired by St. Stephen’s Basilica in Budapest, aligning with the ‘Polish Cathedral style’ suited for a predominantly Polish congregation.
The entrance to the church is through a shallow portico with impressive granite columns. Inside, visitors pass through a narrow vestibule with recessed fonts and enter the magnificent main body adorned with exquisite marble work. The altar, with its spiral pillars and dome-shaped ciborium, is a sight to behold.
Inscribed on the chancel arch above the altar are the opening words of the Polish hymn Bogurodzica, attributed to St. Adalbert himself. The church also houses a marble shrine with the Pietà and side altars featuring paintings of Our Lady and Saint Joseph.
A mural on the north wall depicts the wedding of Queen Jadwiga of Poland and Prince Jagiello of Lithuania, as well as the 1655 victory of Our Lady of Częstochowa. The muted orange-red tones of the mural are reflected in the surrounding walls and ceiling. The pews, confessionals, and choir loft maintain their original charm, while the aisle floors boast an elegant terrazzo inlay of red, black, and gray sections.
St. Adalbert Church stands as a testament to Chicago’s religious and architectural heritage, representing a blend of Polish and Mexican influences. Though its doors have closed, the church leaves behind a legacy of cultural significance and artistic craftsmanship.
St. Wenceslaus Church
St. Wenceslaus Church, located in Chicago’s Avondale neighborhood, is a remarkable Roman Catholic church known for its unique architecture. Built in 1942, it is a fusion of Byzantine, Romanesque, and Art Deco styles. The church’s design, crafted by the firm of McCarthy, Smith and Eppig, showcases the blend of medieval European architecture with Art Deco elements, making it one of the city’s finest examples of this fusion.
The exterior of the church features pressed brick walls adorned with Indiana limestone trim, highlighting its sacred purpose. Two monumental angel sculptures greet visitors at the main entrance, leading to a spacious narthex adorned with marble walls and ceramic tile flooring.
The well-lit nave can accommodate up to 1,200 worshipers and showcases a wainscot of American black walnut resting on a base of Windham Verde Antique marble. The aisles are paved with ceramic tiles, while the pews are crafted from American black walnut.
The sanctuary is enclosed by a rail of “breccia orientale” with bronze lattice inserts, leading to the main altar. The altar and its crucifix are set against a reredos of inlaid wood, rising to a height of 37 feet. The church’s interior features an Art Deco motif with a pastel color scheme, complemented by stained glass windows. The building also houses mosaic stations of the cross executed in the Vatican City.
While the church contains depictions of Polish saints and folkloric motifs, its design is more understated compared to other prominent Polish cathedrals in Chicago. The furnishings, including altars, pulpit, and pews, were all designed by the original architects to maintain consistency and harmony.
Although the church recently underwent renovation, the intricate painted ornamental designs throughout the building could not be preserved due to limited parish funds. Despite this, St. Wenceslaus Church remains a captivating architectural gem, blending various styles to create a unique and awe-inspiring religious space.
Holy Cross Church
Holy Cross Church, also known as Šv. Kryžiaus Bažnyčia in Lithuanian, is a historic Roman Catholic church located on West 46th Street in Chicago. Built by Lithuanian immigrants, the church bears a resemblance to the famous “Polish Cathedrals” in the city due to the shared heritage and architectural preferences of Poles and Lithuanians.
Holy Cross merged with Immaculate Heart of Mary Church to form the Holy Cross – Immaculate Heart of Mary parish, and in 2021, it further united with two nearby churches. Established in 1904 as a “national parish” for Lithuanians in the Back of the Yards area, Holy Cross served the growing Lithuanian community employed at the nearby Union Stock Yards.
The Baroque-style church, designed by Joseph Molitor, was completed in 1915. Its twin towers, bell towers, domes, and imported ceramic tiles from Lithuania make it a striking presence in the working-class neighborhood. The interior of the church is adorned with paintings, statues, stained glass windows, and ornate stations of the cross by renowned painter Thaddeus von Zukotynski.
The church’s vast interior features a lofty dome and a vaulted ceiling supported by marble columns. The richly decorated space was enhanced in 1951 by Lithuanian artists who sought refuge from the Soviet Union. Adolfas Valeška, among others, contributed oil paintings depicting scenes from Lithuanian and American history.
The church also houses brightly colored stained glass windows depicting scenes from the life of Christ and various saints. With two choir lofts and an organ with over 1,700 pipes, the church’s architecture facilitated the transition from a predominantly Lithuanian congregation to a Latin American one, as the Baroque style was familiar to both groups.
Joseph Molitor, the architect of Holy Cross, also designed two neighboring Roman Catholic churches in the Back of the Yards area: St. Joseph’s Church for Poles and the now-closed Sts. Cyril and Methodius Church for Bohemians. The architectural legacy of these churches reflects the diverse Eastern European immigrant communities that settled in Chicago.
St. John Cantius Church
Saint John Cantius Church, also known as Kościół Świętego Jana Kantego in Polish, is a historic Catholic church in Chicago. It is renowned for its architecture, liturgical practices, and its association with the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius. Situated at 825 North Carpenter Street, the church is among the impressive Polish churches that overlook the Kennedy Expressway.
The church’s unique Baroque interior has remained intact for over a century and reflects the opulent art and architecture of 18th century Kraków. It is the Polish Cathedral style church closest to downtown Chicago. In 2013, the parish completed a significant restoration, bringing new life to the church. The towering 130-foot (40 m) tower is a recognizable landmark in the West Town neighborhood, visible from the nearby Kennedy Expressway.
Designed by Adolphus Druiding, the construction of St. John Cantius Church spanned five years, starting in 1893. The basement church, although roughly finished, hosted the first Mass of the new parish community on Christmas Eve later that year. Archbishop Patrick Feehan blessed and dedicated the completed church on December 11, 1898. The parish flourished and reached its peak in 1918, boasting 23,000 parishioners and a school with 2,500 children.
The building’s design by Adolphus Druiding showcases a facade of rusticated stone in the High Renaissance style. Classical elements such as columns, capitals, and arches adorn the structure. The monumental pediment at the top displays the coat of arms of Poland’s failed January Uprising, with the inscription “Boże Zbaw Polskę” (God Save Poland in Polish).
The Latin phrase “Ad maiorem Dei Gloriam” on the entablature emphasizes the church’s purpose for the Greater Glory of God. Three Romanesque portals lead into the interior, and asymmetrical towers with copper cupolas flank the entrance, reminiscent of St. Mary’s Basilica in Kraków. The entire structure spans 230 feet (70 m) in length and 107 feet (33 m) in width, accommodating up to 2,000 people.
The interior of St. John Cantius Church is decorated in the Baroque style. Eight stone columns support the vault, and the decorative elements have evolved over the years. The main altar and two matching side altars reputedly originated from the 1893 Columbian Exposition.
The interior received its distinctive character in 1903 when plaster and wood ornamentation were added and the church was painted for the first time. Stained glass windows by Gawin Co. of Milwaukee and murals by Lesiewicz from around 1920 embellish the interior, featuring religious scenes and Polish patron saints.
In 1997, an inlaid hardwood floor designed by Jed Gibbons was installed, incorporating sixteen varieties of wood in medallion patterns. The floor serves as a teaching tool, depicting the story of salvation through symbols such as the Star of David, Three Crowns, Instruments of the Passion, Banner, and Star.
One notable addition to the church is a replica of the renowned Veit Stoss Altar from St. Mary’s Basilica in Kraków. Carved over eight years by artist Michał Batkiewicz, this one-third scale copy is the largest and most detailed of its kind. It was commissioned as a tribute to the Galician immigrants who founded the parish in 1893 and was solemnly dedicated in August 2003.
St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church
St. Joseph’s (Polish: Kościół Świętego Józefa) is a historic Roman Catholic church in Chicago, Illinois, known for its opulent Polish Cathedral style. Located at 4821 South Hermitage Avenue, it was founded in 1887, with the current church building dating back to 1914.
Alongside St. John of God and Holy Cross, it dominates the skyline of the Back of the Yards neighborhood. Despite changes in the community, St. Joseph’s continues to celebrate Mass in Polish and serves a multicultural congregation.
Designed by Joseph Molitor, the Baroque church can accommodate 1,200 worshippers. In the early 1950s, artist John A. Mallin redecorated the church. St. Joseph’s has remained resilient, surviving archdiocesan budget cuts in 1990 and merging with other local churches in 2021 to form a single parish. The church received a relic of Pope John Paul II in 2015, symbolizing its connection to the saint.
Today, St. Joseph’s serves a diverse community, offering Mass in Polish, English, and Spanish. The initial church structure now serves as Saint John Paul II Hall, while the neighboring churches of Holy Cross and Sts. Cyril and Methodius were built for Lithuanian and Bohemian congregations, respectively, with plans by Molitor.
Nativity of Our Lord Catholic Church
Nativity of Our Lord Catholic Church, founded in 1868, is among Chicago’s oldest churches. Designed by prominent architect Patrick Keely, known for Holy Name Cathedral, the church is located in the Bridgeport neighborhood.
Construction progressed slowly, with the lower church hall ready for services almost three years after the cornerstone was laid in 1876. Archbishop Patrick Feehan dedicated Nativity of Our Lord Church in December 1885, and final touches were completed the following summer, everything costing $70,000.
Part of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago, Nativity of Our Lord Parish boasts notable members like former mayors Richard J. Daley and Richard M. Daley, William M. Daley, former U.S. Secretary of Commerce, and John P. Daley, a current Cook County Commissioner.
Keely, renowned for designing over 600 churches in the U.S., created the church’s warm and inviting ambiance with over 185 stained glass windows, adorning every facade. Installed in 1907 under Rev. James J. Flaherty’s guidance, the windows are divided into three primary sets, featuring gothic patterns with art nouveau influences and unique round insets showcasing religious symbols.
Thanks to the generosity of parishioners, these 168 heavenly and historic windows were restored to their original grandeur in 2010-2011 as the final phase of a five-year parish improvement initiative. The church’s interior is bathed in warm, muted light, exuding beauty and enhancing its intimate atmosphere, despite its considerable size.
Saint Clement Catholic Church
St. Clement Catholic Church, situated in Lincoln Park, Chicago, was constructed from 1917 to 1918 under the architectural expertise of Thomas P. Barnett from the St. Louis firm of Barnett, Haynes & Barnett. The church’s design drew inspiration from the Byzantine style, reminiscent of the grandeur of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. Construction commenced on March 19, 1917, and the church soon became a prominent landmark.
A notable feature within St. Clement is the stunning decoration of the half-dome behind the high altar. This intricately crafted mosaic, modeled after a twelfth- or thirteenth-century artwork found in the Basilica of San Clemente al Laterano in Rome, serves as the focal point of the remarkable “Byzantine Universe.” This unique design concept was conceived and executed by Gleb Werchovsky, a priest-artist, in 1930, adding an additional layer of artistry and spiritual significance to the church.
In 1988, a restoration project led by Walker C. Johnson earned St. Clement Catholic Church the prestigious International Design Award for Excellence, acknowledging the meticulous efforts to preserve and enhance its architectural splendor.
The church is affiliated with St. Clement School, which has a rich history of its own. Ground was broken for the school on October 18, 1905, and it initially served as both a place of worship and education before the construction of the present-day church. Saint Clement School continues to provide education to over 460 students, ranging from Pre-kindergarten to 8th grade, nurturing young minds within the vibrant St. Clement community.
The Church of the Immaculate Conception
The Church of the Immaculate Conception, known as Kościół Niepokalanego Poczęcia Najświętszej Maryi Panny in Polish, stands as a testament to the rich heritage of the Polish community in Chicago.
Located at 2944 East 88th Street, this historic church is a remarkable representation of the renowned “Polish Cathedral style” known for its opulence and grandeur. Together with St. Michael’s, it proudly dominates the South Chicago skyline.
Established in 1882 as the first Polish parish in the industrialized steel mill district of South Chicago, Immaculate Conception played a pivotal role in nurturing the faith and culture of the Polish immigrants who settled in the area. As the community grew, the parish underwent divisions to form St. Michael the Archangel, St. Bronislava, and St. Mary Magdalene, reflecting the vibrant presence of the Polish Catholic community in the region.
The parish school, which operated from 1882 to 1982, later reopened in 1998 under the care of the Daughters of Mary Immaculate of Guadalupe, ensuring the continuation of education within the community.
Designed by Martin A. Carr, the church building was completed in 1899. It embraces the Renaissance Revival style, evoking the splendor of the Polish Commonwealth during the 15th and 16th centuries. In 2002, the church underwent a meticulous restoration process, reviving its architectural grandeur.
Notably, new altars designed by Franck & Lohsen of Washington, D.C., were added, contributing to the church’s aesthetic magnificence. Additionally, a new plaza was constructed north of the church, enhancing the overall ambiance and providing a gathering space for the faithful.
The Church of the Immaculate Conception stands as a cherished symbol of Polish heritage and faith, inviting visitors to appreciate the beauty of its design and the profound cultural significance it holds within the South Chicago community.
St. Mary of the Angels Church
Saint Mary of the Angels, also known as Kościół Matki Boskiej Anielskiej in Polish, is a historic church located at 1850 North Hermitage Avenue in Chicago’s Bucktown neighborhood. It exemplifies the grandeur of the Polish Cathedral style, alongside other monumental Polish churches visible from the Kennedy Expressway such as St. Stanislaus Kostka, St. Hyacinth Basilica, St. Hedwig, St. Wenceslaus, and Holy Trinity.
Originally administered by the Congregation of the Resurrection from 1899 to 1990, the church has been under the care of the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross since January 1991. Saint Mary of the Angels has gained literary fame, appearing in Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files series.
Designed by Worthmann and Steinbach, the church draws inspiration from the architectural splendor of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Considered one of the finest examples of Roman Renaissance architecture in the United States, its imposing brick structure features twin bell towers, a magnificent dome, and intricate details. The interior was adorned with ornate designs and paintings by John A. Mallin in 1948. The church houses the W. W. Kimball pipe organ, a rare instrument with four manuals and 57 ranks, including theater stops.
Significant restorations took place over the years, including repairs to the dome in 1973 and the installation of the blue “Guiding Light” by the Holy Name Society. Today, Saint Mary of the Angels serves a diverse community, offering Masses in English, Polish, and Spanish. The presence of Opus Dei priests continues to ensure the spiritual guidance of the parish.
Surrounded by the vibrant neighborhood of Bucktown, the church, known to Poles as ‘Marianowo,’ remains a beacon of worship and community engagement. As the area evolved with an influx of Hispanic immigrants in the 1970s and urban professionals in the 1990s, the parish transitioned from being predominantly Polish to becoming multicultural and multiracial. Saint Mary of the Angels continues to welcome hundreds of residents each week for worship, classes, and various events.