A New Church: Majestic, and Beautiful

After building the original church and school for St. Mary of the Angels, where Father Gordon would live most of his remaining years, he was asked to do a stint as pastor of St. Stanislaus Kostka in 1906, the mother parish for the Polish people in Chicago. But Father Gordon would return to St. Mary of the Angels three years later.

When he did return, the parish had grown to become one of the largest parishes in the Archdiocese of Chicago. The school, with the original church on the top floor, was design and built by Henry J. Schlacks, who became the first Director of the Course of Architecture at the University of Notre Dame. The church and school had become too small to hold the numbers of parishioners and school children. This original building gave the church seating for 1200, had 10 classrooms, a convent for 20 nuns, a priests’ residence for 3, a hall that could hold 1500, and a few meeting rooms. But this wasn’t enough for the growing parish of 1200 mostly large families.

So Fr. Gordon hired Henry Worthmann and J.G. Steinbach to design a new church in the Roman Renaissance style, similar in appearance to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The new church would seat 2000. The dome would rise 125 feet from floor to ceiling (St. Peter’s in Rome 394 feet), 230 feet in length (St. Peter’s 694 ft.), and 125 feet in width (St. Peter’s, 451 ft.). Twelve-foot tall angels would decorate the perimeter of the exterior (similar to the 140 statues of the apostles and other saints on the colonnade and exterior of St. Peter’s).

Work on the new church began September 28, 1911. While excavating the site, the workers unearthed three crucifixes. This was taken as a sign of God’s provident will for the church. Difficulties seemed to bog down the project, with shortages of money, building materials, labor strikes, and World War I., which caused numerous delays—it took three years before even the cornerstone could be laid! At the ceremony for the first stone, some 20,000 Polish people showed up, singing religious and patriotic songs.

In the meantime, to free up space in the school, Fr. Gordon built a new priests residence on Wood Street in 1912. In 1915, the Sisters of the Resurrection moved their novitiate—built in 1905 across the street from the present church—to Norwood Park and converted the old one into a Day Nursery for children of working mothers.

Before the church could be finished, Father Gordon was named regional superior of the Resurrectionists in the United States (from 1918 until 1924). Yet he would continue to live in the rectory and follow the construction of the church.

After years of hard work and much sacrifice the present church of St. Mary of the Angels was finally finished at the cost of $400,000 ($5 million in today’s currency). Archbishop George W. Mundelein dedicated the church on May 30, 1920, attended by the U.S. Ambassador to Poland and the Polish Envoy to the United States. The Archbishop (who would become cardinal in 1924) recognized the great generosity of the ordinary, rather poor, working-class parishioners for the many sacrifices they made in building this extraordinary edifice: “the people in this neighborhood were satisfied to contribute from their slender earnings in order that God’s house might rise gigantic, majestic and beautiful.”

The people felt the need to thank our Blessed Mother for her help in turning their dreams into reality, so—on that day of the solemn high Mass—they included a May procession in her honor.