We need to face reality: the Catholic Church in Chicago has seen a 25 percent decline in its parishioner base over the last 20 years; even worse, the faith of our young people is waning: 50% of millennials—between 22 and 35 years old—who were raised Catholic no longer identify as Catholic and only 7% of them actively practice their faith by weekly Mass, prayer, or consider their faith important. Even here at St. Mary of the Angels, Mass attendance (in October) has gone down from over 1,700 persons each week in 2002 to about 1,200 each week in 2016. Certainly some have moved out of Chicago, but something else is going on: secularism, materialism, hedonism… selfish individualism. People—especially young people—are turning to anti-Christian sources for their belief-system.
Last week, we read the parable of God’s vineyard in both Isaiah and in the Gospel. In Isaiah we read:
“[God] had a vineyard… he spaded it, cleared it of stones, and planted the choicest vines; within it he built a watchtower, and hewed out a wine press… but what it yielded was wild grapes… What more was there to do for my vineyard that I had not done? Why, when I looked for the crop of grapes, did it bring forth wild grapes? Now, I will let you know what I mean to do with my vineyard: take away its hedge, give it to grazing, break through its wall, let it be trampled! Yes, I will make it a ruin: it shall not be pruned or hoed, but overgrown with thorns and briers; I will command the clouds not to send rain upon it. The vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel” (Isaiah 5:1-5).
We—the Catholics in Chicago—are God’s vineyard, but we must ask ourselves: Are we yielding wild grapes instead of choice grapes that God expects?
God is calling us to bear fruit of holiness, to build up his family, the Church. Nobody wants to see any churches close—nobody except the devil! Nobody wants to see the walls of the vineyard broken down, the vines trampled, and everything overgrown with thorns and briers. But if we don’t bear more fruit then it will happen.
What are we called to do? We are called to do exactly what the apostles were called to do after our Lord’s death and resurrection: “Go therefore and make disciples… teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). Make disciples means sharing our faith with others by introducing them to Jesus, cultivating each one’s personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Let others know what your faith means to you, how Christ, his Church, and his Sacraments has impacted you. This will lead to more vocations to the priesthood, marriage, and dedicated celibacy.
When the apostles made disciples they also built communities wherever they went. For us it means to cultivate bonds with one another in our friendship with Christ. As communities of believers we will support one another in carrying out Christ’s mission on earth, making sure that every part of Christ’s body has what it needs to prosper.
Finally, our personal witness will inspire witness in others, countering the anti-witness of secularism, materialism, hedonism… of selfish individualism.
So let us take Christ’s desire to Renew My Church, and our efforts to bring about those desires, and entrust them all to Our Lady, St. Mary of the Angels, the woman who will crush the head of the serpent with her heal.
Fr. John R. Waiss
To bring our history of St. Mary of the Angels up to date, let’s look at what has taken place in the last twelve years.
Restore God’s House Campaign
Fr. Joseph (Fr. Joe) Landauer joined Fr. Hilary and Fr. Charles on the Priests’ Council in 2005, replacing Fr. John Debicki. With Fr. Hilary as Moderator and Pastor, the three priests worked together to face the challenges of the parish. In 2006 they replaced the windows in the school and refinished pews in the church. That year the school began using computers in its curriculum.
In late 2007, leaks began to appear under the dome, as well as from the roofs or walls of the South Tower and other spots in the church. The South Tower restoration project was put on hold when they discovered the extent of the repairs to the dome, and the parish began setting aside Annual Catholic Appeal rebates for possible repairs. In 2009 water leakage was getting severe and various solutions were proposed, with an estimated cost ranging from 1.6 to 2.5 million dollars. Plastic sheets were installed between the outer and inner domes to collect the water and try to keep it from causing further damage until repairs could be made. The Restore God’s House campaign began at the end of 2009 to raise the necessary funds to begin construction.
Initially the Restore God’s House campaign sought to raise $2.5 million to repair the dome, restore the North and South Towers, and replace the parapet on the façade. Parishioners donated and pledged more than $1.5 million. Work began on the Dome in September 2010. When the scaffolding went up, so did a sign saying “Save the Dome.” This garnered additional donor interest. The Archdiocese gave us a loan for $1.67 million to help us finish the dome project.
When the dome was being repaired, additional damage to the cupola of the dome was discovered, raising the costs of the repair project to $3.17 million. This meant that the parapet and the North Tower had to wait.
But when Fr. Joe’s father died in November 2011, an additional $750,000 was bequeathed to the building fund. About the same time Cardinal George approved St. Mary of the Angels for a debt reduction program where the Archdiocese would match every dollar raised for the Annual Catholic Appeal if we applied it against our debt. The bequest enabled us to fully repair the South Tower and restore the interior of the church (damaged because of the water), while the parishioners raised more than $900,000 by January 2013 erasing our debt to the Archdiocese of over $1.8 million.
I came to the parish in the midst of that campaign, in 2012, replacing Fr. Joe. Cardinal George appointed me as moderator of the Priests’ Council and pastor on May 1, 2014. Most of the issues I had to address in my first year were ordinary repairs and services of the church, but in July 2015 a terracotta cornice came crashing down into the parking lot, shortly after everyone left the 5pm Saturday vigil Mass and the parking lot had cleared—“the angels held it in place until everyone was safe,” it seemed. Engineers surveyed the exterior and secured potential safety issues, using metal bars to secure similar cornices and outer tracery of the stained glass windows; metal mesh was put over beams, bricks, or terracotta on the façade and North Tower. All these were emergency repairs for safety purposes.
Now God calls us to move forward to face these current needs so we can share our faith and this beautiful legacy with future generations. Let us pray that we can continue that legacy with fidelity to Christ and his Church, while loving Our Blessed Mother and all her little children gathered at her feet.
Fr. John R. Waiss
Every year we celebrate the feast day of the Guardian Angels on October 2nd, which is a wonderful opportunity to thank those spiritual beings who God assigns to protect and guide us. There are myriads of guardian angels, just as there are myriads of angels portrayed in the Bible and throughout our church—have you ever tried counting them?
God sent an angel to go before Moses and his people Israel, saving them from Pharaoh’s armies and leading them into the Promised Land (see Exodus 14:19ss; 23:20-24, and 32:34-33:2). Our guardian angel does the same for us: “The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them” (Psalm 34:8); “For [God] will give his angels charge of you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone” (Psalm 91:11-12). The Old Testament even portrays the angels praising God on our behalf (see Psalm 103:20 and 148:1-2), which is why our Lord says: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 18:10).
In the New Testament the angels become even more prominent. As Pope St. John Paul II reminded us:
“Angels are discreetly present at all the most important moments of Jesus’ life in addition to the Resurrection. They announce his birth (cf. Matthew 1:20; Luke 1:26; 2:9); they guide his flight into Egypt and his return to his native land (cf. Matthew 2:13,19); they are a comfort to him at the end of the temptations in the desert (cf. Matthew 4:11) and at the hour of the passion (cf. Luke 22:43); at the end of time, they will stand at his side when he judges history and the world (cf. Matthew 13:41)” (Regina Caeli, March 31, 1997).
In the Old Testament people feared the angels: if they saw one they thought would die for example, “Alas, O Lord GOD! For now I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face.” But the LORD said to him, “Peace be to you; do not fear, you shall not die.” (Judges 6:22). In contrast, Christians see angels as their friends, collaborators in the common mission to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. For example, St. Peter’s guardian angel help him escape prison twice: once when the high priests and the Sadducees became jealous at his preaching and miracles, throwing him and St. John in prison, only to have their guardian angels release them so they could continue their preaching (Acts 5:17-20), and then again when Herod had thrown him into prison, his angel released him so he could continue his mission (Acts 12:1-19). God the Father even gives Jesus an angel to strengthen his humanity when it was rebelling during his agony in the Garden (Luke 22:39-46).
Opus Dei was founded on the feast of the Guardian Angels, on October 2, 1928, precisely at the moment the church of Our Lady of the Angels in Madrid rang out its bells. St. Josemaría always saw the guardian angels as collaborators of ordinary Christians, helping us fulfill our mission to sanctify the ordinary events of our lives and to lead others to Christ. As he wrote:
“Have confidence in your guardian angel. Treat him as a very dear friend that’s what he is—and he will do a thousand services for you in the ordinary affairs of each day” (The Way 562).
“You seem amazed because your guardian angel has done so many obvious favors for you. But you shouldn’t be: that’s why our Lord has placed him at your side” (The Way 565).
Let us befriend our guardian angel more frequently, asking him for favors that help us. It may be as simple as finding us a parking space, or as serious as protecting us in dangerous moments of ordinary travel or perilous social events. He will help you… that’s his job!
Fr. John R. Waiss
This week the Archdiocesan newspaper, the Chicago Catholic—formerly the New World—celebrated its 125th anniversary. Although we have not found the 1899 article describing the dedication of our parish and church—now our school building—we do have the text from the Chicago Chronicle—a Sunday newspaper published from 1895 to 1908. Here is the article:
A new church was dedicated yesterday with impressive ceremonies. Archbishop Feehan dedicated St. Mary of the Angels, a Polish Catholic church at Hermitage Avenue and Clybourn Place [now Courtland Street], assisted by distinguished clergymen of the city.
The dedication of this north side edifice was performed with all the impressive ritualism provided by the Catholic faith, and representatives from every Polish parish in the city were in attendance.
A procession with 5,000 men in line, comprising members of forty religious societies, preceded the ceremony. The residences and shops within a half mile of the edifice, were decorated with flags and bunting in honor of the occasion. The St. Stanislaus cavalry met Archbishop Feehan and party at North and Holt Aves [now Greenview], and escorted the distinguished prelates to the church.
Assisting the Archbishop in the ceremony were the following priests: Rev. Francis Gordon of St. Mary of the Angels Church, Rev. John Radziejewski, Rev. John Zilla, Rev. George Heldman, Rev. David Fennesay, Rev. Hugh Ogara McShane, Rev. Mathias Barth, Rev. J. E. Clancy, Rev. John Kasprzycki of St. Stanislaus Church, Rev. Joseph Ziemba, Rev. Stanislaus Siatka, Rev. J. Obyrtacz, Rev. J. Barzynski and the Rev. Eugene Sedlaczek.
Mayor Harrison, Alderman Stanley H. Kunz, Alderman John Smulski, Peter Kiolbasa and City Collector Frank Brandecker were present as invited guests. At 4 o’clock the procession of priests and acolytes formed in the vestibule of the church, with Archbishop Feehan leading, and the march around the interior of the building was begun. As the procession moved along, the archbishop sprinkled holy water on the walls and invoked Divine blessing on the edifice. The prelates then passed forward and the sanctuary was blessed by the archbishop, while the attending priests chanted the litany. The choir sang the responses, after which Archbishop Feehan stepped to the chancel rail and delivered a brief address. He said in part:
“I wish to congratulate you upon the completion and dedication of this fine building which you have erected. We are congregated in a place that is much needed to accommodate the rapidly growing Catholic population of this locality. We have many beautiful churches and schools and this will take its place among them.
“There is nothing more gratifying than to find, that wherever a Catholic church is erected in a community, there is a school by its side to educate its people in the grand state of our belief. I feel that I should give you just a word of advice upon an occasion of such importance. My advice is, that you hold together and remain united according to the teaching of the Holy Catholic Church and be obedient. Do this and you will become a great and prosperous and happy people.”
The dedicatory sermon was preached by the Rev. John Kosinski CR in the Polish language.
Work on the new church was begun April 21 and the corner-stone was laid July 2. It is three stories in height and built of pressed brick, trimmed with Bedford stone. It is 92 feet wide and 225 feet long and designed after the renaissance style of architecture. It cost $65,000.00 and is under the care of the Fathers of the Resurrection … In the basement are four large meeting halls and an auditorium. On the main floor are twelve classrooms for the parochial school. The auditorium for worship is on the second floor and the living rooms for the resident priests are above.
Fr. John R. Waiss
This week the Archdiocesan newspaper, the Chicago Catholic—formerly the New World—celebrated its 125th anniversary. Here is the article describing our brand new church when it was first dedicated:
The parishioners of St. Mary of the Angels Church, Wood and Cortland Streets, saw the pinnacle of their ambition reached after more than eight years of work, in the solemn ceremonies attending the dedication of their beautiful church Sunday. The day was one of unusual impressiveness, and the exercises throughout the day and evening were attended by thousands of persons including scores prominent in civic and professional life.
His Grace, the Most Reverend George W. Mundelein, DD, Archbishop of Chicago, pontificated at the dedication. Other special guests of honor were Ambassador Gibson, United States Ambassador to Poland, and Prince Casimir Lubomirski, Polish Envoy to the United States.
The day’s exercises began with a procession at 9 o’clock, led by Leo Zamorski, as commander-in-chief, assisted by Ladislaus Borucki, Paul Labunski, Joseph Regosh, Paul Mika, Stanislaus Sacharski. A police platoon was led by Lieutenant Joseph Palczynski. Kipkowski Brothers’ orchestra took part. The line of march led through the following thoroughfares: Hermitage, Cortland, Girard [now Honore], Armitage, Winchester, Lincoln [now Wolcott], Wabansia, North, Dickson [now Bosworth] and Paulina. At Wood Street it was joined by an assembly including LaFayette and other councils of the Knights of Columbus, continuing on its way to the rectory, where it terminated. The dedication march about the church and inside the edifice followed: Honorary deacon to His Grace, Archbishop George W. Mundelein, were the Rev. John Zwierzchowski, pastor of Holy Innocents Parish, and the Rev. Francis Ostrowski of St. Josaphat Parish.
The dedication exercises began at 10:30 o’clock, with Solemn High Mass celebrated by the Rt. Rev. Msgr. Stanislaus Nawrocki, pastor of St. Mary of Perpetual Help Church, assisted by the Rev. Stanislaus Siatka, pastor of St. John Cantius Church, deacon, and the Rev. Thaddeus Ligman, vice-rector of St. Stanislaus College, as subdeacon. The Very Reverend Msgr. E. F. Hoban, DD, was first master of ceremonies, and the Rev. John Sobieszczyk, pastor of St. Hyacinth Parish, second master of ceremonies.
Archbishop Mundelein delivered a congratulatory address and the Rev. Bronislaus Cieslak CR preached the sermon of the day in Polish …
The afternoon’s program consisted of vespers, celebrated by the Rev. Leonard Long CR solemn May devotions took place in the evening, celebrated by the Rev. Stanislaus Gadacz CR and the sermon was given by the Rev. Vincent Rapacz CR. The procession was led by the Rev. Francis Gordon, rector of Sf. Mary of the Angels, with the Rev. John Sobieszczyk and the Rev. Joseph Tarasiuk, assistants.
An imposing edifice, St. Mary of the Angels can be seen for many blocks. Its completion marks the termination of eight years and eight months of untiring activity on the part of its loyal congregation. Authorities on architecture agree that it is one of the finest specimens of the Roman Renaissance churches in the United States. It was erected at an approximate cost of $400,000 and its seating capacity is 2,000. Its altars are by Daprato Co., and an organ soon to be installed will cost $23,500 and therefore congratulations are due in unlimited quantity to the Rev. Father Gordon at the completion of his years in labor erection. The church will ever stand as a monument to the pastor’s earnest zeal and activity.
Fr. John R. Waiss