Rebuild My Church

Throughout the 1960s and ‘70s Polish families began leaving Bucktown and were replaced by Hispanic families. Deteriorating physical conditions forced the closure of the church building. Plaster was falling from the roof and dome, and a piece grazed a parishioner, the Archdiocese mandated the building be closed. This took place after the last Mass celebrated on January 3, 1988.

While closed, daily Mass was celebrated in a chapel between the rectory and the school building (now used by Midtown Program and Residence). Each week the school auditorium went from hosting the Friday night BINGO to provisional “church” for Sunday Masses. There were discussions concerning possibly demolishing the closed church and replacing it with a smaller one. The neighbors, parishioners, and former parishioners began to pull together in a grassroots effort to save the church—an ambitious goal of $1.26 million was set by the Archdiocese in order to save the church. After missing the goal by $100,000, authorities decided not to repair the church, which led to some demonstrations in front of the Cathedral and the Cardinal’s residence.

In February 1988, Álvaro del Portillo—the prelate of Opus Dei—came to Chicago on his pastoral visit throughout the United States. On February 14 he wanted to make a pilgrimage to some place that honored Our Blessed Mother, but instead of going to Queen of All Saints Basilica—as many anticipated—the vicar of Opus Dei in Chicago, Fr. Bill Stetson, arranged for him to pray to Our Lady at St. Mary of the Angels. While here he prayed for the parish that the church would reopen and entrusted to priests of the Prelature. Fr. Bill Stetson brought this to Cardinal Bernardine’s attention and discussed the possibility of the pastoral care of the parish to be entrusted priests of the Prelature of Opus Dei. This took place on the parish in 1991, with the consent of Bishop Álvaro del Portillo. [Note: The first successor of the founder of Opus Dei would die on March 23, 1994 and would be beatified in Madrid on September 27, 2014. Grateful to him for “saving” the parish, many parishioners frequently go to his intercession].

Fr. John Twist was named pastor and the parish formed a priest council to govern the parish, with Fr. John as its moderator. Fr. John Debicki and Fr. John (Jack) Kubek were the first to join Fr. John on the council. Fr. John was an incredible fundraiser which enabled the restoration to go forward quickly.

They immediately began major repairs to the dome, roofs and stained-glass windows at a cost of $2.1 million. The church was reopened on October 2nd, 1992 and rededicated on October 11 by Cardinal Bernardin, who told the congregation: “We meet here today to celebrate a promise fulfilled, an encounter accomplished, a mission begun.” Later that year, Eugene and Terry Urbaszewski accepted the “A Landmark Reclaimed” award from the Partners for Sacred Places on behalf of Fr. John Twist and the parishioners of St. Mary of the Angels.

Fr. Jack was soon replaced by Fr. Hilary Mahaney in 1993; Fr. Charles Ferrer also joined the team at that time. When Fr. John had to leave for health reasons in 1995 Fr. Hilary Mahaney took over as pastor. In 1997 the church interior was restored. For the 100th anniversary of St. Mary of the Angels, new lighting, doors, and sound system were installed, and the 26 rooftop angels restored. With these efforts brought more families to St. Mary of the Angels, reviving the parish.

Fr. John R. Waiss

Online: http://sma-church.org/motherofpurelove

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