Sacrifices to Honor Our Blessed Mother

St. Mary of the Angels was built with love, sacrifice, and nickels and dimes; it was built in love and honor of Our Blessed Mother. These sacrifices were made both by the priests and parish staff, but above all by the faithful parishioners who were moved by love to make these sacrifices for their families and their Mother.

With great fidelity to Catholicism and dedication to Polish immigrants, Fr. Francis Gordon CR became St. Mary of the Angels’ first pastor at age 39. Prior to becoming pastor, Fr. Gordon was a great figure in Chicago heading the Polish newspaper, Dziennik Chicagoski, and founding the Polish Alma Mater in 1897, which served more than 10,000 youths.

As the first pastor and organizer of the new parish, Fr. Francis Gordon formed a committee composed of citizens living within the boundaries of the new parish. These included Francis Osinski, Francis Roszkowski, Michael Borkowicz, Michael Raflewski, Jacob Klinger, Joseph Wroblewski, Adalbert Przybylski, John Kaminski, Ignatius Ignatowski, Michael Huntowski, Lawrence Wachowski and Peter Bykowski. A week after its formation the committee unanimously agreed on the church’s location and the architect’s tentative blueprints for the church, school, and rectory in one building (now our school building).

Fr. Gordon celebrated the first Mass at St. Mary of the Angels church on December 11, 1899, the day after its dedication. In 1900 a church organ was installed and a year later the three church bells—cast in Troy, New York—were acquired for $4,000. A special bell tower was built in the schoolyard just north of the church. The bells rang out for the first time on August 1, 1901 to summon the faithful to honor of the Patroness of the parish. Fr. Gordon left St. Mary of the Angels briefly to become pastor of St. Stanislaus Kostka in 1906, the mother parish for the Polish people in Chicago. But Fr. Gordon’s assignment there was brief and returned to St. Mary of the Angels as pastor three years later.

A New Church: Majestic and Beautiful

In 1909 St. Mary of the Angels parish had grown to become one of the largest in the Archdiocese of Chicago, with some 1200 mostly large families. Both the church and school had become too small to hold all the parishioners and their school children. As a result Fr. Gordon hired Henry Worthmann and J.G. Steinbach to design a new church in the Roman Renaissance style, similar in style to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The new church would be located at the corner of Hermitage and Cortland and 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.). 26 nine-foot tall angels would decorate the perimeter of the church’s roof (similar to the 140 eighteen-foot statues of the apostles and other saints on the colonnade and above the façade of St. Peter’s).

Work on the new church began on September 28, 1911. While excavating the site the workers unearthed three crucifixes. This was taken as a sign of God’s providential will for the church. On August 2, 1914—feast of St. Mary of the Angels—the cornerstone was blessed before thousands of faithful. Difficulties seemed to bog down the project with shortages of money, building materials, labor strikes, and World War I.

Fr. Gordon became provincial superior of the Resurrectionists from 1918 until 1928, while remaining pastor at St. Mary of the Angels. He followed the construction of the church and development of the parish closely.

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, which was attended by the U.S. Ambassador to Poland and the Polish Envoy to the United States. The Archbishop 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.” In fact, parishioners had mortgaged their home to raise the monies needed to build the church. To thank our Blessed Mother for her help in turning their dreams into reality, the people marched in a May procession after the solemn high Mass.

Fr. John R. Waiss

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

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