Over the last few years, we have considered the history of St. Mary of the Angels. Yet our history must be put in context of the great pioneers of the Faith in our city and state. This should inspire us to think big, long-term, and consider how each one of us can contribute to the future of the Catholic Church where God has placed us.
Establishing Catholic Chicago
In May 1673 French Jesuit, Fr. Jacques Marquette joined his friend and explorer Louis Jolliet on an expedition to discover and map the Mississippi River. They traveled from Green Bay over to the Wisconsin River and then down to the Mississippi. Traveling down the Mississippi River the two came across Native Americans of the Illinois tribe, and entered the Indian village called “peouarea” (Peoria). They continued down the Mississippi River until it met the Arkansas River, and then returned to Lake Michigan via the Illinois Rivers. The two arrived to the mouth of the Chicago River at Lake Michigan on December 4, 1674. Fr. Marquette recuperated in a small cabin they built before returning to mission of St. Francis Xavier in Green Bay, Wisconsin. That small cabin, where Fr. Marquette likely celebrated Holy Mass, was the first building of the future city of Chicago.
Before reaching the future location of Chicago Fr. Marquette and Jolliet came across a large village on the Illinois River of the Illinois tribe. The village was called Kaskasia. Fr. Marquette would return in 1674—as he promised the chieftains—to establish a mission among them and to share with them the Catholic Faith. Father Claude Allouez took over the mission from Fr. Marquette, who died in May 1675 at age 37.
The first Catholics in Chicago and its surroundings were French. Most were fur traders. In 1791 those of European decent in Illinois numbered only 1221. In the 1830s the Catholic population in Chicago was about 100. So Mark and Jean Baptiste Beaubien, who ran the Sauganash Hotel, decided to build the first Catholic church in Chicago, calling it St. Mary’s (it was located near the corner of State and Lake streets). Mark Beaubien petitioned the bishop of St. Louis for a priest, and Fr. John St. Cyr was sent here as pastor of St. Mary’s.
On November 28, 1843 Chicago was made a diocese with Bishop William J. Quarter has our first spiritual head. The first great wave of Catholic immigration came in 1846-48, when famine in Ireland brought many to Chicago. Bishop Quarter allowed each parish to keep its markedly ethnic identity. Although he would die in April 1848, Bishop Quarter ordained twenty-nine priests and built thirty churches.
From 1841-50 a large number of German Catholics immigrated to Chicago. By 1870, the diocese of Chicago had more than 40,000 Catholics, 142 priests, 26 parishes, and 50 Catholic schools.
In the 1850 U.S. Census, only 495 individuals (72 women) were counted of Polish origin in the whole United States. In ten years that number rose to 7,298 (309 here in Chicago). In 1864 Polish families formed the patronage of St. Stanislaus Kostka and bought land for a church—about a mile from St. Mary of the Angels towards downtown. A Polish diocesan priest, Fr. Joseph Juszkiewicz, administered the parish. A year before St. Stanislaus Kostka, Annunciation Parish was built—on the corner of Paulina and Wabansia, just a block south of St. Mary of the Angels—to serve the English-speaking Irish Catholics who lived along the Chicago River (that church was closed and razed in 1978).
The pastor of Holy Name Cathedral, Fr. Joseph Roles, approached Fr. Jerome Kajsiewicz CR superior general of the newly founded Congregation of the Resurrectionists, asking him to supply priests for Chicago’s Polish and Bohemian immigrants. Fr. Kajsiewicz visited Chicago in 1871 and met with Bishop Foley who formally agreed to entrust the Polish missions in Chicago to the Resurrectionists for the next ninety-nine years. The Resurrectionists then took possession of St. Stanislaus Kostka parish.
The real influx of Polish—along with Lithuanian and Italian Catholics—began in earnest in 1890. The Lithuanians built St. Michael’s Catholic Church on Wabansia, between Paulina and Marshfield, in 1904. By 1909 more than 2,000 Lithuanians worshipped at St. Michael’s on a given Sunday. St. Michael’s is now closed and torn down.
Fr. John R. Waiss
The joy of Christmas all began with Mary’s generous response to God through the angel Gabriel. When Gabriel told Mary: “behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son… He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High… [as] the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God” (Luke 1:31-35), Mary responded “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). This brought her great joy, the joy of having Jesus inside her: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior… henceforth all generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:46-48). Christmas is a time for all of us to share in Mary’s joy.
As God called Mary to help bring the Child Jesus into the world, God calls us to do so too. What better way to bring joy to the world and to other people than to bring people to Mary who brings them to Christ? Mary’s joy overflows into others. Her joy overflowed into John the Baptist who danced in Elizabeth’s womb at the Visitation. Mary’s joy overflowed into the angels who then announced it to the shepherds on Christmas night: “I bring you good news of a great joy… to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:10-12). The three Magi also experienced a share in Mary’s great joy when they arrived to worship the divine King of the Jews. As we bring others to her, Mary’s joy will help them experience the Christmas joy of having the Emmanuel, God with us.
Joy is the fruit of love. We ask: St. Mary of the Angels, Teach us how to love with a love that gives itself away. As St. Josemaría would put it: “beg Our Lord, through his Mother who is our Mother too, to increase his love in us, to grant us a taste of the sweetness of his presence. Only when we love do we attain the fullest freedom: the freedom of not wanting ever to abandon, for all eternity, the object of our love” (Friends of God 38).
To help bring Mary’s Christmas joy to others for all generations we have begun our For All Generations campaign. It is a campaign to restore the North Tower, façade, parapet, roofs, the four small cupolas, and other elements of the church exterior. Part of our dream is to put up a large image of the Blessed Virgin Mary—overlooking Chicago as our Protectrix—as we restore the parapet to the front façade.
Even before we began our campaign we had received over $1 million in donations and pledges—up from the $400,000 we had last year at this time. What joy this must bring to Our Blessed Mother—your generosity certainly gives us great joy.
Let’s never take for granted, but keep marveling at the beautify legacy of St. Mary of the Angels church. It is a legacy that we have received from past generations, so let us now work to pass it on for future and for all generations. In this way our Christmas joy will be full as more people encounter Christ through Mary.
Always united to the Child Jesus and to his Mother and ours,
Fr. John Waiss, Fr. Hilary Mahaney, Fr. Charles Ferrer, Fr. Deogracias Rosales,
Fr. Krzysztof Świerczyński, Deacon Glenn Tylutki and Staff of St. Mary of the Angels.
What a surprise we received on Tuesday, December 12, when we received an email from the artist, Raúl Berzosa, that did our painting of St. Juan Diego, the painting next to the altar of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The artist pointed out that our painting—which we commissioned, installed, and had blessed by Bishop Rojas last February—was used in St. Peter’s Basilica for the cover of their worship aid used for the Mass honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe presided over by Pope Francis.
The Virgin Mary appear to Juan Diego and left her image on his tilma, the poncho-like cloak that indigenous Mexican used at that time: 1531. St. Juan Diego was one of the few Native American Mexicans that had converted during the early colonization of the New World. Most Native Americans were suspicious of the European colonizers, seeing their lust for gold as a kind of idolatry. Also the sometimes brutal and humiliating treatment of the indigenous people by the colonizers also created deep-seated mistrust.
But when Our Blessed Mother left her image on that tilma, miracles of grace began to occur. Native American Mexicans began to come on their own to be baptized, two or three hundred at a time… then by the thousands, men and women, young and old, and from every Mexican tribe. Some walked for days to come to see the Virgin Mother of God, often bringing their sick relatives. The Franciscan missionaries were exhausted because they were so few; once two missionaries baptized over fifteen thousand in one day.
The conversions were real. The converts knew they had to abandon polygamy and be married to one person for life. Prior to Our Lady’s appearance to St. Juan Diego, missionaries had a hard time convincing indigenous Mexicans to accept monogamy and Christian marriage. After Mary’s appearance, Native Americans came to the priests to be married in droves: one day more than five hundred couples came forward to be married in the Church.
The newly baptized also came in great numbers to be catechized, deepening their knowledge of Jesus Christ. This brought about a true transformation in their way of living and led many to confess their sins in Reconciliation and struggle more decisively against sin and temptation. Some would travel for days to get to the missions to go to Confession.
Mary did it all through that image she left on St. Juan Diego’s tilma. Here at St. Mary of the Angels, as we seek to restore the church, especially the North Tower and the Parapet above the façade, we see the potential evangelizing impact that a 25 foot image of St. Mary of the Angels, Our Hope and Protectress, could have. This is in our restoration plan and why we have launched the For All Generations campaign.
Just like the missionaries of old were stymied by the difficult cultural environment confronting them, we know that we can’t do anything without the help of our Blessed Mother.
Fr. John R. Waiss
A few questions have arisen since we announced the For All Generations campaign in November. One question—asked by a young person, along with a drawing: How did you bild this coirch [= How did you build this church]? Why is this church so high? Why are there so much [sic] benches?
The church was build with the faith of Polish immigrants, who wanted to give thanks to God for bringing them safely to the United States and for giving them an opportunity to prosper and have a family. It was built “so high” because those immigrants wanted to be generous with God and to help lift their sights to God every time they entered the church. There are so many benches because a hundred years ago there were so many people going to church to show their love and appreciation to Go.
Why the Campaign now when the Archdiocese is trying to close churches?
The Archdiocese is going through the Renew My Church program, to consolidate resources—including parishes—in an effort to better direct personnel and financial resources to effectively meet the spiritual needs of Chicago Catholics and to evangelize non-Catholics and fallen away Catholics. So—one may ask—if we don’t know how Renew My Church is going to impact St. Mary of the Angels, then why spend the time and money to fix the church?
Shortly after Renew My Church was announced, one of the cornices fell off the church building. We responded to this by surveying the exterior of the whole church, identifying safety issues and repair needs. Parishioners of St. Mary of the Angels responded by raising over $1 million in cash and pledges. We spent $150,000 of emergency repairs, leaving about $1 million dollars for building needs.
Having consulted with the Archdiocese of Chicago, the parish leadership decided not to sit back and wait, but to continue the restoration that began in 1990. We will not sit on our hands, put off maintenance of the church and school, which would let things decay further and pass on to the next generation the burden of dilapidated buildings.
We recognize that things have changed: the Polish community who built this church over 100 years ago has left a great treasure. While the Kennedy Expressway, built in 1960, cut off a third of our parishioners, it now brings hundreds of thousands of people pass the St. Mary of the Angels each day. This is not a detriment but a great opportunity to further our parish’s evangelizing efforts.
A number of people have recently told me about how they or how their spouses were drawn to the church’s beauty—perhaps initially out of curiosity—and through their encounter with beauty they experienced an encounter with Jesus Christ and with his Blessed Mother. This is priceless! Think of how many more people we can bring to Christ if we can improve our exterior witness with a beautiful mosaic of Mary overlooking Chicago, the Kennedy Expressway, and the Metra Train lines.
Let’s look at Renew My Church and our For All Generations campaign as an opportunity to grow our parish: there will be more Confessions, more attending sacramental preparation, more interest in the Faith and our RCIA program, more weddings, more kids in our CCD program, etc. More too will take interest in the great school we have, and want to send their children here. As we go through the process, let’s look at the possibilities of making our parish and our Archdiocese stronger and more effective.
Please pray for St. Mary of the Angels and our For All Generations campaign as we support one another during this time of renewal and growth.
Fr. John R. Waiss
Advent is a time to prepare for Christmas, for the birth of the Messiah, the Immanuel—God with us—the Incarnate Word of God. This week we celebrate the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which is how God prepared Mary to receive the child Jesus on the first Christmas.
The Immaculate Conception is the dogma that says that Mary was conceived without sin. The concepts “without” and “sin” are negative concepts. Sin is the lack of a right relationship with God. This means the statement, “Mary was conceived without sin,” doesn’t say anything positive about her. Yet Scripture puts this double negative into the positive: that Mary was conceived with a good healthy relationship with God, that she was conceived as His “highly favored” daughter. In other words, that she was conceived “full of grace” (Luke 1:28,30).
Some people object to praising Mary in this way, saying that she should not be treated as an exception: she is just like the rest of us sinful creatures in need of a Messiah. But is Mary the anomaly or are we?
God also conceived Adam and Eve immaculate: when God created them, he saw what he had created was “very good” (Genesis 1:31); they even walked with God in the Garden of Eden as they had a good, healthy relationship with God. God granted them this grace so that they could fulfill their mission of parents of the human race. He would have granted this grace to all of us, had Adam and Eve not sinned. So sin created an anomaly in God’s original plan.
Yet Mary is more blessed than any woman: “blessed are you among women” (Luke 1:42). God blessed Mary more than he did Eve, whom he conceived without sin. Therefore it doesn’t surprise us that God prepared Mary for her more lofty mission—to be mother of the Messiah—conceiving her without sin and preserving her of all sin: “even as he chose [Mary] in him before the foundation of the world, that [she] should be holy and immaculate before him” (Ephesians 1:4).
God wants the same for each one of us. He wants us to be able to receive the Child Jesus on Christmas “holy and immaculate.” So, a good way to prepare for Christmas this Advent is to rid ourselves of sin by making a good examination of conscience and then a good confession.
Perhaps it could also be good to identify those areas in our lives where we can improve: triggers that provoke our anger or selfishness. For example, when something is not in the place where we expected it to be, do we get angry and start blaming other people? Perhaps we need to be more detached from our things and realize that they are there to help us serve others and make their lives happier.
Another example is when I am tired and want to rest—perhaps in that moment someone wants help or needs some attention from me. Do I get irritated and annoyed, and then show it in my response to them? Perhaps I need to warn the others when I’m tired: “Hey, folks, I’m tired and you know how any little thing will set me off when I’m this way… I just want to warn you.” It is amazing that such a “warning,” an act of humility, can strengthen us not to get annoyed and upset when things don’t go our way. Also, if we do lose it, we will be quicker to apologize: “Hey, I’m sorry. It’s not you but me.” Then everyone can move on and serve each other without resentments!
Let us ask Our Lady, then, to purify us of sin this Advent through a good confession and by taking steps to distance ourselves from every little thing that leads to sin.
Fr. John R. Waiss