Friday, December 24, 2010

Notre Dame Church in Chicago

Quite a few years ago many a Christmas Eve found me with my family at midnight Mass at Notre Dame Church on Chicago’s near west side. It was a special yearly visit to the Italian Taylor Street “old neighborhood” of big families and special memories. I especially recall peering up into the great dome overhead and marveling at the art work so high up, and even at my age then was able to appreciate how well the church was cared for.

In Chicago Churches and Synagogues: An Architectural Pilgrimage, Fr. George Lane writes that “the words ‘Notre Dame de Chicago’ above the door … recall the illustrious French history of Chicago…. Although Notre Dame parish was founded in 1864, it was actually a continuation of an earlier French church known as St. Louis which was organized in 1850.”

Fr. Lane tells us that the beautiful church is in the Romanesque Revival style, with the main body almost circular in plan surmounted by a 90-foot dome and cupola. The high vaulted ceiling is one of the most striking features in my memory. Fr. Lane also describes “thirty-three beautiful stained glass windows, all imported from Europe, [that] decorate and illuminate the church.” In 1918, after most of the French-speaking residents were gone, the Cardinal gave the parish and church to the Blessed Sacrament fathers to run.

The Notre Dame parish has suffered some set-backs in more recent years. First, the city razed good parts of the parish for the Eisenhower Expressway just to the north, for the West Side medical center just to the west, and for the University of Illinois campus just to the east. Some other Taylor Street churches, such as St. Calistus, survived these depredations, but a special one, Guardian Angel, did not.  Then, Fr. Lane relates that in 1978 the statue of Our Lady atop the cupola was struck by lightning and caught fire, causing extensive damage to the church. But through all that, Notre Dame still stands this new Christmas, on Flournoy Street at Loomis, in the heart of the old neighborhood through which so many lives have passed and become enriched.

R Balsamo

No comments:

Post a Comment