Friday, August 4
Vigiles et Sancti
Chicago is an ever-fascinating city for an adopted resident like myself, not in the least that it is very much a city of neighborhoods. Certainly, New York has its neighborhoods, but present-day Manhattan is largely beyond the days of colorful ethnic neighborhoods; the outer boroughs tend to have most of these, with a few exceptions. Chicago, of course, is subject to the same laws, but still retains wider traces of the past. Another aspect of Chicago is that it does not just have neighborhoods, it has belts of neighborhoods connected to each other by ethnic ties. I have taken to exploring some of these lately, notably the Polish Northwest Side. Today, however, I would like to comment on my experience further east on the North Side, in a once very German section of Chicago. There was a time, over 100 years ago, when there were many German sections of Chicago, from the southern section of Englewood to the northern Lincoln Square (the last stronghold of German restaurants and shops in the city). Getting towards the norther end of that progression, in the neighborhood of Lake View, sits Saint Alphonsus, a large red brick Gothic church.
Saint Alphonsus, however, is not just a church - in its heyday it was a neighborhood and German institution. Indeed, next to the church, on parish property there sits an opera house - yes, an opera house, the Athenaeum Theatre. Its presence indicates the strong social and cultural ties between the Church and the community and the ambition and execution of the parishioners, who were able to build a functioning, successful and durable theater that has outlasted most of the secular movie palaces of its time, one of the greatest of which, the Uptown, sits derelict and awaiting preservation a couple of neighborhoods to the North.
The parish was once run by the Redemptorists, who were to the Germans in Chicago what the Resurrectionists were to the Polish - the ever-present religious order operating most of the ethnic parishes. They still maintain a presence, and run the beautiful St. Michael's in Old Town. However, they turned over St. Alphonsus to the Archdiocese in 1999, and it is run by two fairly young Archdiocesan priests.
The interior of the church is beautiful but in dire need of restoration. The Gothic reredos and tabernacle are beautifully preserved, while the rest of the high altar that once attached to it now serves as the altar of sacrifice. Elsewhere, though, much is worked is needed, and thankfully a campaign is underway to get this done. The sanctuary needs a new carpet or a restoration of what is underneath; most of the interior is in need of paint; and a new sound system is sorely needed. Time has been relatively good to this church with respect to sacred furnishings, though the side altars are in a strangely stripped state that begs for a bettter setting. Basically, this is a church that has served well, but needs refreshing, and I am very glad to see that this apparently will take place. The parish is in a bustling area that stands to continue to grow, and the congregation seemed fairly young on the whole, though I was at a Saturday vigil Mass with a fairly sparse crowd. Notably, the parish continues to retain its German identity in the form of a German Mass every Sunday morning.
The parish seems promising in terms of liturgy, with a Sunday morning choral liturgy and a good organist (though the organ needs new casing - it looks very bare in its current state). Furthermore, the parish possesses excellent vestments (Father was wearing a new green Roman-cut chasuble and used matching chalice veil and burse). Basically, for a parish that isn't trying to be a liturgical center, the liturgy seems quite good. Below, I provide some pictures of this under-photographed church. I apologize for the poor lighting.
The Redemptorist Mission Cross - note the wear and tear on the walls.