Plymouth Congregational Church, St. Mary’s R.C. Church, Old St. Mary’s Church
Life Span: 1867-1970
Location: South-East corner of Eldridge Court (9th Street) and Wabash Avenue
Architect: Gordon P. Randall
Chicago Tribune, July 19, 1865
Yesterday wan the occasion of a ceremony most interesting to the society of Plymouth Congregational Church and thelr friende among the religious community. A very good and satisfactory mile-stone of church progress 18 a corner stone of its new and adequate place of worship. In this instance the last term Is applicable to the enterprise «tone material portion 1s just initiated. The new church structure, whose corner stone was laid with highly interesting and appropriate exercises yesterday afternoon, will be adequate to the demands of Plymouth, and to the present age of church building in this city. The site bas been well chosen on our street of churches, Wabash avenue, on the corner of Eldridge Court, far enough south to be surrounded by and the best resident portion of our city, without danger of being disturbed by the vicinity of tall business blocks for at least twenty years. It will not do to predicate more than that upon the growth of our business center southward. Some of the churches that had thought themselves far enough from trade are being strongly elbowed by wholesale groceries and liquors, and the tendency will grow yearly. This fact has indeed modified a former view of the Plymouth Church committee, who have sold their first selected site on Jackson street for the certainly more eligible one for church purposes, whereon their building enterprise is now auspiciously begun.
Plymouth Church was an offshoot from the First Presbyterian Church, then worshipping on the corner of South Clark and Washington streets, in 1851. The cause of the division was radicalism, the new church taking a decided anti-slavery stand, and combining, under the Congregational charter, to stand in perpetual protest against Human Oppression, It is but just to add that for years past, such has been the change in the position of our religious community, that it would be hard to decide which has been foremost, the parent church or its offspring, in the work of aiding Liberty. Plymouth Church for several years occupied a house of worship on Madison street, fronting north on Dearborn, before the latter street was extended by the location of the Post Office. On this Chur change being decreed, it joined with its church building the march of churches southward, and committed the mistake of turning into Edina place. The experience of all churches shows that it will not do for religious enterprises entirely to forego skill in selecting sites—a mistake never made by the children of evil, who well know that their lures must derive success from happy location. On Edina place, now Third avenue, Plymouth Church has waited to see other church enterprises far outstrip it in prosperity. The mistake is well remedied now in the new structure soon to be their home.
It will be handsome among handsome city churches, commodious beyond any church in the city, giving the largest area in the audience room without gallery or column to break the space. Its style will be of Norman class. Its material is the rock-faced Athens marble. It will give the entire upper floor to the main audience room, with a lofty basement devoted to the adjunct rooms which city churches find indispensable. The plan of the whole building does great credit to the architect Mr. G. P. Randall, well known as an architect of churches. The cost of the structure will be $80,000. It is the design to furnish and occupy the lower portion for purposes of worship the comin winter.
The lot on which the building is being erected is 84 by 120 feet, and the extreme projections of the transepts, buttresses and towers reach nearly or quite to the line of the lot each way. This building will have a basement which will occupy the lower story, it being entirely above ground and 13 feet in the clear. In it there will be a pastor’s study, 17 by 22; a parlor adjacent to it, 24 by 39 feet; a general lecture room, 40 by 60; and infant class room, 26 by 26 feet; a Bible class room, 19 by 20 feet; besides a coal room, janitor’s room, water closets, cloak and book rooms, & c. In addition to these rooms there will be the corridors, and in front the main vestibule and stairways to the story above. From the pastor’s study there will be a private stairway leading to the pulpit above.
The principal story of this floor is in one large room, or auditorium, broken on its sides only by the transepts; and in rear by a recess back of the pulpit.
It will be lighted from the side windows mainly, and will have what might be called a flat ceiling, though not strictly so, portions of it being covered, and moderately ornamented by ribs springing from corbels on the walls, and carrying pendents in the ceiling. The ceiling and walls will be frescoed.
This room will seat, exclusive of orchestra, 991, or, in round numbers, it has 1,000 sittings, and in this respect may take rank with the largest Protestant churches in the city.
The building will be of stone on the sides next the streets, and brick in the rear. It was originally designed with a large tower on the corner, but this was omitted on account of its expense. There will, however, be two small towers in the front, between which will be a large bold main entrance doorway, and several windows, and outside of which will be two smaller doors for ingress and egress auxiliary to the main door, and also as entrances to the basement. The foundations have already been laid “broad and deep,” the lower bed being of concrete from there to ten feet wide and two deep, thoroughly cemented into one solid mass, which in a few months will be almost as hard as the stone itself.
The exercises yesterday were simple and impressive. The pastor officiated introducing the several clergymen Rev. Dr. Humphrey, Rev. Prof. Fisk, Rev. Mr. Roy, former pastor of the church, and Dr. Patton. The box containing the usual memorial collection was duly deposited beneath the massive stone. Plymouth Church has as excellent and efficient pastor in Re, H. D. Kitchell, D.D., whose loss to a prominent congregation in Detroit was a good and notable acquisition to the pulpit talent of this city. Under his charge, with those who are associates in the work, the future of Plymouth Church is little doubtful. It will take the place among th prominent representatives of congregationalism in the West.
Chicago Illustrated, August, 1866
THIS STATELY EDIFICE was not quite completed in its interior when this view was taken. It is located at the South-East corner of Eldridge Court and Wabash Avenue. The side and front upon the streets are stone “rock” finish. The other walls are of brick. The style of architecture is the Norman and Romanesque blended. The building is 84 feet wide, with transepts, and 120 feet deep. The basement is 13 feet high, and will be arranged and divided into class and lecture rooms, and other offices. The main story is 36 feet high. This auditorium will seat one thousand persons—a large gallery, for the organ and the choir, will face the pulpit. The basement of the church is the only part now finished, and is occupied.
The cost of this edifice, when completed, will be nearly $100,000. G. P. Randall, Esq., of Chicago, is the Architect.
The building is owned by the Plymouth Congregational Church, of Chicago, a society of some years’ official organization, and one prosperous in all the essentials of an active ecclesiastical body. The Rev. Lewis Watson is the pastor, and this church will be dedicated this spring.
James W. Sheahan, Esq.,
Chicago Evening Post, October 14, 1867
Plymouth Church Dedication.—The new building of the Plymouth Church congregation was dedicated yesterday, the edifice being completely filled on the occasion.
Plymouth Congregational Church erected at Wabash avenue and Eldridge court about 1868.
Chicago Evening Post, November 22, 1871
The Holy Name Church will be rebuilt as soon as the insurance matters can be put in a definite shape. Collections are being made for the purposes of recuperation. St. Mary’s will, most likely be renewed, at least upon the same site, but there are rumors that grand cathedral church will be established somewhere on Wabash avenue. A particular statement of the losses of this denomination will be found below:
- Church of the Holy Name, 196 by 75 feet in dimensions, costing $275,000; and residence attached, valued at $5,000.
St. Mary’s Church, at the corner of Madson street and Wabash avenue, 110 by 50 feet, costing $40,000.
Chicago Evening Post, October 9, 1872
Dedication of St. Mary’s.
The dedication of St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church (formerly the Plymouth Congregational), corner of Wabash avenue and Eldridge court, were commenced at 10:30 o’clock this morning. The sacred edifice was thronged by an immense Catholic concourse, every seat being filled and the aisles completely blockaded. The decorations of the church were very simple, consisting only of a communion rail, covered with red cloth, temporarily constructed the usual amount of blessed candles, and a “tabernacle” surmounting the ordinary altar. A representation of the Saviour, after being taken from the cross, was suspended above the dais. The Sisters of Charity, in their simple but picturesque costumes, occupied the side seats on the left of the altar.
The Inter Ocean, April 2, 1899
St. Mary’s church. at the corner of Eldridge court and Wabash avenue, is the house of worship of the oldest Catholic congregation and parish in Chicago. No church in the world has a congregation like it. Of the 3,000 people who attend mass there on Sunday not more than 500 live in the parish. Practically the entire membership is transient.
“If we were to start a parochial school we would not always have twenty-five pupils,” says Father Conway, assistant to the pastor, Father Murphy. “There are no children in this church, because there are none to speak of in the parish.”
This curious state of affairs is explained by the fact that the boundaries of the parish are the limits of the First ward. The First ward is St. Mary’s parish. Into that church on Sundays all of the big-town hotels, the night lodging-houses for transients, and the one-night lodging-houses empty their guests. This, with the sparse resident population of the First ward, constitutes the 3,000 who attend the four Sunday masses. It makes one of the most appreciative, keen, and cosmopolitan congregations to be imagined.
“I don’t believe that a parish in the city, or a a church, has a better crowd of worshippers,” Father Conway declares.
It is a congregation, too, Chicago’s down-town hotels he asks to be directed which gives to the pastor and his assistant priest infinite opportunities for helpfulness. When a Catholic from any part of the world stops over Sunday at one of Chicago’s down-town hotels he asks to be directed to the nearest church. This is St. Mary’s, and from its past history as the parent church of all the Catholic churches in the city, it is very dear to the hearts of all. Very few strangers stopping in Chicago for a few days fail to find the stone church with the gold cross on Wabash avenue.
Petitions at St. Mary’s Shrines.
And strange are the tales which they pour into the ears of the priests. Some of the strangers travel for fortune and some for pleasure. Some are flying stealthily from justice in foreign countries or in other states in this country. Some are even of royal lineage. When they worship at St. Mary’s they all met on a common footing. All pour out their joys and sorrows and make their petitions at St. Mary’s shrines. And St. Mary’s church has two shrines which are not yet common in the United States—the shrine of St. Anthony and the shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes, a grotto in exact imitation of the famous fountain of miracles at Lourdes, France.
“Some years ago,” Father Conway of St. Marys’s, “St. Anthony began to be very popular throughout the country as a patron saint, and in response to the popular demand we had the beautiful shrine in the chapel down stairs erected.”
St. Anthony is the saint who more especially than others grants temporal favors. “If you’ve lost anything, ask St. Anthony and he’ll bring it back,” is a common expression among children. St. Anthony looks out for the material welfare of his devotees so well that there is scarcely a minute in the day when some parishioner is not payig his devotions, and the shrine at St. Mary’s has become well known for the seemingly miraculous answers which have been received by devout petitioners.
The shrine of Our Lady of Lourdesis of ragged rock, fashioned exactly after the original healing fountain in France. Water runs continually in the fountain and a large image of the Blessed Virgin stands in the grotto on the right-hand side. This shrine is kept covered with flowers and offerings.
Church Started in 1833.
It will be sixty-six years ago in May that St. Mary’s church was dedicated. Being the first Catholic church built in Chicago, it was at one time a cathedral. Thst was when St. Mary’s was a little frame chapel at the corner of Wabash avenue and Madison street. The parish had always had the same boundaries—from the river south to Twelfth street, and from the lake west to the south branch, although after the great fire of 1871 the location of the church was changed to the present site. Before 1833 the Bishop of Vincennes, Ind., had jurisdiction over the territory of Illinois. Chicago was a trading station in those days and occasionally priests from a neighboring diocese would come as missionaries to the settlers and the Indians. By April, 1833, there were nearly 100 Catholic residents in the little dirty village on Lake Michigan and they wrote down to the good Bishop of St. Louis and asked him to send them a pastor. Among the original signers of the letter were many whose grandchildren are well-known members of the Catholic church in Chicago today. They were nearly all French, as the following partial list shows:
- Ch. Monselle, J. B. Brodeur, J. B. Demekin, J. B. Taleavy, H. St. Ours, N. P. Perry, I. B. Rabble, H. Honedrof, D. Deplat, L. fe, J. Chassut, I. PoFranchere, M. Smith, J. B. Bronix, L. Chevalier, J. Mann, H. Taylor, Major Whistler, A. Oielmet, P. Le Clefe, J. Chassut, I. Pothier, J. B. and M. Baubien, D. Vaugh, J. Caldwell, P. Walsh, L. Bourasse, A. R. Robinson, J. R. and C. Laframboise, and W. J. V. Owens and family.
First Pastor of St. Mary’s.
In answer to the petition, Bishop Rosati at once sent Father John Mary Irernaeus St. Cyr to build up a parish in Chicago. Father S. Cyr proved to be a man of learning, and and energy, and piety. He was made of the stuff that is molded into missionaries by the church. He was 29 years old and a native of Lyons, France. He became so dear to the people of St. Mary’s and to Catholics throughout the country that great preparations were made to greet him at the fiftieth anniversary of St. Mary’s, the jubilee celebrated in 1888. Father St. Cyr, an old man of 80, was living in St. Louis then, and likewise looked forward with joy to visiting his child of 50 years. He died, however, a month before the ceremonies of the golden jubilee took place.
When Father St. Cyr reached Chicago, in 1833, he found that land had already been secured for the church, and a little frame structure was built and dedicated in September of that year. It was not long before the work grew to such proportions that Father St. Cyr sent for four other priests to assist him. Ten years later a new diocese was formed at Chicago, and Bishop William Quarter of New York city was chosen to fill the see. St. Mary’s thus became the cathedral parish of the diocese. When Bishop Quarter took charge he found that a new brick church was being built beside the frame chapel. It was in debt, and funds were lacking to carry the building to completion. Bishop Quarter finished the new church with private funds belonging to himself and his brother, the Rev. Walter Quarter.
Within a few months the germ of the Catholic university of the lake was planted in a Catholic college, which was opened with two professors and six students. An ecclesiastical seminary was established in 1845. Sisters of Mercy were sent for and came from Pittsburgh to found an academy, a famous and fashionable institution in Chicago for many years. A charity hospital and orphan asylum at Jackson street and Wabash avenue was also founded and placed in their charge. All these enterprises emanated from St. Mary’s parish and were supported by it, and St. Mary’s became the pride of the church in the West and the Mecca of the devout.
Numerous societies were organized for helpfulness in those early days, among them being the Hibernia Benevolent Emigrant association. At that time the tide of emigration from Ireland and other parts of Europe was at its full. Every emigrant then did not have a friend or relative in the new new world. The members of the Hibernia association thus found manifold opportunities for helpfulness in securing employment for the hundreds of their countrymen who came West. Among those who were instrumental in organizing this society were Thomas Kinsella, John McGovern, Charles McDonnell, John Breen, and John Devlin.
St. Mary’s church took up the plea for temperance, and a Total Abstinence society was formed. At one service held in the church by Father Fitzgerald between 800 and 1,000 people signed the total-abstinence pledge.
Under Bishop Van de Velde and again under Bishop Foley, the parish began to grow in numbers and in usefulness. It was the rich and fashionable and influential parish of the city. By its influence and from its funds church and schools were started all over the city. When the great fire came in 1871 St. Mary’s was at the zenith of its history. The fire destroyed all of the parish buildings and the church. On the morning of Oct. 10, 1871, St. Mary’s parish and St. Mary’s cathedral were a heap of charred fragments. In order to resume the work of the church as soon as possible, it was decided that a Congregational church at Eldridge court and Wabash avenue should be purchased. This is the St. Mary’s church of today, and, owing to its Protestant ancestry, the general appearance and the arrangement of the altar differs from that of most Catholic churches.
Since the fire conditions in St. Mary’s parish have changed. The church, however, has held out bravely in the face of advancing commercial interest. The old parishioners were driven out by the shops, hotels, and wholesale houses that rendered the district unsuitable for residence purposes. Many out of live for St. Mary’s, however, continued a connection with the church after they had moved to other sections of the city, and St. Mary’s had no thought of capitulation. Despite the fact that the parish has practically no settled population, the congregation is one of the largest in Chicago. Father Murphy, the head of the parish, is a Chicago man, and well knows the need of his parish, by ten years of experience. He is much loved by his people. It is a saying that Father Murphy’s kind heart never allows him to send a beggar from the parish-house door, although he often laughs at the easy ways in which he is victimized. St. Mary’s is so close to the business part of the city that its-parish-house must be an information bureau, hospital, and almshouse combined. The greater part of the priest’s duties consist of visiting the sick and dying in hotels and hospitals, and in ministering to the poor.
Father Conway is Father Murphy’s assistant. He has a great fund of good humor and a practical, cheerful way of looking at hard problems. St. Mary’s has an excellent musical quartet, composed of the following soloists:
- Mrs. William Woods, soprano; Miss Mae Fleming, contralto; John Wynn, tenor, and Felix Enderlein, basso. The organist is August Espel.
The standard of music at St. Mary’s is unusually high.
Chicago Tribune, September 28, 1970
Old St. Mary’s Catholic Church, 911 S. Wabash Av., has changed little since Rocco Dabicci was confirmed there by the late Cardinal Mundelein and even less since the Rev. Eugene F. O’Malley came 42 years ago as choir director.
There was a time when worshippers packed the aisles to hear the famed Paulist Choir of Old St. Mary’s, but in the last few years, attendance has grown smaller.
Oil Firm Buys Land
Yesterday, the aisles once again were packed as Dabicci participated as lector in the last mass to be held in the 105-year-old church.
The building where Dabicci participated as lector will be demolished and the parish’s chapel at Wabash Avenue and Van Buren Street will become the center of Old St. Mary’s services. The land has been purchased by the American Oil co.
Sorrow Over Loss
Dabicci has been active in the church, both as an acolyte and lector, ever since he was 5 years old, living only a few blocks away. He sells newspapers on the corner of Lake and State Streets—the site of the first St. Mary’s Church.
For many years Dabicci worked with Father O’Malley, serving as master of ceremonies for the Paulist Choir. Yesterday Father O’Malley took no part in service.
“They wanted me to play the organ for the last time, but I don’t want to,” Father O’Malley told his friends. “I wish they could have saved the church.”
“Father O’Malley asked to be excused from addressing you,” Rev. James Young, superior of the Paulist Community of Chicago, told worshippers.
Father Young then began the last sermon in old St. Mary’s—”There is a time to build and a time to tear down…”
Plymouth Congregational Church
SE Corner Wabash avenue and Eldridge court
Sanborn Fire Insurance Map
St. Mary’s Church
SE Corner Wabash avenue and Eldridge court
Robinson Fire Insurance Map