St. Mary’s Church
Life Span: 1835-1843, 1843-1871
Location: Wabash Avenue, South-west corner of Madison Street, Pastoral residence, Bishop’s Palace, Michigan Avenue, north-west corner Madison street
Architect: Augustine D. Taylor
St. Mary’s Church Building Summary.
The original Saint Mary’s Church was built in 1833 on the south side of Lake Street, west of State Street. The building was moved to the northwest corner of Michigan at Madison in 1836 where it was enlarged and an open belfry added. In 1843, with the establishment of the Diocese of Chicago, St. Mary’s Cathedral was built on the southwest corner of Madison at Wabash. The original wooden structure was cut in half and moved to the grounds of the cathedral where the first Catholic grammar school in Chicago was established in 1846. When the Cathedral was destroyed in The Great Fire in 1871 and plans were made for a new cathedral parish (Holy Name) north of the Chicago River, the Plymouth Congregational Church at Eldridge Court (9th Street) and Wabash (which had survived the fire) was purchased and became known as Old St. Mary’s.
History of Chicago, A. T. Andreas, 1884
St. Mary’s Church.—This was the first Catholic society organized in Chicago. Its first priest was Father John Mary Irenaeus St. Cyr, who was born at Lyons, France, November 2, 1803, and educated in that country. He left France in June, 1831, reached St. Louis August 1, of the same year, and was there made a subdeacon. He was ordained at St. Mary’s the Barrens by Bishop Rosatti in 1832, and on April 6, 1833, was by the same Bishop ordained priest. The period between these two dates was spent by St. Cyr in studying the English language. In the meantime Catholics were increasing in numbers in Chicago, and were becoming desirous of receiving the ministrations of a resident Catholic priest. To accomplish their desires they prepared and forwarded to St. Louis the following petition:
- To the Right Rev. Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Missouri, of St. Louis, etc., etc.
We, the Catholics of Chicago, Cook Co., 111., lay before you the necessity there exists to have a pastor in this new and flourishing city. There are here several families of French descent, born and brought up in the Roman Catholic faith, and others quite willing to aid us in supporting a pastor, who ought to be sent here before other sects obtain the upper hand, which very likely they will try to do. have heard several persons say were there a priest here they would join our religion in preference to any other. We count about one hundred Catholics in this town. We will not cease to pray until you have taken our important request in consideration.
This petition was signed by the following persons for themselves and their families, the number of members in each individual’s family being appended to his name: Thomas J. V. Owen, 9; J. Bt. Beaubien, 14; Joseph Laframboise, 7; Jean Pothier, 5; Alexander Robinson, 8; Pierre LeClerc, 3; Alexis Laframboise, 4; Claude Laframboise, 4; Jacques Chassut, 5; Antoine Ouilmet; Leon Bourassa, 3; Charles Taylor, Louis Chevalier, 2; J. Bt. Miranda and sisters, 3; Patrick Walsh, 2; John Mann, 4; B. Caldwell, 1; Bill Saver, 1; Mark Beaubien, 12; Dill Vaughn, 1; James Vaughn, 1; Bt. Rabbie, 1; J. Bt. Rouix; J. Bt. Tabeaux, 1; J. Bt. Duvocher, 1; J. bt. Brodeur, 1; Mathias Smith, 1; Antoine St. Ours, 1; Bazille Deplat, 1; Charles Monselle, 1; John Hondorf, 1; Dexter Assgood, 1; Nelson Peter Perry, 1; John S. C. Hogan, 1; Anson H. Taylor, 1; and Louis Francheres, 1; a total of 122. The original petition written in French bears on its back the memoranda, “Received April 16, 1833.” “Received April 16, 1833.” “Answered April 17, 1833.”
In response to this petition, Bishop Rosatti appointed St. Cyr priest of Chicago, in the following language:
- Joseph Rosatti, of the Congregation of Missions, by the grace of God and of the Apostolic See, Bishop of St. Louis, to the Rev. Mr. John Irenaeus St. Cyr, priest of our diocese; health in the Lord:
Rev. Sir:—Whereas, not a few Catholic men inhabiting the town commonly called Chicago, and its vicinage, in the State of Illinois, have laid before me that they, deprived of all spiritual consolation, vehemently desire that I should send thither a priest, who, by the exercise of his pastoral gifts, should supply to them the means of performing the offices of the Christian religion and providing for their eternal salvation. Wishing, as far as in me lies, to satisfy such a desire at once pious and praiseworthy, by virtue of the powers of Vicar-General to me granted by the most illustrious and most reverend Bishop of Hardstown (Ky.), I depute you to the mission of Chicago and the adjoining regions within the State of Illinois, all of which have hitherto been under the spiritual administration of the said most illustrious and most reverend Bishop of Bardstown, grant you, until revoked, all the powers as described in tne next page, with this condition, however, that as soon soever as it shall become known to you that a new Episcopal See shall have been erected and established by the holy Apostolic See from the territory of other Sees now existing, to that Bishop within the limits of whose diocese the aforesaid Chicago mission is included, you shall render an account of all those things which shall have been transacted by you, and surrender the place to such priest as shall be by him deputed to the same mission, and you, with God’s favor, shall return to our diocese from which we declare you to be by no means separated by this present mission.
Given to St. Louis, from the Episcopal buildings, the 17th day of April, 1833.
Joseph, Bishop of St. Louis.
Jos. A. Lutz, Secretary.
From the date of this appointment, Catholics consider that the organization, or establishment, of their church in Chicago should be reckoned, although St. Cyr did not reach the city until Wednesday, May 1, accomplishing the journey part of the way on horseback and part of the way on foot. Having made the necessary arrangements, St. Cyr collected together the Catholics and celebrated his first mass, in a little log cabin, twelve feet square, belonging to Mark Beaubien, on Sunday, May 5, 1833. On the 22d of May occurred his first baptism, the subject being George Beaubien, son of Mr. and Mrs. Mark Beaubien. Father St. Cyr immediately commenced preparations for building a church. The first site selected was on Lake Street, near Market, upon which stood the log cabin above referred to. This lot was promised St. Cyr by Colonel J. B. Beaubien for the nominal sum of $200, but being unable to raise that amount among the one hundred Catholics who petitioned for his appointment, and others, he was obliged to look for another location. About a year afterward the same lot was sold by Colonel Beaubien for $300, to Dr. William B. Egan, who, in 1836, sold it to Tertius Wadsworth, of Hartford, Connecticut, for $60,000. According to the advice of Colonel Beaubien and Thomas J. V. Owen, St. Cyr selected a canal lot near the southwest corner of Lake and State streets, near the military reservation, where now (1883) stands the printing establishment of Cameron, Amberg & Co. The privilege was accorded St. Cyr of buying this lot at the canal commissioners’ valuation but when that price was announced it was still farther beyond the reach of the Catholics than was that first selected, and it was purchased by Dexter Graves for $10,000. In the meantime, not anticipating the high price at which the lot would be appraised, they erected thereon a church building, twenty-five by thirty-five feet in size. The lumber for this building was brought in a scow across the lake from St. Joseph, Mich., where it cost $12 per thousand. The lumber having arrived, Anson Taylor, a brother of Augustine Deodat Taylor, with his own team, hauled it from the schooner to the site of the prospective church. Augustine D. Taylor was the architect and builder. The total cost of the edifice was about $400, but though small and inexpensive it was not completed sufficiently for occupancy and dedication until in October. Catholic Indians assisted at the first mass celebrated therein. Indian women had cleaned and prepared the modest building for the celebration of the sacred rite, and Deacon John Wright, a strong supporter of Rev. Jeremiah Porter, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, had, in August, assisted in raising the frame of the building. At this dedication-service there were present about one hundred persons. The church itself was not plastered, it had only rough benches for pews and the simplest of tables for altar and pulpit. The outside of the building was not painted and it had neither steeple nor tower. Some time afterwards, it was surmounted by a low, open tower, in which a small bell was hung, being the first bell used in Chicago to call the pious together for religious worship. It was about the size of an ordinary locomotive bell of the present, and could be heard only for a short distance. It was of no use for sounding an alarm in case of fire, and nearly ten years elapsed before the first one which could be used for that purpose was hung in the steeple of the Unitarian church. The church building stood on this lot until sometime during the priesthood of Father O’Meara, when it was removed by him to a lot at the southwest corner of Michigan Avenue and Madison Street. Here it was enlarged and soon afterward, was moved to the southwest corner of Wabash Avenue and Madison Street. When the new St. Mary’s, a brick building, was erected the frame church was again moved, this time to the westward in the same block. The removal from the corner of Lake and State streets to Michigan Avenue and Madison Street, by Father O’Meara, together with the circumstances of the removal, caused great dissatisfaction to a portion of the Catholics. The dissatisfied ones refused to accompany the church to its new location, and engaged a room of Charles Chapman, in the second story of a building standing at the corner of Randolph and Wells streets, in which mass was celebrated during the summer by Rev. Maurice de St. Palais. Among those who thus separated themselves from the church under Father O’Meara were Augustine D. Taylor, A. M. Talley, Samuel Parry and John Davlin. After the trouble caused by Father O’Meara’s course had been overcome, the two portions of the church were re-united, under Rev. de St. Palais.
St. Xavier Academy, at 131 Wabash Avenue, stood on the adjoining lot south of the church. St. Palais, in 1843, commenced the erection of St. Mary’s brick church, corner of Madison Street and Wabash Avenue. This edifice had a substantial stone foundation, and was fifty-five feet wide by one hundred and twelve feet long, including a portico twelve feet wide, supported by four Ionic columns, and cost $4,000. The brick work was done by Peter Page, and the wood work by Augustine D. Taylor. This church was opened for divine service December 25, 1843. It was consecrated by Bishop Quarter, December 5, 1845. In September, 1845, Felix Inglesby, a wealthy merchant of New York City, donated a bell to this church worth $185.
St. Cyr remained in Chicago until 1837, when he went to St. Louis. From the latter part of October, 1836, he was assisted by Rev. Leander Schaffer, who attended the German Catholics. He was himself succeeded for the English-speaking Catholics by Rev. Father O’Meara, who was succeeded, in 1840, by Rev. Maurice de St. Palais. St. Palais was succeeded, May 5, 1844, by Rt. Rev. William Quarter, Chicago’s first Catholic Bishop, who died April 10, 1848. According to his desire his remains were deposited in the cathedral he had consecrated, which ceremony had occurred October 5, 1845. Bishop Quarter was eminently successful in the management of the affairs of his diocese. Under him its growth was remarkable. When he arrived at Chicago there were less than twenty priests in the State of Illinois, and only two priests in Chicago—Rev. Maurice de St. Palais and Rev. Mr. Fischer, and only two McMahon and B. McGorish. These two students were immediately ordained and raised to the priesthood May 16, 1844. Two years later there were present at the first diocesan synod thirty-two priests, and nine others from sickness and other causes, were unable to attend. In 1844 there was but one Catholic church in Chicago in 1846 three new Catholic churches were Patrick’s, St. Peter’s and St. Joseph’s, the last two for the Germans. In 1848, when the bishop died, thirty new churches had been erected in the diocese, ten of them being either brick or stone, making a total number of sixty-eight. These were presided over by fifty-three priests.
To Bishop Quarter is also due the credit of establishing the University of St. Mary’s of the Lake, the germ of which, the college, was established within thirty days from the time of his arrival in Chicago, and for which a charter was granted in December of the same year. The university building, with seminary attachment, was completed in June, 1845, and was opened with appropriate ceremonies July 4, following. This was the first institution for higher learning in the city.
Bishop Quarter also instituted the first community of nuns. This community was established with six Sisters of Mercy, whose names will be elsewhere found, who came from Pittsburgh, Penn., in 1848 from the first house of the Sisters of Mercy opened in the United States.
To Bishop Quarter is due the credit of having secured the passage of the law under which the Catholic Bishop of Chicago was incorporated as a ” Corporation Sole,” with power to “hold real and other property in trust for religious purposes.”
Bishop Quarter was succeeded in 1848, by the Rt. Rev. James Oliver Van de Velde, who was formally installed as Bishop of the See, in the Cathedral of St. Mary’s, in 1849. Bishop Van de Velde was a member of the Society of Jesus, in which he held many important positions. He was a man of great learning and zeal, but the active duties of the bishopric were not congenial to his tastes and he constantly yearned after the quiet and seclusion of a religious life. His administration, moreover, of the affairs of the diocese was troubled with dissensions and difficulties, which were in part the reason of his resignation and of his assignment to another field—the See of Natchez, where his labors were less arduous, and where he could devote himself entirely to study and preaching. He left Chicago for his new field of labor November 4, 1853, and died in 1855.
Bishop Van de Velde was succeeded in Chicago by the Rt. Rev. Anthony O’Regan, who was consecrated Bishop of Chicago July 25, 1854. Bishop O’Regan, like his immediate predecessor, found the administration of the affairs of the diocese an arduous task. His labors constantly increased. Besides the care of the diocese of Chicago, he was charged with the administration of the new See of Quincy. erected in 1852, but which continued to be administered by the Ordinary of Chicago, until the erection of the See of Alton, in 1857. His administration of the affairs of the diocese of Chicago was soon marred by difficulties with some of the leading Catholic priests of the city, in consequence of which Rev. Fathers Kinsella, Clowry and Breen left the diocese. But the troubles continuing, Bishop O’Regan sought peace by following the example of his predecessor. He resigned, and was assigned to a See, i. p. i., in Ireland with which he had been connected in his early davs, and where he spent the remainder of his life, dying in London, England, in 1865. He was succeeded by Rev. Matthew Dillon, an amiable and popular clergyman, who filled the post of administrator until succeeded by the Rt. Rev. Clement J. Smythe, Bishop of Dubuque, who remained until 1859, when he gave place to the Rt. Rev. James Duggan, an account of whose labors will be found in the succeeding volume of this History.
Besides the bishops and priests already mentioned as being connected with the parish of St. Mary’s, were the following, each of whom officiated for a time : Fathers DePontevieux, Quequew and Lawrence Hoey in 1844; Father P. T. McElhearne, with the occasional assistance of Father Fitzgerald, from 1852 to July 9, 1854. In 1854 Rev. Matthew Dillon was assisted by Fathers Michael Hurley, Fitzgibbon and Carrol; in 1855 Fathers Patrick Sherry, Magan, and McGuire officiated, in 1856 Fathers John Waldron, Tierman, and Bolger, and in 1857 Fathers T. D. Butler and Thomas Burke.
The Catholic Church in its earlier days had a more serious difficulty to contend with than any of those incidentally referred to in connection with the names of some of its bishops. Cupidity appears to have taken possession of one of its early priests, Rev. Father O’Meara. Rev. Father St. Cyr refers to Father O’Meara, in a letter to Henry H. Hurlbut, under date of February 8, 1875, in the following not very complimentary terms:
- I was succeeded for the English speaking congregation by Father O’Meara, who proved to be a notorious scoundrel. May God preserve Chicago from such a priest.
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.
St. Mary’s Church
St. Mary’s Church
St. Mary’s Church
Sanborn Fire Insurance Map