Our basilicas — Did you know Chicago is the only U.S. archdiocese with three?

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Sunday, June 5, 2011

Our basilicas

Queen of All Saints Basilica, 6280 N. Sauganash Ave.
The ornate sanctuary of St. Hyacinth Basilica bears the Latin words Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus, which translates to Holy, holy, holy.
Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica has an 80-foot-high barrel-vaulted ceiling that extends 65 feet across the nave and is coffered in the manner of Renaissance architect Donato Bramante.

Chicago-area pilgrims are lucky because they can visit not one, but three basilicas in their own backyards.

Churches named basilicas generally are large structures with some kind of unique historical, artistic or religious importance and offer active pastoral service to their communities. They receive the honor from the pope, and display the “ombrolino” or “capaneum,” a partially unfurled umbrella of red and yellow silk, and the “tintinabulum,” or bell, both symbols to be used when or if a pope visits.

The term “basilica” originally meant a kingly or royal hall, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, and the original basilica churches were the great churches of Rome. These churches, plus a few others such as the Church of St. Francis at Assisi, Italy, are ranked as major basilicas. Other churches are ranked as minor basilicas.

While there are 69 minor basilicas in the United States, the Archdiocese of Chicago is the only diocese that can boast of three.

Those in Chicago — all counted by their own priests and congregations as the most beautiful in the city — followed divergent paths to their status.

Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica

Chicago’s first basilica was Our Lady of Sorrows, an imposing Romanesque edifice dedicated in 1902 and located at 3111 W. Jackson Blvd. The structure, whose Renaissance-style interior was modeled after the work of 15thcentury Italian architect Donato d’Agnolo Bramante, features an 80-foot high barrel-vaulted ceiling that spans 65 feet. A series of pilgrimage chapels line the nave leading up to the main altar, made of Carrera marble. Chapels house the Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows, relics of Servite saints and a full-size marble replica of Michelangelo’s Pieta.

“There are many, many artistic details,” said Servite Father Robert Warsey, an associate pastor.

Perhaps more impressive than the physical structure of the church is the perpetual novena to Our Sorrowful Mother. The novena began in 1937 and continues every Friday. At one point, the church had to schedule 38 novena services every Friday to accommodate the more than 70,000 people who attended each week.

“Even Cardinal George talks about remembering his mother coming for the novena during the war years,” Warsey said. “Many people come with memories of the church and the novenas they experienced.”

The popularity of what had become the National Shrine of Our Sorrowful Mother was one factor in Pope Pius XII’s decision to elevate it to the status of minor basilica in 1956. The church held ceremonies recognizing its new status on Jan. 8, 1957.

Now many people come to visit the National Shrine of St. Peregrine, the patron of people with cancer. Those who suffer from cancer and their caregivers are invited to healing Masses in Spanish on the second Saturday of every month and in English on the third Saturday of every month, Warsey said. Masses are at 11 a.m.

Our Lady of Sorrows Parish was founded in 1874 by the Servites, who continue to serve there and to reside at Our Lady of Sorrows monastery, next door to the church. As the Irish and Italian Catholics who once made up the bulk of Our Lady of Sorrows parishioners left the West Side, the parish continued its social outreach to the neighborhood despite dwindling numbers of parishioners.

The church lost its west tower to fire in 1984, but the east tower still stands 200 feet over East Garfield Park and the Eisenhower Expressway.

Queen of All Saints Basilica

Chicago acquired its second basilica only six years after its first, when Pope John XXIII elevated Queen of All Saints Basilica in 1962, just two years after the church building opened.

Queen of All Saints Parish was created in 1929 in what the “History of the Parishes of the Archdiocese of Chicago” (1980) called a “remote prairie wilderness” inhabited by about 40 Catholic families. Those first families worshipped in a portable frame building that had once served as St. Giles Church in Oak Park before being moved to what is now called the Sauganash neighborhood.

The parish outgrew that church and a second one before plans were drawn up for a parish campus to include a school, rectory, convent, church and high school. All but the high school were eventually built, starting with the school. The church completed the campus, which offers a unified look.

“It’s a phenomenal campus of buildings, the likes of which could not be constructed again,” said Msgr. John Pollard, Queen of All Saints pastor. Perhaps most striking is the vista created by eight acres of lawn — stretching more than a city block — in front of the imposing Gothic structure.

Inside, the long nave is lit through a series of stained-glass windows depicting various saints, all leading to the image of the Blessed Mother behind the altar. The luminous image is painted on glass.

Visitors to Queen of All Saints will find one of the treasures of the church in its baptistery, near the main entrance. The room houses the relics of hundreds of saints, Pollard said. There are so many that no one knows exactly what is there. The parish hired two students who are fluent in Latin to catalogue them this summer.

The parish will often bring out relics significant to tour groups for veneration, Pollard said.

The stained-glass windows of the baptistry tell the story of the Potawatomi tribe signing the Treaty of Chicago, ceding land in Illinois and Wisconsin to settlers — an event that happened within the confines of the parish in 1833, Pollard said.

He also recommends that visitors peek in the mother’s chapel — what most parishes might call a “crying room.” “It’s just a beautiful place,” he said.

St. Hyacinth Basilica

Chicago’s newest basilica, St. Hyacinth, received its basilica status in 2003, after a visit from Polish Cardinal Jozef Glemp, said Resurrectionist Father Francis Rog, an associate pastor.

St. Hyacinth Parish was created in 1894, as the Polish population moved northwest along Milwaukee Avenue from the area around St. Stanislaus Kostka Church, Rog said. While Polish immigrants and their descendants continued to move northwest toward Niles, St. Hyacinth became the center for Polish cultural and religious events. When Polish prelates or politicians visit Chicago, they generally stop at St. Hyacinth.

“It’s known in Poland as the place in Chicago,” Rog said.

It was on one such stop that Cardinal Glemp, then archbishop of Warsaw, commented on the beauty of the church and said, “This ought to be a basilica,” Rog said. “The next day they were knocking down the doors asking how soon is it going to be a basilica?”

At first, the Resurrectionists, who founded and still run the parish, were resistant, thinking that if the Polish Catholics got a basilica, then every other ethnic group would want one. But soon, as more people commented on the beauty of the church, they asked Cardinal George for permission to request basilica status. It was granted by Pope John Paul II, whose statue stands in front of the church, in 2003.

Among Rog’s favorite features are the sanctuary, which proclaims “Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus” (Holy, holy, holy), and the bronze doors installed in 2005, which offer images from Polish history, the life of St. Hyacinth (a Polish bishop) and the Resurrectionist congregation.

The parish once drew upward of 8,000 worshippers every weekend, but more suburban parishes now offer Polish Masses, so the weekend congregation today is about 6,500, Rog said, but there are still nine Masses every weekend, five of them in Polish.

All three basilicas are generally open during the day and welcome visitors. If you would like to come with a group or schedule a tour, please call the basilica you would like to visit in advance. See box below for contact information.

Chicago's basilicas

St. Hyacinth

George Street and Lawndale Avenue
(773) 342-3636 
Hours: daily from 6 a.m. Mass to after 7 p.m. Mass 
Parish founded: 1894
Made basilica: 2003 
Notable features: Interior dome; altar and reredos; bronze doors that depict the history of St. Hyacinth, the basilica, John Paul II statue and the Resurrectionist congregation

Our Lady of Sorrows

3111 W. Jackson Blvd. 
(773) 638-0149
Hours: M-F 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Saturdays 9 a.m.-noon. If doors are locked, ring bell at the Servite monastery just west of the basilica
Parish founded: 1874 
Made basilica: 1956 
Notable features: National Shrine of St. Peregrine, patron of those living with cancer; Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows; full size replica of the Pieta; perpetual novena to Our Sorrowful Mother begun in 1937; 80-foot high barrel-vaulted ceiling

Queen of All Saints

6280 N. Sauganash Ave. (773) 736-6060
Hours: M-F 6 a.m.-8 p.m., Saturdays 7:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m., Sundays 6 a.m.-6 p.m. 
Parish founded: 1929 
Made basilica: 1962 
Notable features: 8 acre lawn; baptistry featuring hundreds of relics, stone edifice, glass painting of the Blessed Mother over the main altar; stained-glass windows depicting saints