Holy Family opens doors to the future

By Daniel P. Smith | Contributor
Sunday, November 20, 2011

Holy Family opens doors to the future

Ed Kolpacki of National Decorating Co. paints around the trimming by hand while Jon Van Laten of Paul Berg Construction Company puts up a temporary door of the remaining door to be restored at Holy Family Church on Roosevelt on Oct. 28. (Karen Callaway / Catholic New World)
Ed Kolpacki trims a door. (Karen Callaway / Catholic New World)

A “Who’s Who” of Chicagoans have walked through the doors at Holy Family Church at 1080 W. Roosevelt Road.

Chicago’s second-oldest church hosted Catherine and Patrick O’Leary, the couple historically charged with starting the Great Chicago Fire, as well as former Chicago City Council president John Comiskey and his son, Charles, founder of the Chicago White Sox.

Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini, the first American saint who founded nearby Cabrini Hospital, counted herself a Holy Family parishioner, while pioneering social worker Jane Addams was also known to frequent the church.

It’s a place high in history and nostalgia.

Now those doors, Chicago’s oldest doors in continuous use at a public building, are receiving a much-needed face-lift. Workers are nearing completion on a threemonth project to restore the doors to their 19th-century splendor.

“It was important that any work we did respected our church’s history and the thousands of people who have entered those doors over our 151 years as a parish,” Holy Family Parish administrator Father Jeremiah Boland said.

Expansive restoration

Founded in 1857 by Father Arnold Damen, Holy Family is Chicago’s first Jesuit church and the city’s only example of pre- Civil War Victorian architecture. The church building, which was formally dedicated in 1860, continues to be owned by the Chicago- Detroit Province Jesuits and operated by the Archdiocese of Chicago.

The $150,000 door restoration project begun in late summer and expected to be complete around Thanksgiving, represents an ambitious undertaking.

The six Douglas fir doors are massive — more than 12-feet high, 3-feet wide, nearly fourinches thick and 600 pounds each. Created with old-world craftsmanship, the doors faded with age and neglect as well as a series of measures to retain their working order.

“[The doors] have been patched, painted and glued,” said Trent Wilfinger, an owner at Paul Borg Construction, the Chicago-based company that has restored many of Chicago’s monumental doors and is spearheading the Holy Family project.

The doors also presented an increasing safety issue. The doors would swell under the summer heat, making them more difficult to open, and contract during the winter, which would invite nature’s elements indoors. Yet more, the doors’ 1860s-era hardware made quick opening and closing difficult.

“There is more to this project than I ever could have imagined,” Boland said.

The doors will be formally dedicated on Jan. 8, the Feast of the Epiphany, a day that traditionally features the blessing of church doors. Bishop Alberto Rojas will preside over the festivities.

“One of the church’s mottos is that our doors are always open,” said Father George Lane, a founding member of the Holy Family Preservation Society and publisher of Loyola Press. “The doors are a symbol of welcoming people of all races, socioeconomics and faiths into our church and our community of believers.”

Lengthy renovation list

Under the threat of demolition in the late 1980s, Lane led fundraising efforts of more than $3 million to repair and restore the church and ward off destruction. The fundraising success, eventually exceeding $5 million, set in motion a string of preservation, remodeling, and restoration projects of which the doors are the most recent.

Over the years, crews have touched nearly every corner of the famed church, including the stained glass windows, organ, more than 100 statues, HVAC, electrical and plumbing.

“We take it bit by bit,” Boland said. “The interior of the church is about 80 percent restored, but each project presents its own unique challenges.”

Future renovation projects include restoring the middle balcony and pews as well as modernizing the lighting system.

“And someday in our hopes and dreams, the church will have air conditioning,” Boland said.