1926 Eucharistic Congress brings ‘sense of wonder’

By Chicago Catholic
Wednesday, September 6, 2017

A view of the crowd and the altar on the steps of Immaculate Conception Chapel at the University of St. Mary of the Lake on June 24, 1926. About 1 million people from around the world attended the congress’ closing Mass. Chicago Catholic file photos

The 28th Eucharistic Congress, held June 20-24, 1926, in the Archdiocese of Chicago, included Masses and holy hours at every Catholic church in the archdiocese; huge gatherings at Soldier Field; and a pilgrimage to the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, where nearly 1 million people participated in a Mass on the congress’ closing day.

In addition to its regular coverage of the event, the New World featured stories on the preparation for the world congress for months before. 

Since 1881, the Catholic Church has held more than 50 international Eucharistic Congresses. They include liturgies, talks and celebrations around the belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. The next congress will take place in Hungary in 2020.

In the weeks leading up to the 1926 congress, a New World article said: “On the eve of this great event, unique in the local history as it is unique in the history of our nation, Chicago awaits in breathless anticipation the convening of an assembly of such magnitude as has dazzled even the ‘convention city of the world.’ A vague sense of wonder seems to rule the city as it prepares to receive as guests a greater number of visitors by far than it has ever entertained before. No one knows what to expect of the Eucharistic Congress, for it, with all of its largeness and splendor, has had no precedent in the past.”

The congress was hosted by Cardinal George Mundelein and was attended by dignitaries such as papal legate Cardinal John Bonzano and bishops from as far away as China and New Zealand. More than 900 Mexican Catholics, including many priests, arrived on special chartered trains.

More than 260 bishops participated in the holy hours at churches — “a prelate for every pulpit,” the New World said — throughout the archdiocese on June 20, the opening day of the congress. Visitors from other countries were encouraged to hear the sermons preached by bishops in their native languages.

Parishes asked their members to accommodate visitors from around the country and the world in their homes, schools became makeshift hostels, and hotel rooms were reserved in bulk.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra played the opening Mass at Holy Name Cathedral that day, with vocal music provided by the combined choirs of the University of St. Mary of the Lake and Quigley Preparatory Seminary. They sung a Mass composed by Pietro Yon of New York.

More than 3,000 priests were called in to hear confessions, and more than 60,000 Catholic schoolchildren — the New World called it “the world’s largest choir” — sang at the Soldier Field Mass on June 21. Sisters of various orders were called upon to make 4.5 million hosts for use at Masses during the congress, as well as 90,000 large hosts.

The New World’s unofficial accounting of participants at the various events and ceremonies, starting with the arrival of the papal legate on June 17, put the total at 8.3 million, although many people would have attended more than one event, meaning a lower number of individual participants.

The third day of the congress, Women’s Day, featured one choir of more than 6,000 nuns, and another of 3,500 women from local church choirs, singing a Mass composed by American Vito Carnevali. The Mass was attended by 250,000 women, including 20,000 sisters. 

On higher education day, 3,000 singers selected from Catholic high schools and colleges sang a Mass composed by John Singenberger.

During the Congress, Chicago’s Municipal Pier, now known as Navy Pier, provided a place for boats bearing banners from other cities on the Great Lakes to dock. It also hosted an exhibit of Catholic art.

On the final day, the Chicago, North Shore and Milwaukee Railway boasted of sending trains to arrive at Mundelein every two minutes, saying it could carry more than 300,000 people to the seminary in time for the processions. Thousands more would arrive on trains from Milwaukee and the north suburbs.


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