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.
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.
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 specially chartered trains.
More than 260 bishops participated in the holy hours at churches 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.
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 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 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.
This story was originally published Sept. 10, 2017, and has been updated.
Father George McKenna was born less than a year after the end of World War I. He was ordained a priest a month before D-Day. He had been, officially, retired for 13 years when 9/11 happened, but he was still the volunteer chaplain at Midway International Airport.
Founded in 1867 as the first Polish parish in Chicago, the Resurrectionists have administered St. Stanislaus Kostka since 1869, and founded many other North Side Polish parishes from St. Stanislaus such as St. John Cantius and Holy Trinity Mission. At the end of the 19th century it was one of the largest parishes in the city and country.
Even though St. Frances Cabrini was a native of Italy, the Archdiocese of Chicago will forever consider her one of its own because she ministered here and died here in 1917.