Archdiocese of Chicago is home to three basilicas

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
November 8, 2018

Archdiocese of Chicago is home to three basilicas

Chicago-area pilgrims are lucky because they can visit not one, but three basilicas in their own backyards.
A side altar in St. Hyacinth Basilica is shown in this file photo. To the left is the “ombrolino” or “capaneum,” a partially opened umbrella of red and yellow silk, given to basilicas by the pope as a sign of their special designation. (Chicago Catholic/Karen Callaway)
The interior of Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica as seen in this 2008 file photo. At one point, the church’s novena to Our Lady of Sorrows was so popular that staff had to schedule 38 novena services every Friday to accommodate the more than 70,000 people who attended each week. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Right, the sanctuary inside Queen of All Saints Basilica, 6280 N. Sauganash Ave., is pictured in this file photo. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

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 opened 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. Four of these churches are ranked as major basilicas. Other churches are ranked as minor basilicas.

While there are 85 minor basilicas in the United States, the Archdiocese of Chicago is one of only a few dioceses 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 15th century 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, which is 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 at Our Lady of Sorrows in 2011.

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 talked 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, 6280 N. Sauganash Ave., 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 in 2011. 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. 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, George Street and Lawndale Avenue, received its basilica status in 2003, after a visit from Polish Cardinal Jozef Glemp, said Resurrectionist Father Francis Rog, an associate pastor in 2011.

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.

This article was originally published on June 5, 2011. It has been edited and updated.


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