Catacombs at Holy Trinity Polish Mission houses relics of saints

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Catacombs at Holy Trinity Polish Mission houses relics of saints

Society of Christ Father Andrzej Totzke, rector of Holy Trinity Polish Mission, 1118 N. Noble St., gives a tour of the mission’s catacombs on Aug. 28, 2022. The original catacombs were built as part of the church in 1906 and included the relics of eight Polish saints and a small tomb symbolizing Jesus’ burial. In 2017, the mission unveiled expanded catacombs with more relics and murals of Jesus’ life. Catholics who attend Mass at and participate in the many mission activities and groups donated their time and materials to renovate and expand the catacombs, which are meant to look like a cave. Members also donated all of the reliquaries. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
The entrance to the catacombs as seen beneath the church in the parish hall. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Niches hold the reliquaries and relics. Members of the mission donated their architectural and construction skills to expand the catacombs and create the niches. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
An artist's rendering of Jesus as the Alpha and Omega as seen on a wall of the catacombs. A mission member who is an artist created the paintings on the walls. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Relics encased in glass in the original portion of the catacombs, which were located behind the altar of the lower church and open to the public. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Included in the original catacombs is this symbolic tomb of Jesus in repose following the Crucifixion. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Relics of the first Polish saints installed in the catacombs over 100 years ago can be seen in the walls of the original part of the catacombs. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Society of Christ Father Andrzej Totzke, rector of Holy Trinity Polish Mission, shares stories about the catacombs' renovation. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
The reliquary that contains a relic of Padre Pio. Mission members donated all of the reliquaries for the catacombs. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
A scene of the Resurrection is painted on the wall of the catacombs. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

A hidden gem exists in the basement of Holy Trinity Polish Mission, 1118 N. Noble St., that is open to all for prayer and reflection.

It is a small catacomb, built as part of the original church in 1906 and renovated and expanded in 2018, which houses over 250 relics of saints and blesseds and items like a sliver of wood thought to be from the true cross of Jesus.

The original catacombs were constructed behind the main altar in the lower church when it was built in 1906. Included were eight niches for relics and a small tomb representing the one where Jesus was laid.

Rector Kazimierz Sztuczko sailed to Poland in 1911 to receive the first eight relics of saints important to Polish people.

When the mission decided to renovate the lower church into a gathering space, it decided it was time to expand the catacombs because over the years the mission had acquired over 200 relics, mostly from closed churches around the city, said Society of Christ Father Andrzej Totzke, rector of Holy Trinity Polish Mission.

“We didn’t have any specific funds. I just announced that we wanted to do something and people came forward,” Totzke said.

Members stepped up and donated all the work and materials for the renovation. A member with a background in architecture designed plans to more than double the size of the space and constructed niches for the reliquaries.

Another member who is an artist painted the space to resemble stone catacombs and also painted scenes in the life of Christ: his crucifixion, his being laid in the tomb and his resurrection.

“Everything was donated,” Totzke said. “This is a very important space for our people because they identify that this is our gift to the church. After Sunday Masses the people can come here, spend some time and pray.”

The catacombs are particularly popular during Holy Week and many are drawn to pray at the small tomb with a statue of Jesus in repose.

The main church upstairs contains the most popular relics: St. John Paul II and St. Faustina Kostka.

On particular feast days for a blessed or saint whose relic the mission has, staff will bring the reliquary and relic from the catacombs and place it on the altar for all Masses.

“This is a reminder that if they could get sainthood, we also are invited to do it and we are able. I think it is also an important reminder that we are a whole family of Christians. They belong to our family and we also can get support from that,” he said.

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