St. Michael's Church, Old Town, Chicago

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This article is about the Redemptionist church on Cleveland Avenue on the North Side. For the Polish church at 83rd and South Shore Drive on the South Side, see Saint Michael the Archangel Catholic Church (Chicago).

Coordinates: 41°54′44″N 87°38′23″W / 41.9123°N 87.6397°W / 41.9123; -87.6397

View of the front of St. Michael's Church

St. Michael's Church in the Old Town neighborhood of Chicago is a Roman Catholic church staffed by the Redemptorist order of priests. The parish was founded to minister to German Catholic immigrants in 1852 with its first wooden church completed that year at a cost of $750 (including the bell). The building stands at an intersection between Eugenie and Cleveland street. The church was built as a haven for German immigrants who were outcasts in Old Chicago. In addition, the town's main church, St. Joseph's Church, was overcrowded. The Redemptorists were invited to administer the parish in 1860 and a large brick church was finished in 1869.[1] When completed, its tower made it the tallest building in Chicago, a distinction it held until the old Chicago Board of Trade building was completed in 1885.[2]

History[edit]

The church was one of six buildings to 'survive' the path of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, albeit heavily damaged. While most of Old Chicago's infrastructure was made of wood, the church was made of brick which helped it survive the fire.[1] Portions of the building survived—the stone walls of St. Michael's being the only structures standing in the Old Town area. The church was quickly rebuilt.

It is said[3] in Chicago that if you can hear the bells of St. Michael's, you are in Old Town. Old Town in the mid-1950s was home to a large population of Puerto Ricans. Cesario Rivera, Miguel Chevere, Gilberto Hernandez, Don Jesus Rodriguez and many others organized Council Number Three of the Caballeros de San Juan. With the help of Father Katherine, they started Spanish language masses in a hall next to the Church. The Daughters of Mary or Damas de Maria were also organized by Clotilde Rodriguez, Monin Jimenez, family members of the Flores, Calixto,Lugo,Lucas, Rivera, Trinidad and Eugenia Rodriguez, mother to Jose Cha Cha Jimenez, the founder of the Latino human rights organization the Young Lords. Samuel Stritch, the renowned cardinal, and Jack Eagan assisted the Caballeros and Damas de Maria early on within the Cardinal's Committee for the Spanish Speaking. They later organized many retreats and pilgrimages to the Redemptorist Retreat Center in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin and to Libertyville, Illinois. A large lay ministry for Catholic Action was organized from St. Mike's in Old Town that spread to several parishes in Old Town and the Lincoln Park Community, like at Immaculate Conception,St. Teresa's and St. Sylvester's. There were some objections with a few of the then predominant Polish and German congregation of St. Michael's who dominated for many years and didn't want Puerto Ricans in the regular chapel. But the Caballeros and Damas ignored the ignorance of some and sought community with prayer, while recruiting door to door for their meetings and events. Eventually, St. Michael's Church also grew to become a major center within Chicago's Puerto Rican Community. When Mayor Richard J. Daley's urban renewal program began, it was the Old Town Triangle Organization of the Lincoln Park Conservation Association that took the lead in promoting urban renewal in the area. St. Michael's like many other neighborhood institutions took advantage of the program to rehab and to expand. But in the process, most of the Puerto Rican and other Latino parishioners were displaced from Lincoln Park. It is difficult to know how many, because the census then recorded "Hispanics" by race; as either black or white. But most of today's Chicago's Puerto Rican businesses and community organizations trace themselves back to Lincoln Park. The Puerto Rican children of the St. Michael's Church catholic school in the 1960s and 70s include a U.S. Representative, an Illinois Circuit Court judge and a NASA scientist. The first official Puerto Rican parade was organized by St. Michael's parishioners, their Damas and Caballeros of St. John the Baptist councils and the Puerto Rican Congress of Larrabee and North Avenue Streets.

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