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Cavaliere Anthonly Lascio

Cav. Anthony Lascio Chapter - PIP 1

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An Immigrant Church

by Cav. Anthony Lascio

In the late 1800's and early 1900's, Chicago was the destination of tens of thousands of Italian emigrants. They found a city already settled by a variety of European ethnic groups who were generally unwilling to accept the newcomers from the “boot”.  Whereas their brother European ethnic’s generally congregated together forming mega neighborhoods, the Italians were forced to scatter throughout the city forming many Little Italy’s.

The Italians also possessed a different mindset concerning their homeland.  Most other European emigrants believed they were natives of “a” country.  Italians claimed to be regional, even comune natives, rather than “national” citizens.  For this reason, they  congregated in Chicago with their own paesani as opposed to just joining other Italians.  Some Chicago historians disagreed on the exact number of distinct Italian neighborhoods in the city.  But by 1920 or so, it is clear Chicago could claim ten Little Italy’s.

As with their neighborhoods, Italian churches were established to serve the Catholic population of those settlements. Again, historians differ in their views, but the Archdiocese of Chicago lists twelve Catholic Churches as Italian during that era of emigration.

One of those churches is the subject of t his month’s article.  That church is Santa Maria Addolorata because it has a unique and interesting history.

Located on the near northwest side of Chicago at Ohio and Ada Streets, Santa Maria Addolorata was established in what once was one of Chicago’s ten Little Italy’s.  The year was 1903.  The first Italian emigrants in this area attended St. Stephen Church at Ohio and Sangamon Streets.  It was originally founded in 1869 by Irish immigrants.  The Italians were not pleased with an Irish church and exerted pressure upon the Archdiocese for the establishment of their own house of worship.  As providence would have it, a Norwegian Lutheran church at the southwest corner of Grand and Peoria was available.  The Norwegians moved out of the neighborhood en mass when the Italians began moving in abandoning their church.

The Archdiocese purchased the building.  After minor renovation to bring the brick structure built in 1865, up to Catholic standards, in August of 1903, the church was dedicated as Santa Maria Addolorata.

Interestingly, for a four year period between 1899 and 1903, this church was operated as a schismatic church known as St. Anthony’s by a priest who had been excommunicated.  The Italians who attended without knowing any better, soon realized the problem and disbanded leaving the building vacant until the Archdiocese purchased it.

By 1904, this Little Italy settlement had grown encompassing the entire near northwest side neighborhood. The Italians who settled there originated from the regions of Tuscany, Piedmont, Veneto and Sicily.

When founded in 1903, the church was staffed by priests of the Archdiocese.  However in 1905, the church was transferred to the care of the Scalabrini Fathers, an Italian order of clergy.  The first pastor was Rev. James Gambera who gained a reputation as a builder.  Among his accomplishments were construction of a rectory, numerous parish societies, neighborhood  feasts, parish visits, a kindergarten, a day nursery and finally Catechism classes.  These classes were taught by the Italian Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart who were founded by Mother Frances Cabrini.  The parish flourished, however, in 1921 Father Gambera resigned due to ill health.. 

In 1931, the church was extensively renovated.  But less than a year later in January, 1931, fate took a tragic toll.  A massive fire destroyed the entire church structure leaving only four brick walls standing. 

Once again, a vacant Norwegian Lutheran Church, this one at the northwest corner of Erie and May Streets was purchased as a replacement for the burned out Santa Maria Addolorata.  On Easter Sunday, April 5, 1931, the church was opened. Eight years later, the parish’s first school was built and opened, staffed by the nuns of the Italian Daughters of St. Mary of Providence.

In 1949, the church was redecorated and the steeple rebuilt.  But who was to know that three years later, construction of the Northwest (Kennedy) Expressway would take another toll on this beleaguered parish.  The church, school, and rectory of Santa Maria Addolorata were condemned and razed.

One more time, the now defunct parish would shop for another site.  In 1955, ground was broken for a new school building and three years later construction began at the corner of Ohio and Ada Streets for a new church.  It was dedicated in 1960 and is the present site of the parish church.

Unfortunately, the opening of the expressway did more than destroy the parish complex, it cut the parish boundaries in half.  This separation caused many Italian families who were now divided to relocate elsewhere. This opened the way for a new wave of immigrants, the Latinos, who settled in and currently occupy the near Northwest side neighborhood.

Santa Maria Addolorata lives, but it’s ethnic makeup had changed dramatically. Less than ten percent of the parish is considered Italian.  What was once one of Chicago’s twelve Italian Catholic Churches is no longer the case.  The  spiritual home to thousands of Italian emigrant families is now history. Santa Maria Addolorata has served and done so well.  

© PIP Chapter 1, 2003 ~ Webmaster:  ~  page last updated on Tuesday, April 22, 2003