An Immigrant Church
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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: LPRoots@yahoo.com ~ page last updated on Tuesday, April 22, 2003