- Weekend Mass Times:
- Saturday: 5:30 PM (English)
- Sunday: 7:45 AM, 10:30 AM, 5:00 PM (English)
- 12:15 PM (Spanish)
- 9:15 AM (First Sunday of the month only - German)
- Weekday Mass Times:
- Monday: 8:30 AM (English)
- Tuesday: 8:30 AM (English)
- Wednesday: 6:00 PM (English)
- Thursday: 8:30 AM (English)
- Friday: 8:30 AM (English)
- Saturday: 8:30 AM (English)
- Holy Days and Holidays
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History of St. Alphonsus
A pictorial timeline of St. Alphonsus history.
A description of the art and architecture in the church.
Lake View’s HistoryAfter the great Chicago Fire in 1871, the population expanded rapidly beyond Fullerton Avenue, which was then the northern boundary line of the city. In 1882, Lake View was mostly farmland and Lincoln Avenue was the main country road that extended from Fullerton to Lawrence Avenue. Unpaved, it was flanked on both sides by deep draining ditches, usually retaining stagnant water, almost impassable in rainy and wintry weather. Cutting across what was then Lincoln Highway were lesser mud roads. North of Roscoe was a thick grove of oak trees. It spread from Ashland Avenue to the lake. East of Greenview (or Perry as it was called then) was rural including farm houses and barns, grazing cattle and farmers who sold their products to the city markets.
In the 1880s and 1890s, these farms were gradually acquired by real estate firms, divided into city blocks and subdivided into lots for homes. New dwellings sprang up quickly in great number. One attaction to moving to Lake View was that it was not part of the city at that time, and one could still build with cheaper wood frame, rather than the brick required in Chicago after the Fire.
At the time, however, the Lake View area west of Greenview was desolate. All the way to the river were abandoned brick yards and huge ugly, gaping clay-holes. The city used these pits as convenient garbage and refuse dumps. Foul-smelling odors emanated from them when the breezes blew from the west. (The clay holes were filled in the early 1900s.)
In those days, Chicago did not yet have an efficient transportation system. Cumbersome cars, each accommodating about 30 passengers, were drawn over steel tracks by a team of horses at the rate of four to five miles an hour. The Sedgwick street line came closest to Lake View but terminated at Fullerton Avenue.
Pleading For A Parish
Despite the handicaps, Lake View continued to expand. Within the area were hundreds of Catholic families mostly of German, Irish, and Polish heritage. Each group yearned for the day when they could worship God in a church closer to home. To attend Mass on Sundays required a walk of at least three or four miles into the city, unless a family was well off enough to own a horse and buggy or lived near the Sedgwick horse car line.
Parishioners, especially German groups, pleaded with the Redemptorist Fathers to establish a mission in Lake View as an alternative to taking the long journey to St. Michael Church. As soon as it became possible the Redemptorists agreed and needed to identify a location. Father Essing, then pastor of St. Michael’s, and his advisers decided that the most promising site would be a city block circumscribed by Wellington, Southport, Oakdale and Greenview Avenues. With the approval of the Archbishop, Father Essing purchased five acres of land on January 22, 1882, for $9,000 from the Union Mutual Life Insurance Co.
Since the property was so far from the city, no one seemed pleased with the location. The Catholics of Nickersonville (the neighborhood along the river at Fullerton, Clybourn, and Courtland), had hoped to see the new parish established there. Those living in the vicinity of Clark and Diversey felt that the new parish would be of little advantage to them. Even those living around Lincoln and Sheffield avenues complained that the location was too far from the city. The Polish Catholics of Nickersonville later built their own church, St. Josaphat, and the Catholics on Clark Street established Our Lady of Mt. Carmel parish a few years later.
The Pioneer DaysThe patron saint chosen for the parish was St. Alphonsus Liguori, the founder of the Redemptorist Fathers.
The contract for the church and school was signed on May 20,1882. The architect was Adam Boos; the carpenter contractor, Peter Hurter; painting Jos. Wallner; brickwork, Peter Eberthauser; plaster, August Zander. By September, the church and school were completed at a cost of $12,000. The church faced east on the corner where the Athenaeum now stands. It measured 120 feet long, 50 feet wide and the interior was 20 feet high.
The area assigned to the spiritual care of the Redemptorist Fathers extended from the lake to the river and from Fullerton to Lawrence Avenue. That territory was reduced as other parishes were founded.
In the beginning, there was no resident pastor or rectory. For three years Fathers Charles Hahn and Peter Hellers traveled to St. Alphonsus from their Redemptorist headquarters at St. Michael’s. The congregation increased to such a degree that it required a resident pastor and thus attained status of canonical independence from the mother-church. From 1885-1887 Father Max Leimgruber – then 65 years old – became the first pastor of the parish. In that two year period, Fr. Leimgruber and two other priests baptized 1,091 infants and converts, performed 130 marriages, prepared 393 for Confirmation and administered the last rites to 502.
Two Church BuildingsFather Henry Schagemann was appointed second official pastor of St. Alphonsus parish in 1887 and two additional priests joined him, making the total number of priests five. The parish in 1889 registered more than 800 families and more than 4,000 souls. It was now imperative to draw up plans to build a much larger church and school to accommodate the increasing numbers and provide for present and future needs.
The town of Lake View was incorporated into the city of Chicago in 1889. That June, ground was broken for the new church. Curious spectators watched as the excavation sank to a depth of 15 feet to firm clay bottom where huge foundation stones were set to sustain the buttressed walls, weighty pillars and lofty tower.
Four months later, the cornerstone was laid on September 22, 1889. At 3:00 PM that Sunday, 35 societies from Redemptorist and other participating parishes gathered at the episcopal residence of Archbishop Feehan to escort him and a large retinue of clergy to the building site. The line of march was a mile and a half. The streets were lined with spectators and homes were decorated with bunting. Keeping in step with the music, hundreds of society members proudly made their way on foot. Numerous bands alternated in playing their pieces en route. Uniformed knights rode horseback. The dignitaries rode in horse-drawn carriages to complete the parade. (Such great religious displays were very common in those days.) When the cortege arrived at its destination, thousands of people had gathered to witness the grand spectacle. With due ceremony, the cornerstone was set and blessed. It was a perfect day and magnificent religious spectacle.
Seven months later, St. Gerard’s Chapel (the lower church) was completed. Services were held there for the first time on March 22, 1890 (Passion Sunday). The chapel (with a seating capacity of 1,200 people) was filled by an overflow of devout worshippers.Father Henry Weber succeeded Father Schagemann in May of 1893. Growing funds and unabated enthusiasm from parishioners warranted going ahead with the superstructure. The new pastor signed the contract to complete the church at a cost of $100,000 (several million dollars today). All began well on June 7, 1894, and progressed smoothly until two unfortunate incidents occurred. New appointments issued from Redemptorist headquarters at Rome in 1895 announced the transfer of Father Weber to St. Louis. Mr. Adam Boos, the architect, who devoted all his energies to the project, contracted pneumonia and died. The change of Father Weber, builder, financier, and winning personality, and the death of the loyal architect proved to be a double blow to the congregation.
Reverend William Loewekamp stepped into the shoes of Father Weber. He made it clear that the building program must continue. Twenty months later, on March 17,1895, a 20-foot cross was solemnly blessed, raised and planted triumphantly on the tip of the steeple.
Work on the interior continued. Plastering was completed for $8,000 and carpentry work followed for $4,000. At the end of 1895, Father Loewekamp announced the financial report: Receipts: $26,646. Expenses: $118,287.
The large debt did not deter the priests nor parishioners from pushing forward and completing the interior of the church. They prayed fervently, contributed generously and offered gifts—large and small—to supply the church with necessary interior furnishings.
The most significant donations were two beautiful marble side altars, one given by the Ulsamer family and the other by the Rauen Family. The original altar in the frame church was moved to the new church. It remained there until the Redemptorist Brother, Aloysius Jacksa, came to St. Alphonsus as the sacristan in 1900. Observing how dwarfed the main altar looked in the immense church, he sketched his “blue-prints” in white chalk on the sacristy floor for a more fitting altar. This altar, entirely constructed by the humble lay brother, remained a fitting and worthy ornament in the church for 48 years. It was replaced by the present altar in 1948, a masterpiece in marble weighing 50 tons and consecrated by the Redemptorist Bishop Aloysius J. Willinger. The 1900 altar was moved to the Lower Church, where it still is in the Chapel of the Word.
Dedication of Completed ChurchOn October 3, 1897, the dedication of the building was performed by Archibishop Feehan, joined by 30 priests. The Redemptorist Provincial, Father Girardey, celebrated the solemn High Mass. Bishop Feehan commended the parishioners for their wonderful faith, spirit of sacrifice and loyal cooperation.
After only 15 years, the young and vigorous parish already possessed a permanent church that still ranks among the greatest in the archdiocese. For years architects from far and near visited the church to study its perfect Gothic lines. The entire façade was constructed of blue Bedford rock, as are the gracefully curving stairways, spacious veranda and imposing tower that rises to a height of 200 feet above the foundation. The remaining portion of the structure is made of pressed red face brick and trimmed with Bedford stone. When it was built the overall length was 206 feet and the width was 80 feet. The center nave rose to a height of 60 feet, while the naves to either side reached a height of 40 feet. To the rear, 10 feet above ground, was a balcony. Higher above the balcony was a choir loft and great organ with more than 3,000 pipes. (The second balcony and original organ were destroyed by the 1950 fire.) In the tower 150 feet above the street were four large clocks facing the cardinal points.
The School’s Early Years
When the St. John Neumann, a Redemptorist, became Bishop of Philadelphia in 1852, he sought to provide a solid Catholic education for the children and youth of his diocese. Many credit Bishop Neumann with organizing our present parochial system of Catholic education in America: “Every Catholic child in a Catholic school.” He engaged the School Sisters of Notre Dame to teach in Redemptorist parochial schools, and this cooperation between Redemptorists and the School Sisters of Notre Dame continued in Chicago at St. Alphonsus, St. Michael and St. James.
The first parishioners built a school at the same time they built the first frame church. Facing Southport, it was a temporary frame structure; 120 feet long, 50 feet wide and contained four classrooms on the first floor. The upper floor was reserved as a temporary convent for the sisters.
The School Sisters of Notre Dame were experts in education and had one of the largest religious Orders in the Church. Father Essing applied to their motherhouse in Milwaukee. Rev. Mother M. Caroline sent four sisters to open the school.
When the new school opened its doors for the first time in September of 1892, 70 children were registered. By 1886 the school enrollment had grown to more than 500 boys and girls. To accommodate them, the first pastor built a convent for the Sisters and converted their former quarters into four more classrooms (making eight total). At this time, St. Alphonsus parish also had a branch school at Paulina and Wrightwood. It was actually the first floor of a large residence – rented from a Mr. Marske – and used as an additional classroom for younger parish children living in that neighborhood.
By the time St. Gerard’s chapel was completed in 1890 there were more than 800 pupils being taught. The old frame church was converted into a school building, but the parish continued to expand. By 1900, the walls were bulging with 1,650 boys and girls.
The New SchoolFather Joseph Beil, who became pastor in 1901, took on the new school building project. First he doubled the dimensions of the convent, which had become too small for the growing community of teachers. Then he was free to devote his undivided attention to the school.
Ground was broken in August of 1902. Mr Zeivel, the contractor, and Mr. Beiler, the architect, employed a large laboring force. The school building was ready for occupancy in September of 1903. It was 185 feet long, 90 feet wide, four stories high and had 24 spacious classrooms. The big basement was designed to shelter the children in bad weather and used for indoor bazaars, festive gatherings and society meetings. The cost of the building was $117,000.
All the societies of St. Alphonsus parish and kindred organizations of other parishes joined in a grand parade on the day of the dedication, September 20, 1903. More than 1,000 men with brass bands and drums and fife corps marched to St. Alphonsus Church. Along Lincoln Avenue, they were met by 1,650 school children, each carrying a flag or banner. After the church services, Archbishop Quigley, assisted by many of the clergy, solemnly blessed the new school building.
On October 1, 1903, a solemn High Mass was offered for all school benefactors and attended by all the children. After the Mass, these 1,650 youngsters walked along Wellington Avenue and entered, for the first time, into the great red new school building and took their places in their classrooms. The tower bells rang out triumphantly announcing to the congregation that a new era had been begun at St. Alphonsus.
The Redemptorist Fathers realized the importance of social and recreational activities and facilities. During his pastorate from 1907 to 1912, Fr. George Thomas decided to build a parish recreational center equal to any in Chicago. His project as planned and executed was deemed by many to be pretentious, if not fool-hardy. The passing of the years, however, proved its great value. He built the Athenaeum at Southport and Oakdale Avenues at a cost of $150,000. The formal opening of the center occurred on November 18, 1911.
At that time the Athenaeum was one of the finest of its kind in the country. When it was built the lower floor included an 80 x 100 foot gymnasium; four bowling alleys; and various meeting rooms for Boy and Girl Scouts and other clubs. The main floor included an elaborate suite of rooms – library, assembly hall, kitchen and reception room. For many years, this section of the building was the meeting place for the young women of the parish, who raised most of the funds to furnish it. In later years, the space was taken over by the Young People’s Club and other parish groups. On the second floor were five meeting halls enabling various groups to meet simultaneously. In 1926, these rooms were converted into classrooms for 200 pupils enrolled in St. Alphonsus Commercial High School.
The theater proper has a seating capacity of 1000, one of the largest stages in the city, steel curtain and fireproof scenery. The stage was regarded as one of the best in the country when it was constructed. It remains one of the oldest continuously operating theaters in Chicago. On countless occasions, packed audiences were regaled by drama, comedy, music, tragedy, drills and skits by the school children, and graduation exercises. And, for two years after the destructive church fire of 1950, the Athenaeum was transformed into a temporary church and the stage became the altar and tabernacle.
The Rectory and the Convent
When the parish was founded, there was no home for the priests. When the circumstances required it the priests would remain overnight in a few small rooms above the sacristy. After a year, a small rectory was built at a cost of $3,000. It was moved from Oakdale to Wellington (where the current rectory stands) after the lower church was built. Some years later it was considerably enlarged to accommodate the growing number of Fathers assigned to the expanding parish. However, the living rooms were dark and small, the assembly room, refectory, library and chapel were unsuitable to normal monastic life, and it was infested with vermin and unsanitary.
When Father Wenzel Steinbach became Pastor (1924-1930) the parish was financially sound and able to build a better home for the community of Redemptorists. The rectory was completed in 1926.
The first convent stood to the rear of the old frame church, fronting Oakdale. The convent was built in 1886, doubled in 1901 and moved to the northeast corner of Oakdale and Greenview in 1910 to make room for the Athenaeum. In 1928 this makeshift convent was replaced by a larger and improved convent on the same corner of Oakdale and Greenview.
The Athenaeum FireSt. Alphonsus Parish underwent two very severe trials. The first occurred on November 27, 1939 (Thanksgiving Day). The fire broke out at 3:00 AM. Thousands of spectators ran to the scene to witness one of the most destructive fires that had occurred on the North side. Despite efforts by the firefighters, the flame and smoke continued unabated for four hours. The last of the raging fire was quenched that morning at 7:30. The Athenaeum lay in a heap of ruins. No one knows how it started.
Before the fire, the upper story of the Athenaeum had five commercial high school rooms. Two classes were carried on in the lower church, two others in the lower sacristy and a fifth in the upper sacristy during the reconstruction.
Rev. Francis Fagen was the pastor when the fire occurred. The insurance company awarded St. Alphonsus $12,510 and Rev. Hagen then negotiated for a $125,000 loan. In spite of some bad weather and labor difficulties, a new Athenaeum was resurrected eleven months after the fire. On September 29, 1940, a colorful parade of all the school children commemorated the event by marching around the premises and leading the Commercial Students into their new quarters. The school band played and a an address was given by the pastor. The restored Athenaeum was considerably remodeled. The two-story building was converted into three stories.
The Church Fire
Eleven years later a second fire eclipsed the first. On Monday, October 23, 1950 at midday, the fire broke out. Father Joseph Hahn was the pastor at that time. He had just installed the main altar and had completed the redecoration of the church interior. A group of workmen were engaged in the process of replacing the old roof with a new one.
All 1,440 school children, sisters, priests and 2,000 adults gazed with horror at the burning of this historic Lakeview landmark. They saw flames leaping skyward, smoke billowing from all sides. They held their breath as sections of the roof caved in. The upper church was completely gutted. St. Gerard’s chapel was flooded with several feet of water. Fire loss and ultimate reconstruction totalled more than $800,000. (About $7,000,000 in today's dollars.)
All Lakeview was saddened. Cardinal Stritch phoned his condolence. Mayor Kenelly paid a personal visit to the Fathers and made a generous donation. Many pastors of the city offered help. Daleiden Church Goods Firm donated a temporary altar. Leaders and citizens of Lakeview, both Christian and Jewish, began to donate toward rebuilding.
The Athenaeum and school basement were converted into temporary churches. By December, St. Gerard’s Chapel, although damp, cold and unsightly, was used for most services.
Two years later, on November 27, 1952 (Thanksgiving Day) the church opened its doors again for worship. At 10:00 that morning, a solemn High Mass was celebrated with all pomp and splendor to mark the occasion in the presence of His Eminence, Cardinal Stritch, and a packed congregation.
Our Lady of Perpetual Help
The devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help has been, in varying degrees, an integral part of prayer at St. Alphonsus. The shrine was solemnly erected in 1891, and at once parishioners gave evidence of their love for Our Blessed Mother under the title of Perpetual Help. They attended the novenas in huge numbers. (During World War II, it was estimated that 10,000 people attended one of the five Our Lady of Perpetual Help services held on each Tuesday.) The faithful came from all parts of the city to gather around Our Lady shrine and to place their petitions at the feet of the Mother of God.
The parish was founded by Germans and continued to attract German-American families and German immigrants through the first half of the twentieth century. After both World Wars, refugees settled near St. Alphonsus and found a home here. Continuing into the 1960s, the parish had thousands of weekly worshippers and remained a vibrant community.
By the 1970s, the Lakeview neighborhood began to evolve. Many older parishioners moved away. New ones came. Reflecting the city around it, Lakeview and St. Alphonsus became more ethnically diverse. At the same time, smaller family sizes led to a smaller school enrollment.
In the 1980s, the growing Hispanic population merited adding a Spanish mass. By 1999, half the Sunday mass population worshipped in Spanish.
Neighborhood changes continued. St. Alphonsus had been a gateway to German immigrants, then to Hispanics. In the 1990s, a new group began to settle in Lakeview – young adults, often just out of college and beginning their careers in Chicago.
In 1997, the School Sisters of Notre Dame concluded more than a century of service to the parish. Then, in 1999, the Redemptorists concluded their service at St. Alphonsus and gave the parish over to the care of the Archdiocese of Chicago.
Since 1999, under the leadership of the pastor, Fr. James Hurlbert, St. Alphonsus has attracted more young adults and families. Today, St. Alphonsus is a vibrant community. It is a cornerstone in many people’s lives with numerous spiritual, educational, social and service opportunities for young adults, families and retirees. Masses are celebrated in English, German and Spanish. (St. Alphonsus is the only church in Chicago which continues to celebrate a monthly Sunday mass in German.)
The school was rededicated in 2003 and was formally renamed Alphonsus Academy and Center for the Arts. The student population and reputation for excellence has continued to grow since then. In 2006 the school was named as one of Chicago’s top private grade schools by Chicago Magazine and in 2010, 370 students were enrolled. At the same time, the number of students in the Tuesday Religious Education program quadrupled.
The Athenaeum continues to thrive as a cultural center, providing a home to various arts organizations as well as performance space. The Lakeview Pantry is also housed in this building, in the former bowling alley. The convent building is now living space for formerly homeless women, sponsored by Deborah’s Place. The rectory has become the parish center with staff offices and a residence for the priests.
From 2007-2008 St. Alphonsus underwent a large-scale renovation, returning both the inside and outside of the church to its original splendor. The parish also celebrated its 125th anniversary from August 2007 - August 2008.