A saint in need of a savior: Old St. Laurence parish

June 14, 2010


(photo by Lee Bey)

I took a drive through the western edge of South Shore a couple of days ago.

Until I was 10, my family--father, mother, two sisters, and later grandmother and aunt--lived in a two flat my old man owned in the neighborhood at 7327 S. Kimbark. The landmarks were simple then: James Madison public school at 74th and Dorchester; Mrs Smith's corner store at 74th and Kimbark; and St Laurence Parish, seemingly a world away at 72nd and Dorchester because I wasn't allowed to go north of 73rd St---which only made me sneak and do it anyway. The St. Laurence buildings--a church, school, rectory and parish house that looked as romantic and Old World as the locales I'd see on "I Spy" reruns on Channel 44--had their importance.

In fact, St. Laurence was once quite important. On June 11, 1911--99 years to the day I took these photographs, as it turned out--3,500 people marched in a parade to the site to watch Chicago Roman Catholic Archbishop James Quigley lay St. Laurence's cornerstone. There was a military band and a cordon of police in their dress blue uniforms. The Knights of Columbus, the Catholic Order of Foresters, the Ancient Order of the Hibernians, accompanied by O'Leary's Pipe and Drum Corps--they were all there. When the huge procession got to the church site, 5,000 more people awaited them, the Tribune said at that time.

Built for $100,000 and designed by Joseph Molitor, St. Laurence opened the day after Christmas, 1911. The Art Deco and sorta Prairie School-like school and Mediterranean parish house were built later.


(photo by Lee Bey)


(photo by Lee Bey)


(photo by Lee Bey)


(photo by Lee Bey)


(photo by Lee Bey)

Nearly a century after its auspicious opening, the only people on the street outside St. Laurence when I took these photos were a woman with a young child in tow and a man sweeping outside a tidy brick apartment building opposite the church. "What they gonna do?" he asked me. "Save it? Try to save it?" Important questions. The complex needed at least $3 million in repairs when it was closed by the archdiocese in 2002 and membership had dwindled to a fraction--a decimal, really--of what it was when it opened in 1911.‚  A deal to turn part of the site into senior housing fell through a while back. Preservationist groups, including Landmarks Illinois, believe the bulldozers might be calling the church home sooner or later.