The Archdiocese has delayed demolition of St. James Church. That calls to mind a historic church that wasn't saved: the old Old St. Mary’s.
St. Mary of the Assumption was the city’s first Catholic church, built in 1833 on Lake Street west of State Street. Three years later the building was moved to Michigan Avenue and Madison Street. In 1843, when Chicago was established as a diocese, a new St. Mary’s Cathedral was constructed at the southwest corner of Madison Street and Wabash Avenue.
The Great Fire of 1871 destroyed St. Mary’s Cathedral. Afterward the Catholic bishop decided to rebuild his cathedral in Holy Name parish. He also purchased the five-year-old Plymouth Congregational Church at 9th and Wabash, rededicating it as St. Mary’s Catholic Church. The parish was placed under the direction of the Paulist Fathers order of priests.
The decades passed, and the South Loop went into a long decline. Anyone with money moved out. By the 1930s the area was mostly commercial—and what wasn’t commercial was slum. Aging gracefully while the neighborhood deteriorated, the church remained one rock of stability.