What’s That Building? A Church Built Of Mirrors And Defiance | WBEZ
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Morning Shift

What’s That Building? A Church Built Of Mirrors And Defiance

On the Far Northwest Side, rising out of a landscape of strip malls and suburban homes, stands a structure that truly makes you wonder: What’s that building? 

Zoom in to see the cluster of towers built of concrete and mirrors:

That glittering building is St. Joseph the Betrothed Ukrainian Catholic church, intriguing both because of its dramatic architecture and because of its history, according to Crain’s Chicago Business real estate reporter Dennis Rodkin.

Rodkin joined Morning Shift, alongside WBEZ’s Julian Hayda, whose father was a pastor at the church from 1995 to 2007, to talk about the building's unique story.

Courtesy of Julian Hayda

The church was at the center of a plan to move Chicago’s Ukrainian community to the suburbs

As much of the country started moving to the suburbs in the 1950s, so did some of Chicago’s Ukrainian community. In 1957, the founding members of St. Joseph’s bought 80 acres of land with the vision of moving the all of the residents in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village to the city’s Far Northwest Side. They offered discounted housing around the church to Ukrainian Catholics in hopes of making “St. Joseph Manor” a reality. But Chicago’s Ukrainians mostly stayed put, in part because their communities in the city were robust, and in part because Chicago’s suburbs were more expensive than in places like Cleveland or Detroit. 

Courtesy of Julian Hayda

The exterior is 75 percent glass

According to a Chicago Tribune article from 1977, the building’s architect, Zenon Mazurkevich, said all the light coming into the building ties to “the Ukrainian tradition of resurrection and the image of God as a benevolent father.”

And Rodkin points out those sitting in church have some fun things to watch through all those windows: the changing color of the sky and, every so often, a plane heading to out to O’Hare.  

The interior looks completely different than the exterior — a symbol of the resistance against religious persecution

While the outside leans on a modern, concrete aesthetic, the inside of St. Joseph feels like a centuries-old sanctuary.

But when it was first built in the 1970s, the inside matched the austere look of the outside. Two decades later, according to Hayda, a priest called for a change. For decades, the church’s members had hidden their faith under the Soviet Union, but now they were living in a country founded on religious freedom so they chose to paint the concrete and celebrate their faith in full color.

For more on the history of St. Joseph’s, press 'play' to listen to Rodkin’s entire conversation with Morning Shift.

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