Shuttered South Side church begins trek to a new life in Lake County today | WBEZ
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Shuttered South Side church begins trek to a new life in Lake County today

(photo by Lee Bey)

Workers will begin deconstructing a long-vacant 92-year-old Chicago Roman Catholic Church today, and will ultimately transport the neo-classical edifice piece-by-piece 50 miles north to Lake County where it will be re-erected as part of a new church that will be built there.

Construction fences and scaffolding have already been erected around the former old St. John of God church, 1238 W. 52nd St., in preparation for the complicated $10 million project–the first of its type undertaken by the Chicago archdiocese. The church’s limestone exterior will be rebuilt in Old Mill Creek near the Wisconsin border and become St. Rafael the Archangel Roman Catholic Church.

“How phenomenal this will be to have something like this out on the prairies of northern Illinois,” said the Rev. John A. Jamnicky, pastor of  St. Rafael the Archangel Roman Catholic Church. “Nothing will be comparable to this…it will be kind of a destination place.”

St. Rafael’s efforts to salvage the shuttered New City neighborhood church were discussed here two months ago. Chicago officials, the preservation group Landmarks Illinois, the archdiocese and others spent two years working on the plan.  The new church will also use the altar, pews, windows and artifacts from the former St. Peter Canisius church, 5057 West North Avenue, that closed in 2007. St. John of God was shuttered in 1990.  The church will also contain the powerful 92-stop Austin Opus 558 pipe organ–console, workings and all—that was plucked from the former Medinah Temple in the 1990s when that structure was converted into a Bloomingdale’s home store in the 1990s.

“It’s going to be quite a special place,” Jamnicky said.

(photo by Lee Bey)

(photo by Lee Bey)

(photo by Lee Bey)


The site in Lake County is cleared and prepped–foundations are already going in to make ready for the South Side church. Yet, some within the city’s preservation community (and preservation-minded folk) have raised objection to the project, including the group Preservation Chicago. Blogger/architect David A. Steele discussed St. John of God last month when he wrote about a $15 million plan to relocate Buffalo, NY’s St. Gerard Church 900 miles south to suburban Atlanta.

“To me this is an ominous trend and a warning shot to people interested in saving our American heritage rather than saving its just its artifacts,” he writes. “Its not such a new battle either—early destruction of the city at the hands of suburban communities came in the form of highways.  Buffalo lost parks and parkways to this onslaught.  So did Chicago.  Now the built heritage of our historic cities is being packed up and carted out on those highways.”

Jamnicky, meanwhile, says the project is indeed preservation.

“The building we’ve been able to preserve is a gem,” he said. “It survived 100 years. I bet this [new church] will be up 200 years.”

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