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

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

(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.