I admit it is weird; I’m all crazy for church architecture and I travel great distances to see it, but until recently I didn’t know about the Chicago Polish cathedral style. Perhaps I overlooked it because these churches are located in my unofficial no man’s land—west of the Kennedy Expressway. There are many adorable neighborhoods west of the Kennedy, but it has often felt so unpleasant getting to them, though pee-smelling viaducts under scary speeding cars.
I did, of course, know that Chicago is loaded with people of Polish descent. I mean, you can’t throw a pierogi here without hitting someone whose last name ends with “ski”. I moved to Chicago in 1994 at the tail-end of a post-Cold War mini wave of Polish immigration, but a much larger wave started in the 1860’s, just as Chicago’s population began to explode. Most of the Poles clustered in communities on the the northwest side, near the Kennedy.
So anyway, during that fleeting but glorious time last summer and early fall, when Covid numbers were low enough that we felt slightly safer taking public transportation, HOB and I stumbled on these Polish churches during our forays into less visited neighborhoods. After our initial discovery we sprinted through them, taking slow buses underneath the dreaded Kennedy, chased by an ever-climbing Covid positivity rate that finally cut off our non-essential local travel a few months ago.
What is the Polish cathedral style? Well, the churches are grand, and on the fancy side—not gaudy, just full of ornament. Most refreshing of all, they are not Gothic. Not like I’m a Gothic hater or something but man, is it overplayed in Chicago. No, these Polish churches are Renaissancey-Baroquey with a heavy dose of Polish patriotism.
Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church
This is Holy Trinity, located in the Noble Square neighborhood (which I am pinching myself for not having spent more time in). It was designed by William Krieg and Herman Olszewski in 1906. It has that Roman Baroque thing going on, with a classical pediment, but look closely and you’ll see some funky modernist doors.
The interior of Holy Trinity is similar to all the Polish cathdral style churches; wall paintings, stained glass, fancy organ—though this one in unusual in that it has no columns.
Me walking out of my apartment once I’m able to get my Covid vaccine.
St. Stanislaus Kostka
St. Stanislaus Kostka is just up the block from Holy Trinity. I was only able to photograph one tower, as the rest of the church is under restoration (yay!) I love this façade for being constructed of Chicago Common Brick, a mottled brick normally used only on the rear sides of older apartment buildings. The tower was designed by Adolphus Druiding in 1892.
The murals inside St. Stanislaus Kostka, by Thaddaeus Zukotynski, celebrate the life of the titular saint, Stanislaus. (I wrote this part as an excuse to use the word “titular”.)
From the peaceful interior, you wouldn’t realize that the rear of the church practically backs into the Kennedy Expressway.
St. John Cantius Church
The same dude, Adolphus Druiding, who designed the towers of St. Stanislaus Kostka, was also the architect of St. John Cantius, c. 1893-1898.
That glorious organ!
Confession: social distancing style.
St. Hedwig Roman Catholic Church
St. Hedwig Roman Catholic Church was closed when I visited, so I don’t have interior shots. Our old friend Adolphus Druiding also designed this one in 1902, with Renaissance flair.
St. Hyacinth Basilica
St. Hyacinth Basilica was my favorite. Normally I don’t dig churches that hint too much of classical revival, but this one, designed by Worthmann and Steinbach in 1921, has an especially alive feeling.
We got lost trying to find St. Hyacinth (fortunately the Avondale neighborhood is full of charming old houses that we admired while walking in circles, squinting at google maps). By the time we arrived, after a day running around Chicago, we were tired, and glad to sit under the dome in the later afternoon light while other folks from the community trickled in for a quick break and a prayer.
What attracts me to these Polish cathedral style churches in not the architecture, as grandeur is not my thing, or the ornamentation, but more how these things are combined with absolute care. This care, and pride in Polish heritage, will bring us back to see the churches we missed once Covid is over, even if we have to cross the Kennedy Expressway.