St. Joseph Church
St Joseph’s Church was first organized on the North side of Chicago in 1845 to serve German parishioners. By 1860, the parish had between 700-800 families, and the Benedictines of St. Vincent Abbey in Latrobe, PA were invited to run the church. The Chicago Fire of 1871 destroyed the existing church at Chicago Ave and Wabash Streets. In 1876 a new church was built further north and west, following the migration of the German parishioners. The church was dedicated in 1878.
John Mallin decorated the church interiors in 1926. This year celebrated the 50th anniversary of the laying of church cornerstone, the 65th anniversary of the arrival of the Benedictines to the Parish, and the 80th anniversary of the parish founding. In 1925, Mallin had also decorated the chapel in the House of Providence, which was next door to St. Joseph. According to Jeanne Guilfoyle, Archivist for the Wheaton Franciscan Sisters, the Sisters attended daily mass at St. Joseph’s and the priests from there celebrated all the special occasions at the House of Providence.
One of Mallin’s brochures includes a photo of the interior shortly after it was decorated. The brochure also describes the decorations in the church. “The interior of the Old St. Joseph’s church is done in Gothic ornament and colors. The main ceiling is of very light tone and decorated with a border in three shades of colors. The side ceilings are in the same shade only in a different design. The upper walls are decorated with paintings of the Apostles and an ornament around each picture. The lower side walls are decorated with a frieze and emblems (on a XX gold background) following the wainscoting, and a border around the windows. The sanctuary ceiling is decorated with a Gothic design on gold with emblems shaded and highlighted. The walls below the ceiling are decorated with pictures. The lower wall is done in brocade with emblems.”
A 1940 description of the parish from the Chicago Archdiocese history stated, “working people filled the pews, which seated 1,000 and overflowed its aisles… The threadbare elbows seen in the worn pews of St. Joseph’s these days belong to Italians or Poles. Only a handful of the German, Scandinavian, and Irish families remain.” Housing projects were also built in the neighborhood in the 1940s, whose residents were primarily African American and Puerto Rican. The church reached out to the new residents with Spanish masses, and added Catholic instruction classes.
In 1956 the exterior of the church was modernized, but most of the interior did not change. The murals currently in the sanctuary are the same as in the original photographs, with the exception of two murals on each side of the front of the sanctuary that are no longer there. There are now six murals instead of the eight original murals in the sanctuary. The sanctuary ceiling and the lower wall brocade decorations still exist. The border stencils around the windows are gone but the decorative frieze and emblems above the wainscoting are intact. The ceiling paintings of the apostles with the ornament around each picture are also still intact.
By 1971 many homes had been razed in the area, and the area east of the church was declared an urban renewal project. In 1977 new housing complexes of townhouses and apartments were built east of the church. In 2001, the last Benedictine priest at St. Joseph retired. In that year, the church became a part of the Archdiocese of Chicago. In 2016, St. Joseph and Immaculate Conception parishes were combined in order to insure that both churches would remain. The parishes are served by one Pastoral staff but are canonically independent. Masses are still held at each church.
Immaculate Conception and St. Joseph Parish. A family of families. http://www.icsjparish.org/about-icsj
A History of the Parishes of the Archdiocese of Chicago Volume 1. Msgr. Harry C. Koenig, S.T.D., editor. The Archdiocese of Chicago, Chicago, 1980.