St. Gabriel Church

Project Name
St. Gabriel Church

4522 S Wallace St
Chicago, Illinois

Project Status
Church open; Mallin decorations removed.

Project Date/s

St Gabriel church, in the south side of Chicago Canaryville neighborhood, was organized in 1880  by Rev. Maurice J. Dorney.  It was primarily an Irish parish, supported by Irish immigrants working in the Chicago stockyards.  In May 1887, the cornerstone of the present church was laid at 45th and Lowe Ave.  The church was designed by the prominent Chicago architects Burnham and Root, and is the only Catholic church that they designed.  In his book Chicago Churches and Synagogues, the Rev. George Lane writes, “Root chose the Romanesque style because he felt it was appropriate to a ‘simple home of the people.’  He felt St. Gabriel’s was one of his finest designs and he was especially pleased with the power and impact of the tall masonry bell tower which he described as the ‘breaking of the day.'”

In 1935, the Rev. Harold S. Trainor was named pastor of the church.  In 1936, he hired John Mallin to decorate the church.  According to the St. Gabriel Centennial Book, “The entire church was cleaned, redecorated and restored to its original beauty in late 1936.” The specifications for the decorations were outlined by Mallin in a 1936 letter to Father Trainor. The decorations included painting, decorating, gilding, and mural paintings. The ceilings and walls were to be “blended in delicate ivories and gray pastel shades, the panels of the main ceiling will be richly decorated with a border around the mouldings, and a reset representing of the church, worked out by hand.  The walls will be blended in a deeper shade of color, stippled in three shades of color and decorated in a stone effect, or symbols and ornament, as may be selected.  The lower walls (dado) will be marblelized.”

Specifications for the sanctuary stated, “The entire ornamental decoration will be painted out and redesigned with a new ornament in keeping with the style of the Church architecture, shaded and highlighted by hand and edged with XX 23 Carat genuine gold leaf.  The oil paintings will be carefully cleaned, touched up and preserved. “

The church underwent decoration changes in at least two different time periods.  In 1962 there were major renovations done in the church. In the book Heavenly City, published in 2005, partial murals in the sanctuary and some other ornamentation were still visible.  The book states, “In 1962, the ceilings above the side altars were lowered, the chandeliers and the angels were removed and replaced with recessed lighting. Many of the paintings were painted over or replaced. A huge cross with symbols of the seven sacraments was painted down the center of the ceiling.”  The murals that remained in the Sanctuary in 1963 were only partially intact. There were background murals behind the murals that had been removed or painted over. There are photos of the partial murals in the Sanctuary by James Morris, and from the Library of Congress Photo collection. There are two photos of the original Mallin decorations in the St Gabriel Centennial book that show the complete murals in the Sanctuary.

All of the sanctuary murals were removed (date unknown) so today no Mallin decorations remain in the church.


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.

Lane G, and Kezys A.  Chicago Churches and Synagogues.  Loyola University Press. Chicago, 1981.

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, HABS [or HAER or HALS], Reproduction number [e.g., “HABS ILL, 16-CHIG, 34-4 “] Historic American Buildings Survey Cervin Robinson Photographer, July 30, 1963.  Interior Altar- St Gabriel’s Church (Roman Catholic) 4522 South Wallace St. Chicago, Cook County, IL.

McNamara D.R. and Morris J.  Heavenly City.  The Architectural Tradition of Catholic Chicago. Archdiocese of Chicago, Liturgy Training Publications, 2005.

St. Gabriel Church 1888-1998.  100 years of Faith Hope and Charity.  Centennial Booklet. Obtained from Catholic University of America Library, Special Collections. Washington, DC.