St. John of God Church
The original St. John of God parish was founded in 1907 to serve the growing number of Polish parishioners on Chicago’s south side near 51st and Throop streets. The first church building was completed in July 1907. By 1918, the number of Polish parishioners had grown even larger, so a new church began construction that year on the corner of 52nd and Throop streets. Due to the First World War, materials for the church were scarce, and it took two years to complete the church. Since steel was hard to come by, the church was constructed primarily from concrete and wood. The church remained undecorated for about 20 years. After the depression ended, Fr Louis Grudzinski, decided it was time to decorate the church. He hired John Mallin to do the decorating. From the St John of God Golden Jubilee book, it states, “This painter is noted for his fine art work; everything about his art is genuine and artistic. Long hours of work were spent in the actual painting itself. At the beginning of the year 1941 the decoration of the church was completed. The work was magnificent; the art work was inspiring. The newly decorated church of St John of God was a thing of beauty.”
In 1956 John Mallin was hired again to undertake additional decorations for the entire church. In a bill submitted for the decorations, items included were painting and decorating, mural paintings, and genuine 23 carat gilding, as well as extra rich gilded ornaments throughout the main ceiling and sanctuary ceiling including the vestibule. From the St. John of God Jubilee book, it states “The scaffolding proved annoying as well as the smell of fresh paint. Maybe our Sunday clothes did get a little dusty. But all these little inconveniences proved to be worth it all once the church was completed. When it was completed it was a genuine work of art. John Mallin and company again undertook the task of the redecoration. The general result of his work was once again magnificent. The beauty of the church at this decoration was further enhanced by the addition of new paintings, all inspiring devotion in the hearts of the parishioners.”
Over time however, the parishioners moved out of the church neighborhood and in 1992 the church closed for good. It stood empty for many years as the archdiocese could not find a buyer for the church. For a time it was used as an athletic facility by a Catholic children’s organization and included a basketball court. In a 2006 blog by John Powers, he wrote of his tour of the church and noted at the time: “1.The John Mallin paintings and frescoes are about 75% intact, and of museum quality. 2. The 3 visible altars are intact and stunning. 3. There are some major water leaks in the towers and on the side buildings. The main chapel is pretty much dry. 4. The basketball court is not in use, but looks to have been a good place for a game.” http://stbarbara.blogspot.com/2006/01/st-john-of-god-in-sherman-park-chicago.html
By 2010 the Archdiocese had decided to demolish the church. Parts of the church were being moved to a new church, St Raphael, in Old Mill Creek, Illinois, close to the Wisconsin border. During the dismantling of the church in 2011, there were reports of thefts of some of the paintings in the church. In June of 2011, during the dismantling, Noah Vaughn, a local photographer, managed to enter the church to take some stunning photos of what was left, amidst the garbage strewn about the church. These photos were posted on his Flickr account. He has graciously given his permission to include these photos here. One of his photos of the vestibule can be compared to the original John Mallin sketch of the vestibule artwork in 1956.