St. Josaphat Church
St. Josaphat Church
2311 N. Southport Ave.
Active parish; some of the original artwork is covered
Mid to late 1920s
St Josaphat’s church was founded to meet the needs of the Kashubes, a Slavonic people who lived under Prussian domination in what is now northwestern Poland. The Kashubes speak a language similar to but different from Polish, and they wanted a church of their own. A church and school were first erected in 1884 near the site of the current church. Eventually a new church was required to meet the needs of the growing congregation. Father Francis Lange, who was a Kashube himself, hired the architect William J. Brinkman, from the prominent Burnham and Root architectural firm, to design the new church. A Romanesque style was chosen and ground broken and steel structures put in place. However, on August 11, 1899, a violent storm completely destroyed the iron structure that had been erected. Although the church had no insurance, the parishioners raised enough money so that the church was rebuilt and dedicated in 1902. An article in the Catholic newspaper New World, stated “The new church is said to be the first Catholic church edifice in the United States to be erected according to modern American plans architecture. It is absolutely fireproof, and is constructed with steel beams and columns, the walls being of stone and pressed brick.” At the time of the dedication, there were some 5,000 parishioners at St. Josaphat.
It is not known when Mallin first decorated St. Josaphat’s, but it may have been in the mid to late 1920s. The church is listed early in the references in Mallin’s brochures, which included churches decorated in the 1920s. Mallin’s earlier architectural photo of the church (probably at the time of the first decoration) shows a slightly different design in the ceiling above the altar compared to the current decorations and Mallin’s later brochure photo. In the older photos, there is a different background on the ceiling, and there are three angels in the ceiling that no longer exist. The side apses also have different decorations in the newer photos. These photos are shown on this website.
Mallin bank records showing a payment from St. Josaphat in 1940, and a scaffolding contract for St. Josaphat dated December, 1948, indicate that additional work was done on the church in the 1940s. It may have been at this time that the altar ceiling decorations were redone, possibly due to damage or because of a change requested by the priest. The scaffolding letter indicates that for a period of six months, scaffolding would be erected in the Altar Section, Nave, Side Isles, on and under the balcony, the lobby, and in the stairwell, so the additional work done must have been quite extensive.
A Mallin brochure with a photo of the newly designed ceiling states, “The ceiling ornamental plaster relief is treated in ivories, greys and gold. The upper columns are marbleized and the capitals are in old Roman gold. The walls have been stippled in three color process and decorated with angels. The sanctuary ceiling is richly decorated in a brocade effect with emblems on a gold background, which is blended in four colors. The lower walls are also painted in a Romanesque gold background. The oil paintings were selected by the Rt. Rev. Msgr. F.G. Ostrowski, P.R. and painted in our studio.” The emblems in the sanctuary ceiling appear to be symbols of peace.
It is not known if Mallin did the arch painting, which depicts ”a small vision of the angels and saints in heaven, worshiping the lamb.” (McNamara DR, 2005). There are slight differences in the arch painting that can be noted in the early photo and the more recent photo which reflects the painting as it exists today.
The St Josaphat 75th anniversary book mentions many structural renovations done to the church in the 1950s, as well as some interior redecorating done by the Hanns Teichart studios. A Chicago Tribune article from 1959 mentions that two years prior, “the artworks were rejuvenated by the Hanns Teichert company.” This suggests that the artwork was restored but not changed in 1957.
In 1983, according to the St. Josaphat Centennial book, there were other improvements made to the church. “The entire interior of the church, from vestibule through nave, to apse, was painted in shades of beige to return the edifice to its former glory.” In addition, the canvas in the arch depicting the Communion of Saints was removed in sections, restored and replaced.
As to the current artwork in the church, the decorations in the side altars, and the oil paintings that were below the stained glass windows and next to the side altars no longer exist. The revised altar ceiling design and the arch painting remain, as do the marbleized columns and capitals. Any decorations that would have been on the walls on the remaining parts of the church (the Romanesque gold background described in the brochure) would have been painted over in either in the 1957 or 1983 redecoration/restoration of the church.
McNamara DR. Heavenly City. The Architectural Tradition of Catholic Church Chicago. Archdiocese of Chicago 2005.
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.
Patent Scaffolding Company letter to John Mallin, dated December 13, 1948.
St. Josaphat 75th Anniversary 1884-1959 Book.
St Josaphat 100th Anniversary 1884-1984 Book.
“St Josaphat to mark 75th anniversary” Chicago Tribune, Part 3, p. 14, June 14, 1959.