ST. JAMES NEEDS TO BE SAVED: IS IT FAIR TO CLOSE ONE AND NOT ANOTHER?
In February of 2009, around 5:30 in the morning, on a very frigid start to what would be a terribly cold day there was a 3-11 fire at Holy Name Cathedral. I watched from a window at first and phoned my folks to tell them the church was burning down, and then I decided to skip breakfast and go to take photos of the events unfolding.
It was difficult to stand there at the opposite corner and walk up and down getting as close as was safe, watching the fact that I might lose what I have come to consider my home church since moving here. Still I bore up, got those photos, warmed up with a bus ride and then returned to take more pictures, all of which I have today.
The fact that our church was saved is a testament to the courage and skill of the Chicago Fire Department. Those brave personnel attacked that fire from every angle, going in, putting water through the roof and such. I do not doubt that many of them were afraid the church would be lost as well, but it was saved. Francis Cardinal George said at Mass that the CFD could easily have let the church burn due to the dangerous conditions but they did not and thank God for that.
There must have been about a foot or more of water throughout the sanctuary and in the lower levels surely there was more than that. The windows were saved but that old roof was a mess and there was severe water damage inside. Amazing at how much of it was saved.
In the months that followed scaffolding went up inside and out, the ceiling with its tens of thousands of pieces was repaired, the Cardinal’s hats were saved and still hang in place, the windows are in place and there was a new floor and ceiling put in. The pews were repaired and the organ was saved and everything looks better now than ever.
The point is that this beautiful historic church was SAVED from the wrecking ball and was repaired lovingly and carefully. The cost was in the millions of dollars, at least $12 million as I recall the costs being bandied about in the talk.
Why then cannot the wonderful historic church of St. James at Wabash and 29th be saved and given the same consideration? Now I hate to think that racism and this stupidity of the interference of demographics could be the underlying problem, but if it is so, if the problem goes beyond talk of landmarks and transportation and other more important factors, then the whole issue needs to be taken a look at from afresh.
According to one article, the demographics are mentioned, and that is a problem when talking about a church which plainly needs to be preserved. So what who lives in the area? Black and whites live in the Gold Coast where Holy Name is, and more was put into that repair than in what it might take to bring St. James’ back to life and bring a congregation and visitors into the sanctuary.
Another article said that many pieces of the church have been saved for future installation, and if people are putting that much effort into trying to preserve the church, the officials need to seriously consider what the people want, what the congregation wants and what the city and the people of that area need.
Surely there are fine and brilliant minds in our American collegeiate system that could put their prowess in engineering, in science, in technology, in arts and restoration and preservation together to save this church? Surely there are people who will endow those repairs and do all they can to raise the needed funds to bring the church to fully functional status just as Holy Name has? There are people who would gladly donate time and energy into raising funds, in research, in drawing up plans to bring St. James back.
What about the landmarks and the opinions of the diocese? Well they had no problem getting support and resources for Holy Name’s preservation, and they have moved on to other renovation projects, again at a cost in the millions od dollars!
Perhaps restoring the church would bring the area back and bring in businesses and decent people who want to keep the area beautiful, alive, and going strong, to restore the community and the dignity of the citizens.
It would be distressing if the church was razed. Pay attention, Cardinal George, pay attention archdiocese officials… pay attention all citizens. St. James’ Church should be saved and preserved. Take out the modern stuff or rework it if you must; the church was there and solvent and wonderful long before the train and the ugly roads and this demographic prattle entered and corrupted the mix and the sacred nature of the church and its purpose.
Be fair, everyone, and be civil too. Learn to have teamwork and tear down the barriers.
1. Historically significant 132-year-old church in Chicago faces wrecking ball. http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-12-23/news/ct-met-historic-church-demolition-20121223_1_new-church-archdiocese-plans-demolition. 25 March 2013.
2. St. James infirmity: Distressed century-old Catholic Church heads toward demolition. http://www.wbez.org/blogs/lee-bey/2012-10/st-james-infirmity-distressed-century-old-catholic-church-heads-toward. 25 March 2013.