Our Lady of Perpetual Help
The devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help has been, in varying degrees, an integral part of prayer at St. Alphonsus. The shrine was solemnly erected in 1891, and at once parishioners gave evidence of their love for Our Blessed Mother under the title of Perpetual Help. They attended the novenas in huge numbers. (During World War II, it was estimated that 10,000 people attended one of the five Our Lady of Perpetual Help services held on each Tuesday.) The faithful came from all parts of the city to gather around Our Lady shrine and to place their petitions at the feet of the Mother of God.
The parish was founded by Germans and continued to attract German-American families and German immigrants through the first half of the twentieth century. After both World Wars, refugees settled near St. Alphonsus and found a home here. Continuing into the 1960s, the parish had thousands of weekly worshippers and remained a vibrant community.
By the 1970s, the Lakeview neighborhood began to evolve. Many older parishioners moved away. New ones came. Reflecting the city around it, Lakeview and St. Alphonsus became more ethnically diverse. At the same time, smaller family sizes led to a smaller school enrollment.
In the 1980s, the growing Hispanic population merited adding a Spanish mass. By 1999, half the Sunday mass population worshipped in Spanish.
Neighborhood changes continued. St. Alphonsus had been a gateway to German immigrants, then to Hispanics. In the 1990s, a new group began to settle in Lakeview: young adults, often just out of college and beginning their careers in Chicago.
In 1997, the School Sisters of Notre Dame concluded more than a century of service to the parish. Then, in 1999, the Redemptorists concluded their service at St. Alphonsus and gave the parish over to the care of the Archdiocese of Chicago.
Beginning in 1999, under the leadership of Fr. James Hurlbert, the first Archdiocesan pastor, St. Alphonsus attracted more young adults and families. Today, St. Alphonsus is a vibrant community. It is a cornerstone in many people’s lives with numerous spiritual, educational, social and service opportunities for young adults, families and retirees. Masses are celebrated in English, German and Spanish. (St. Alphonsus is the only church in Chicago which continues to celebrate a monthly Sunday mass in German.)
The school was rededicated in 2003 and was formally renamed Alphonsus Academy and Center for the Arts. The student population and reputation for excellence has continued to grow since then. In 2006 the school was named as one of Chicago’s top private grade schools by Chicago Magazine and in 2010, 370 students were enrolled. At the same time, the number of students in the Tuesday Religious Education program quadrupled.
The Athenaeum continues to thrive as a cultural center, providing a home to various arts organizations as well as performance space. The Lakeview Pantry is also housed in this building, in the former bowling alley. The convent building is now living space for formerly homeless women, sponsored by Deborah’s Place. The rectory has become the parish center with staff offices and a residence for the priests.
From 2007-2008 St. Alphonsus underwent a large-scale renovation, returning both the inside and outside of the church to its original splendor. The parish also celebrated its 125th anniversary from August 2007 – August 2008.
In 2012, Fr. Michael O’Connell became the pastor of St. Alphonsus parish.
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