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Two Church Buildings

1882_1st Church

Father Henry Schagemann was appointed second official pastor of St. Alphonsus parish in 1887 and two additional priests joined him, making the total number of priests five. The parish in 1889 registered more than 800 families and more than 4,000 souls. It was now imperative to draw up plans to build a much larger church and school to accommodate the increasing numbers and provide for present and future needs.

The town of Lake View was incorporated into the city of Chicago in 1889. That June, ground was broken for the new church. Curious spectators watched as the excavation sank to a depth of 15 feet to firm clay bottom where huge foundation stones were set to sustain the buttressed walls, weighty pillars and lofty tower.

Four months later, the cornerstone was laid on September 22, 1889. At 3:00 PM that Sunday, 35 societies from Redemptorist and other participating parishes gathered at the episcopal residence of Archbishop Feehan to escort him and a large retinue of clergy to the building site. The line of march was a mile and a half. The streets were lined with spectators and homes were decorated with bunting. Keeping in step with the music, hundreds of society members proudly made their way on foot. Numerous bands alternated in playing their pieces en route. Uniformed knights rode horseback. The dignitaries rode in horse-drawn carriages to complete the parade. (Such great religious displays were very common in those days.) When the cortege arrived at its destination, thousands of people had gathered to witness the grand spectacle. With due ceremony, the cornerstone was set and blessed. It was a perfect day and magnificent religious spectacle.

Seven months later, St. Gerard’s Chapel (the lower church) was completed. Services were held there for the first time on March 22, 1890 (Passion Sunday). The chapel (with a seating capacity of 1,200 people) was filled by an overflow of devout worshippers.

Father Henry Weber succeeded Father Schagemann in May of 1893. Growing funds and unabated enthusiasm from parishioners warranted going ahead with the superstructure. The new pastor signed the contract to complete the church at a cost of $100,000 (several million dollars today). All began well on June 7, 1894, and progressed smoothly until two unfortunate incidents occurred. New appointments issued from Redemptorist headquarters at Rome in 1895 announced the transfer of Father Weber to St. Louis. Mr. Adam Boos, the architect, who devoted all his energies to the project, contracted pneumonia and died. The change of Father Weber, builder, financier, and winning personality, and the death of the loyal architect proved to be a double blow to the congregation.

Reverend William Loewekamp stepped into the shoes of Father Weber. He made it clear that the building program must continue. Twenty months later, on March 17,1895, a 20-foot cross was solemnly blessed, raised and planted triumphantly on the tip of the steeple.

Work on the interior continued. Plastering was completed for $8,000 and carpentry work followed for $4,000. At the end of 1895, Father Loewekamp announced the financial report: Receipts: $26,646. Expenses: $118,287.

The large debt did not deter the priests nor parishioners from pushing forward and completing the interior of the church. They prayed fervently, contributed generously and offered gifts, both large and small, to supply the church with necessary interior furnishings.

The most significant donations were two beautiful marble side altars, one given by the Ulsamer family and the other by the Rauen Family. The original altar in the frame church was moved to the new church. It remained there until the Redemptorist Brother, Aloysius Jacksa, came to St. Alphonsus as the sacristan in 1900. Observing how dwarfed the main altar looked in the immense church, he sketched his “blue-prints” in white chalk on the sacristy floor for a more fitting altar. This altar, entirely constructed by the humble lay brother, remained a fitting and worthy ornament in the church for 48 years. It was replaced by the present altar in 1948, a masterpiece in marble weighing 50 tons and consecrated by the Redemptorist Bishop Aloysius J. Willinger. The 1900 altar was moved to the Lower Church, where it still is in the Chapel of the Word.