The Church of Saint Ita

Vol. XI No. 2 - SPRING 2000

By: Dorothy Julian

In June of 1900, Father John Crowe was appointed to establish a new congregation in Edgewater. On July 1st, 1900, he gathered his parishioners, all 53 families, in the Guild Hall at the southwest corner of Bryn Mawr and Winthrop to celebrate the first Mass for St. Ita Parish. The Guild Hall served as “the church” for St. Ita until the new church, a frame building on Catalpa designed to hold a congregation of 700, was completed in December of 1900.

Father Crowe’s dream was to build a new, more beautiful church to meet the needs of his growing parish. In 1923, he took his plan to George Cardinal Mundelein who granted permission for the new building and suggested the French Gothic design. The initial “M” carved repeatedly on the stone balustrade that surrounds the walls of the church above the cornice, is a tribute added by the architect, Henry J. Schlacks, and dates the building as being built during the episcopate of Cardinal Mundelein.

Schlacks, a master of Catholic church architecture in Chicago, was chosen by Cardinal Mundelein to design the church. Schlacks, born in Chicago of German parents, had apprenticed with Adler and Sullivan and designed twelve of the city’s most beautiful church buildings. The Church of Saint Ita was to be his only French Gothic church and his last full-scale masterpiece.

Schlacks had to conquer several architectural challenges in his design. One was the relatively small (84 by 204 foot) urban lot size facing a busy thoroughfare. The second was the requirement that both the upper and lower levels of the church had to be independent but accessible from all entrances.

The plans took three months to prepare. Ground was broken on April 7,1924. The cornerstone was laid by the Most Reverend Edward F. Hoban, Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago, on September 14,1924. In the cornerstone is embedded a black stone from the ruins of the convent founded by St. Ita.

The inscription on the cornerstone says in Latin: In a spirit of deepest devotion, this stone was brought to this temple from the ruins of the monastic school of St. Ita in Killeedy, County Limerick, Ireland.

Construction took three years. Today it would cost over 7.5 million dollars to replace this building. Built of more than 3500 tons of limestone, quarried at Bedford, Indiana, the church is 186 feet in length, 70 feet wide, and rises 95 feet in height. The walls are four feet thick and the tower that rises skyward to a height of 127 feet above the ground contains 1800 tons of stone.

Although the exterior of the church has many outstanding architectural features - the richly ornamented arches, balustrades, gargoyles in typical Gothic style, and finialed buttresses - inside the magnificent building, the most outstanding feature is the rich, brilliant stained glass Medallion windows. The windows, influenced by the Cathedral of Chartres, contain over 200,000 separate pieces of glass set into 2800 square feet of window space.

The other features of the interior of the church are consistently and brilliantly Gothic in each detail: soaring Bedford stone columns, fumed oak pews and wainscoting, ribbed arches, vaults, pulpit and altar rails. The altar is modeled on the altar of the church at Brou and is carved from Istrian stone from the north end of the Adriatic Sea. The altar steps are black Belgian marble; the sanctuary floor is of white Carrara marble set off by diamond shaped pieces of yellow Sienna marble. The Stations of the Cross, copies of paintings by the German artist, Feuerstein, are oils on canvas by Max Lenninger of Munich.

Over the years, changes were made to the interior. The altar was moved in response to the second Vatican Council; a new tabernacle shrine and baptismal font were added. The interior was redecorated; the lighting was changed in response to the energy crisis.

Now, 1100 families strong, the parish of St. Ita is celebrating its 100th anniversary in the year 2000. Now, it is time to repair and renovate the church of St. Ita, called “an Edgewater gem” by the Lerner News-Star, for the centennial celebration and beyond. To raise the more than one million dollars needed, the parish has embarked on a monumental fundraising effort, the Centennial Campaign.

Echoing the words of Daniel Burnham, the parish has made no small plans. Schlacks had to deal with the issue of accessibility in his original design for the church; the renovation plan is to make the Church accessible, an asset that will set it apart as a premier Church on the north side.

Phase One of the renovation plans calls for the installation of an elevator in the northeast corner of the church that will allow access to both the church and to Jubilee Hall in the basement. New and accessible washrooms will be built.

Phase Two of the restoration plans is the redecoration of the Church interior. The plaster that was damaged by a leaking roof and lack of tuck pointing will be repaired now that the exterior problems have been fixed. All stone, plaster, and marble will be cleaned and the walls and ceiling repainted. The tabernacle and altar will be returned to their original places; a new altar will be built. The original baptismal fount will be restored. New lighting will be installed. The stained glass windows will be repaired. Options to provide ventilation and to improve the sound system are being explored. Several members of the Renovation Committee are also members of the Edgewater Historical Society; the parish seeks their guidance and the guidance of its talented community to assure that the architectural integrity of the Church is restored and preserved.

Anyone who travels past the Church on Broadway will be happy to hear that there are plans in progress to address the eyesore that is St. Ita’s parking lot. Mayor Daley lit up the front of the Church because of its beauty; now it is time to beautify the rest of the exterior. The vision is to make the entrance to the Church more pleasing to the eye while preserving the wrought iron fencing. The northeast door will be the accessible entrance and accessible spaces will be added to the parking lot. The lot itself will be redesigned and landscaped.

The fundraising goals also allocate money to make the necessary repairs to the Church organ, tuckpoint the School, and improve the Church hall

On behalf of his parish family, the pastor of St. Ita, Father Laurence F. Maddock, extends his heartfelt thanks to those who have been generous benefactors to the Centennial Campaign and encourages all to contribute. More importantly, he invites each of you to join the Centennial Celebration - it is a true milestone in the history of the parish and the community it serves.