St Henry, Chicago (Exterior)

St Henry's, Chicago, Illinois, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Henry's
Location: Chicago, Illinois, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 20 December 2015, 10:00am

The building

This is a combined church and school building dating from 1929. My friend and I were wondering if Chicago is the combined church/school capital of the world. There seem to be a bunch of this type of combo church/school buildings here in Chicago. The building itself is very pretty on the outside – regal, even. However, the vestibule is a mess and the church lost any charm it may have had when it was renovated (and I use that term quite loosely) in the 1970s. Some of the artwork is rather nice, though, especially a Pietà in front of a backdrop inscribed with Lamentations 1:12 ("O all ye that pass by ..."); Stations of the Cross featuring the most emotive faces of Jesus and Mary of just about any I've ever seen; and a reproduction of the painting displayed at the Vatican during the canonization of the Vietnamese Martyrs. The 17th, 18th and 19th centuries witnessed intense persecution of Christians in Vietnam; the torture they endured is thought to be the worst ever inflicted in the history of Christian martyrdom. Beatified individually at various times, a group of 117 martyrs were all canonized en masse in 1988 by Pope John Paul II.

The church

Very wonderfully diverse. The parish does not have much money to make any needed upgrades, but the members of the parish seem to love their church and are devoted to it. While St Henry is a very heavily Vietnamese parish, the English language mass that we were at was attended by Vietnamese, Hispanics, Filipinos and Africans. There are masses both in English and Vietnamese on Sunday, and a bilingual mass each weekday. The sacrament of reconciliation (confession) is administered Saturday afternoons only in English, although I suspect that if a penitent were to confess in Vietnamese the priest would understand him.

The neighborhood

The church is on North Hoyne Avenue in the West Ridge neighborhood: a great hodgepodge of cultures. A sari shop is across the street from a falafel bakery and close by a synagogue. You can eat your way across the Middle Eastern, south Asian and southeast Asian world on Devon (the street on the north end of the parish campus).

The cast

The Revd Msgr Jerome Nguyen, pastor, along with one very nice deacon (did not get his name).

What was the name of the service?

English language Sunday Mass.

How full was the building?

About 100 persons; plenty of room left over.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Several people smiled at us on the way in. However, on the way out one gentleman made a point of inviting us back to visit again. He was a very nice man.

Was your pew comfortable?

There were two types of pews: we were seated in the creaky, afraid they'd crack underneath us, mid-century plain old pews. However, in the front of the church there were some mighty sturdy looking, hand carved, beautiful older pews. Pedestrian white kneelers.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

A group was praying the Rosary when we arrived, so it was quiet and prayerful.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good morning. Welcome to St Henry parish for Sunday mass."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Loi Chúa Hôm Nay (God's Word Today) and Thánh Ca Dan Chúa (no English translation on/in the book).

What musical instruments were played?

Very out of tune piano; guitar.

Did anything distract you?

The out of tune piano. Also, three ladies who came in during the homily and proceeded up the aisle to the front of the church. If I were that late, I'd take a seat in the back! The sound system was great so my old ears heard everything, but Msgr Nguyen's accent insured that the three of us had to listening intently as if to our nuns in grade school.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

Not somber or fire and brimstone, but reverential with a little bit of a hootenanny flair what with the choir and the guitar. And the recessional song was "Day By Day" from Godspell – took me back to my college years in the 70s!

Exactly how long was the sermon?

9 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

5 – Just a tad difficult to understand his accent.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

He spoke about the joy Mary brought to Elizabeth with her visit and how we should make it a priority to bring joy to others as Mary did. He went off on a few minor tangents, but pretty much stuck to the joy theme. It was a nice homily about what we can do to make this world a nicer place. He emphasized bringing joy to the sick, to the elderly, etc.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The emphasis on joy and our mandate to bring joy to others. We noticed that there was a lot of smiling and waving at the exchange of peace. Also, anyone with a birthday or special day of any kind was acknowledged. Very sweet.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

That out of tune piano – yikes!

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

During the announcements at the end of mass, all visitors were asked to rise (we remained glued to our seats – my friend hates to stand like that – but we stuck out like sore thumbs anyhow) and were thanked for coming to St Henry's and were welcomed to return any time.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?


How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

2 – A wonderfully warm and joyful congregation, but I'm not sure I could worship every week amid those "renovations."

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

Yes, the emphasis on joy.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

The artwork that managed to survive the otherwise disastrous "renovations," especially the painting of the Vietnamese Martyrs. We had not seen it before.

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