St Pius V, Chicago (Exterior)

St Pius V, Chicago, Illinois, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Pius V
Location: Chicago, Illinois, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 24 April 2016, 11:15am

The building

A church in the Romanesque Revival style, the work of Irish-American architect James J. Egan. Egan was heavily involved in reconstruction work after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, which started (according to legend) when Mrs O'Leary's cow kicked over a lantern. The church was completed in 1893. For being an urban parish, the grounds were devoid of the usual trash. The parishioners keep the place very clean. Inside, the Romanesque arch over the sanctuary and a large crucifix framed by the baldacchino give the church an almost Byzantine appearance. Located within the church is the Shrine of St Jude Thaddeus. This beautiful shrine was added to the church in 1929 and remains a popular devotional space still.

The church

The parish was organized
in 1874 for Irish families and is one of only two Dominican parishes in the archdiocese; the Dominican provincial offices are located here. They sponsor a charismatic prayer group, a social action committee, and home groups. The Chicago Legal Clinic, offering low-cost legal services to those who need them, operates out of the church. Masses are said in Spanish and English.

The neighborhood

The church is located in Chicago's lower west side neighborhood known as Pilsen, so named by Czech immigrants who replaced the Germans and Irish who had settled there before them. By the end of the 20th century, Pilsen's predominant ethnic group was Mexican, but ongoing gentrification today is witnessing their decline. Still, the area is known for its Mexican bakeries, restaurants and grocery stores, and is home to the National Museum of Mexican Art.

The cast

The Revd Thomas Lynch, O.P., parochial vicar. (Every parish should have a Father Lynch!) Elizabeth-Anne Stewart, Ph.D., a Board certified life coach, was the preacher.

What was the name of the service?

Mass in English

How full was the building?

Fairly full, considering it was an English mass. We arrived as the previous mass' congregants were leaving. We thought the church would never empty out, there were so many people.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

People were in the vestibule greeting everyone as we came in. The best part about the vestibule was the gift shop, full of people!

Was your pew comfortable?

Yes. My companion specifically commented on the comfort of the kneelers.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

People were visiting with each other. I walked around the church and was given the go-ahead even to go up on the altar to take a look. There were many people who were moving in and out of the Shrine of St Jude.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good morning. Today is the third Sunday of Easter. Our celebrant is Father Thomas Lynch."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

None; all the songs were projected onto the wall above the singers and musicians.

What musical instruments were played?

Piano, flute, drums, and very unexpectedly but most welcome, two xylophones.

Did anything distract you?

The local teenagers, who could spin around us adults, should have been in charge of the music projections. At one point, the person's whole home page with all their folders was projected for several minutes. And the timing was often a little off. Also, the poor girl on the piano at one point was called upon to accompany herself in singing a solo; she was not ready for this much responsibility. She should have done one or the other since she would have been great at either alone.

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

Not happy-clappy in the classical sense, but joyous and uplifting. Father Lynch was the kind of priest who should be cloned: he obviously is still very happy with his calling. He smiled throughout the service, especially at the kids. Loved the guy.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

11 minutes.

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

9 – OK, this is where the mass got interesting. I thought Dr Stewart's sermon was one of the few I have ever understood from beginning to end, and she held my interest the whole time. No tangents, no veering off into myriad random subjects. A one-theme memorable sermon. I was fascinated by Dr Stewart and think the church needs more women like her.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Dr Stewart spoke on 1 Corinthians 13, St Paul's great panegyric on love. Love is the Most Important One of All. Dr Stewart had about eight junior high age kids come up to talk about love and how love of our planet is so important, and that when we love our planet we show our love for God and our fellow humans. She asked the kids a few questions and so sweetly repeated their names and capsulized what they said. She explained that love has three conditions: it is inclusive (no one is left behind); it is not transactional (it's 100% or nothing); and it is not conditional (just love, no strings attached).

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The feeling Father Lynch obviously had for his ministry; it was a joy to behold. The sermon by Dr Stewart. The kids playing the xylophone – they were great, and having fun, and praying with their music.

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

The poor quality of the projection – it was quite distracting. Also, the crepe paper angels covering the altar – us church hoppers hate felt banners and crepe paper anythings! Then there was the awful sound barrier tile ceiling – it was a horror. The church has a high peaked ceiling up there somewhere, probably quite impressive too. However, the ceiling was lowered with these hideous sound tiles some years ago to keep down heating costs and help with acoustics. Quite unfortunate.

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

I spoke to Father Lynch and Dr Stewart, and looked around – that was it.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?


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

8 – I'd certainly be back again if I knew Dr Stewart was going to preach and Father Lynch was going to celebrate.

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

Very much so.

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

Father Lynch, Dr Stewart, and the xylophone kids! And that sermon!

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