Media Contacts

Richard Barry
Holy Family Parish
Media Relations Volunteer
(312) 558-1770 ext. 121
Cell: (312) 607-5888

Rev. Jeremiah J. Boland
Holy Family Parish
(312) 492-8442

Charles Comiskey and his
White Sox team—1901.

More Comiskey photos available in the photo gallery

MEDIA PREVIEW at Holy Family Church,
1080 West Roosevelt Rd., Chicago


Wednesday, December 22, 2010 at 12 Noon


Holy Family Church, 1080 W. Roosevelt Rd., Chicago


Media Preview of Holy Family Parish’s 20th Anniversary of its Saving from Demolition in 1990—The “Miracle on Roosevelt Road”

Chicago’s second oldest (1857) church that survived the Great Chicago Fire of 1871; threatened with demolition by its owners in 1990; and escaped a near disastrous 2003 fire, is preparing for a celebration Sunday, December 26 at 9:45 a.m. Mass, Feast Day of the Holy Family in the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar.

Sunday, December 26, 2010 is the 20th anniversary of the first day of an extraordinary prayer vigil that saved Holy Family Church from certain demolition. The vigil, which attracted world-wide media attention, culminated January 1, 1991 when the Holy Family Preservation Society announced that it had raised $ 1,011,000 cash to top the church owners’ (Chicago Province of the Society of Jesus) goal that it secure $ 1 million cash by December 31, 1990 to avoid demolition and proceed with vitally needed restoration work on Chicago’s second oldest church, whose construction spanned 1857-1860. (Click on this link to see representative media coverage from 1990; scroll down for more details).


Rev. Jeremiah J. Boland, administrator, Holy Family Church, whose congregation represents people of many ethnic, racial and economic backgrounds from the near west side and the entire Chicago metropolitan area.

Rev. George A. Lane, S.J., founding board member, Holy Family Preservation Society, who led a successful 15-year campaign to save the historic church that served generations of Irish, Italian, German, African American and Hispanic people from certain demolition and restore it to service today.

Parishioners who participated in the “prayer vigil and fund campaign to save Holy Family in December of 1990” will join others who will be making final preparations for this Christmas season, cleaning the church, hanging wreaths, setting up a crèche.

Restoration of Holy Family’s 144-Year-Old Main Doors

This year’s Feast of the Holy Family celebration will focus on securing funds to restore the massive 12-foot high oak doors of the church that open to West Roosevelt Road. They show their age and need to be removed, restored and fitted with new hardware, explained Father Boland.

“Holy Family’s six main doors were hung in 1866 when a 40-foot addition extended the church nave. Generations of Chicagoans representing several ethnic groups have entered these portals to worship in the city’s second oldest church. This magnificent cathedral on the prairie was built by Rev. Arnold Damen, S.J., a Holland immigrant who traveled the U.S. preaching missions to raise funds for the new church. The church was also built with the nickels and dimes of thousands of poor Irish who worshiped at Holy Family, many of whom worked in the city’s shipyards, lumber district and rail lines on the east side of the parish along the south branch of the Chicago River.

“Over the years, literally thousands of persons who attended Holy Family Elementary School and Loyola University Chicago’s predecessor, St. Ignatius College, succeeded by St. Ignatius High School, now the nationally recognized co-educational secondary institution, St. Ignatius College Prep, entered these same doors,” Father Boland said.

Background on 20th Anniversary of Saving From Demolition Holy Family Church

An extraordinary prayer vigil on the steps of then closed Holy Family Church by parishioners, friends and donors began December 26, 1990 and attracted world-wide media attention and response from people across the U.S.  A Chicago Tribune editorial (January 3, 1991) called it, “the miracle on Roosevelt Road.”

Click here to view a recently published summary of this event  by the Near West Gazette:

The prayer vigil, using the slogan, “say prayers, send money,” culminated January 1, 1991, when the Holy Family Preservation Society announced that it had raised $ 1,011,000 cash to top the church owners’ (Chicago Province of the Society of Jesus) goal that it secure $ 1 million cash by December 31, 1990 to avoid certain demolition, proceed to raise additional funds and begin vitally needed restoration work on Chicago’s second oldest church whose construction began in 1857 and was completed in 1860.

“This was the ‘good news’ Christmas story of 1990,” recalls Rev. George A. Lane, S.J., founding member of the Holy Family Preservation Society, who led the successful campaign that eventually raised more than $ 5 million to restore the Victorian Gothic church to service.

“Chicago print and broadcast media told our story of this small congregation of mostly African-American people who didn’t want their historic place of worship destroyed.  Very quickly, we were a national and international news story when the wires, New York Times, USA Today, Washington Post and CNN picked up compelling visuals of our people singing and saying prayers on the steps of a locked and dark church in the freezing December cold of a Chicago winter.

“I was amazed to hear from my nephew, serving on a U.S. Navy submarine in the Pacific, that he saw me on network television making the pitch for Holy Family.

“This was a true Christmas miracle, for a last minute open house brought 3,000 people to our doors. In one day, hey left an amazing amount of cash—$230,000—to put us over the top of our $ 1 million goal by midnight, December 31, 1990,” Father Lane said.

People who participated in the vigil to save Holy Family 20 years ago this month have vivid recollections.    

“It was as cold inside the church as outside. I didn’t believe enough people would respond—but they did.

It was truly a miracle,” said Grace J. Alfano of Willowbrook, who has childhood memories of her family worshiping at Holy Family.

“I became aware of Holy Family’s plight through the media. My husband and I attended the vigil and it was cold, cold, cold! My husband passed away 10 years ago, but I’ve continued the tradition of attending the Feast of the Holy Family Mass,” said Delores K. Brown of the northwest side of Chicago.

Nancy Chaloupka of Darien notes, “It was a wondrous time. I felt that we could save the church. It proves that there are miracles and that prayers are answered.”

A west suburban resident recalls, “We were not connected to Holy Family parish in any way. God saved this church because perfect strangers like us heard about the need for funds on the radio and were moved to drive into the city to Holy Family. We walked into that decrepit church and left our check. Our children will never forget that day.”

Feast of the Holy Family to be Celebrated Sunday, December 26, 2010 with 9:45 a.m. Mass

“We invite all Chicago to join with Holy Family’s active community on Sunday, December 26 at 9:45 a.m. Mass on this special day in the parish’s long history of serving the people of the Chicago metropolitan area,” said Father Boland.  

“We urge anyone who has a link with Chicago’s first Jesuit church– through baptisms, marriages, education in its network of schools, or a relative’s funeral– to return on this special Feast of the Holy Family to receive a family blessing,” said Father Boland. He invited all who come to bring photographs, school records, diplomas, Mass cards, calendars, or other mementos of their family’s days in the parish to share with others and then retain them for themselves.

During the day-long celebration, visitors will have an opportunity to place their name and the names of their relatives in a Historic Parish Register that will be displayed on future special occasions.

“Today, Holy Family parishioners from across the Chicago metropolitan area cross our threshold to baptize their children, celebrate their marriages and remember the lives of deceased family members. Last year alone, more than 80 couples were married in Holy Family Church.

“A banner hangs in Holy Family’s sanctuary that proclaims, ‘our doors are open wide.’ For this parish, it’s more than a slogan, for every person is welcome and everyone who comes is a member of the family. Today, we serve people from a broad range of ethnic, racial and groups—whites, blacks, Latinos and Asians—drawn from the near west community and the entire Chicago metropolitan area,” Father Boland said.

In addition to its liturgies, Holy Family parish’s community outreach programs include a food pantry, the West Side Employment Education Center and youth and parish ministry programs, Father Boland added.

Many important elements of Holy Family’s past will be on display on Sunday, December 26, including:

Original slate roof tiles dating to 1859 that covered Holy Family Church until 1991 when a massive restoration project was launched will be on display. The pre-Chicago Fire slate tile, which protected the church, whose interior was designed by John Mills van Osdel, Chicago’s first registered architect, for 130-years, was recently uncovered in a little used basement cellar.

Large restored historic processional banner dating to 1861that was carried through near west side streets in parish processions to celebrate major feast days will be displayed. This rare piece was loaned to the Chicago History Museum for its “Catholic Chicago” exhibit.

Holy Family’s Hidden Treasures exhibition consisting of long forgotten chalices, gold monstrances, processional candlesticks, statue crowns and church vestments brought from Paris in 1863 will be on display. This rare collection of ancient church property was discovered in 2002 when Father Boland, then newly appointed parish administrator, hired a safe cracker to drill into a sealed vault in the church sacristy.

Hand-carved gilded wooden angel statues, created by Charles Olivier-Dauphin in Montreal in 1870. This important group of angels represents the largest collection of Dauphin’s work anywhere in the world. Much of the Canadian artist’s work has been destroyed in church fires or by demolition. The orchestra of intricately crafted angels sits atop a massive hand-carved 1870 organ case built by Mitchell & Sons of Montreal.

For more details about Holy Family Church, click here to see a chapter in Heavenly City: The Architectural Tradition of Catholic Chicago, (Liturgy Training Publications 2005) by Dennis R. McNamara.

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