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

Parish volunteers prepare display of Nativity mangers from around the world plus authenticated “Relics of the Holy Family”— fragments of Christ’s manger in Bethlehem, St. Joseph’s cloak and Mary’s veil —newly arrived at historic Holy Family Church, Chicago’s second oldest, in time for Feast of Holy Family, Sunday, December 30, 2012  9:45 a.m. 155th Anniversary Mass

“Relics of the Holy Family,” a reliquary (liturgical vessel) containing a fragment of the manger where Christ was born in Bethlehem, a fragment from the veil of the Blessed Virgin Mary and a fragment of a thread from the cloak of St. Joseph, will be placed in permanent custody at Holy Family Church, Chicago’s second oldest (1857) church.

The relics, authenticated by Vatican documents, are a gift from the nearby Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii, a centerpiece of worship for the Italian community of Chicago, to Holy Family parish for its 155th Anniversary which will be celebrated Sunday, December 30, 2012 at 9:45 a.m.  Mass.

According to Rev. Richard Fragomeni, pastor of the Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii, it’s only fitting that these rare relics associated with Christ’s birthplace should reside permanently in Chicago’s original Jesuit church that is dedicated to the Holy Family.

The relics were released by the Vatican in 1972 and acquired by the Shrine in Chicago. The fragments were originally venerated, beginning in the 5th century, in the Papal Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome.

St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), who had a special devotion to the Nativity of Christ, chose that church to celebrate his first Mass on Christmas Day, 1538 because it housed the relic of the crib from the birth of Jesus.

Rev. Jeremiah J. Boland, administrator, Holy Family Parish Chicago.

Sunday, December 30, 2012 at 9:45 a.m. 155th Anniversary Mass

Holy Family Church, 1080 W. Roosevelt Road (at May Street), Chicago


Following the Sunday, December 30, 2012 at 9:45 155th Anniversary Mass, parishioners and visitors will venerate the “Relics of the Holy Family”; view a Nativity manager collection from around the world placed on loan for the Christmas season; and inspect a display of Holy Family’s Hidden Treasures.

The treasures are an exhibition of once forgotten chalices, gold monstrances, processional candlesticks, statue crowns and church vestments brought from Paris in 1863. This rare collection of ancient church property was discovered in 2002 when Father Boland, then the newly appointed parish administrator, hired a safe cracker to drill into a sealed vault in the church sacristy.


Background on “Relics of the Holy Family”

“In the Middle Ages, one's possession of relics often determined how wealthy a person was. This practice often led to many abuses. Often the bodies of saints were hidden to protect them from relic traders. Relics can be from a saint's remains, their personal effects or holy objects,” explained Rev. Jeremiah Boland, administrator of Holy Family Chicago parish.   

“Over the years to combat the abuses, the Vatican does not sell relics, for they are considered to be part of the patrimony of the Church. That’s why they’re released to the custody of some one. One must appeal in writing to the Vatican for a relic most often to be placed in an altar stone. In our tradition, relics invite us to deeper reflection on our faith and the call to holiness,” he said.

“These relics of the Holy Family are obvious objects of devotion. One could argue how real the relics of Mary or Joseph are but there were all sorts of objects over the centuries that have been venerated and are based on faith rather that scientific explanation.

“The manger fragment, now in Holy Family’s custody, has more authenticity because of the historical reality that St. Helena of the Cross, the mother of Constantine, brought many sacred objects from Jerusalem to Rome in the 5th century. During that same century, pilgrims also brought fragments of the original crib to Rome and Pope Sixtus had them preserved,” Father Boland said.


Display of Nativity crèches from around the world on loan to Holy Family Church Chicago

In addition to the “Relics of the Holy Family,” several crèches of the Nativity scene from around the world been loaned to Holy Family parish will be on display Sunday, December 30.

They include a traditional Nativity scene that is more than a century old; another set from Kenya made of stone; a ceramic tile of the Nativity and the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt is a replica of an 18th century piece that is in the Cathedral of St. James, Jerusalem.

Others include a hand- carved gourd of the Nativity from Peru; a piece from Mexico; another from Hungary; one from Germany; a triptych from Poland; ll Bambino Jesu from Perugia, Umbria, Italy; and a   gold minted Nativity scene from the Vatican. 

According to St Luke the Evangelist (2, 7) Jesus was born in a stable or at least in a place where animals were kept. The word presepio (Nativity Scene) is derived from the Latin verb praesepire (to enclose, to hedge, to fence) and today it means manger or crib. The tradition of setting up a crèche (FR.) or model of the first Christmas in a stable in Bethlehem, finds expression around the world.

St. Francis of Assisi, in 1223, is credited with popularizing the tradition when he setup up a live Nativity scene on Christmas Eve in Greccio, Italy.


BACKGROUND on Holy Family Church, built in 1857-60; escaped the Great Chicago Fire of 1871; threatened with demolition in 1990; survived a dangerous 2003 fire.

Holy Family Church Background—155 years of serving generations of people of all races ethnic backgrounds.

Holy Family Church, built in 1857, is the city’s only example of pre-civil war Victorian architecture. It is one of five public buildings that survived the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The church embodies the cultural heritage and ethnic diversity of the City of Chicago.

Once the largest English-speaking congregation in the U.S., Holy Family has served as a place of refuge for generations of Chicagoans from many races and ethnic backgrounds.

Father Arnold Damen, S.J. (Damen Avenue) built the church on what was then the outskirts of the city—a European cathedral on the Illinois prairie. The original congregation of the first Jesuit church in Chicago were people of Irish descent.  More than one-third of Chicago’s Irish trace their roots to Holy Family. They were followed by German, Italian, Hispanic and African American people.

Father Damen established a network of elementary schools that served nearly 5,000 students. He founded St. Ignatius College which became both St. Ignatius College Prep and Loyola University Chicago, two of the city’s important educational institutions.

Holy Family was threatened with demolition in 1988. But a community-wide effort led by Rev. George A. Lane, S.J., founding member of the Holy Family Preservation Society, coupled with a massive national media appeal to “ say prayers and send money,” saved the church at Christmastime, 1990. Since that time, restoration work has continued virtually uninterrupted following the principle of “saving the past to serve the future.”

In 1874, Holy Family’s 226-foot tower designed by architect J.P. Huber, was the tallest structure in the city. The tower’s two bells, each weighing two tons, were cast by J. Stuckstede Co., St. Louis in 1863, Once hand pulled by parishioners who still attend Holy Family, the bells are now automated.

The tower houses a giant 135-year-old four-faced clock, now restored and gilded. First installed in 1877, the clock is now activated and synchronized by a crystal-controlled computer which maintains accurate time, even in the event of a power failure.

A rare collection of 29- historic hand- carved gilded wooden angel orchestra statues, created

by Charles Olivier-Dauphin in Montréal in 1870, now stand in their original site—the upper

reaches of the second balcony of Holy Family Church atop the restored massive two-story organ case carved by Mitchell & Sons of Montréal in 1870. The statues were removed for safekeeping during church restoration.

The Holy Family angels represent the largest collection of Dauphin’s work anywhere in the world.

Only a few of the famous sculptor’s works remain in his native Canada. Most of his work has been destroyed in church fires or by demolition. Dauphin’s career as a woodcarver spanned 40 years and his workshop in Montréal was one of the city’s best known.

The group of nearly life-sized angels includes the 300 lb. King David of Israel with his harp; the prophetess Deborah and St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music and two large allegorical figures.

Each of the 24 members of an angel chorus plays a different musical instrument. – trumpet, clarinet, French horn, flute, violin, harp, tambourine, cymbal, even a banjo. Each angel wears distinctive clothing and all have unique poses and facial expressions. Canadian art historians have commented on the fine detail and expert workmanship in the statues.

The Mitchell organ case once housed the largest church organ in the United States but now has a donated historic 29-rank Rice Frobenius organ from Europe acquired for Holy Family and installed through grants by the Rice Foundation and the Hooper Foundation.

The organ was acquired for Holy Family by the Rice Foundation. A Hooper Foundation grant provided for the organ to be disassembled and shipped from Denmark to the Mühleisen Organ Builders’ workshop/studio in Leonberg, Germany where it was rebuilt. The organ was disassembled again and shipped across the Atlantic to Holy Family. Then, a three-person team from Germany spent several     weeks reassembling, installing and voicing the instrument.

The restoration of the organ case, the statues and their return to the organ case was made possible through grants by the Cuneo Foundation, the Driehaus Foundation, Walsh Construction Company and the National Catholic Society of Foresters.

Dieter Meister, a retired painter-decorator who resides in Lombard, Illinois, volunteered more than 1,500 hours over several years to carefully strip, rebuild, restore and gild the 29-piece Dauphin angel collection.

Prior to being placed into service, the  massive two-story walnut organ case was reinforced, restored and cleaned by specialists from the Bradford Organ Company, Chicago who also carefully hoisted the 29 angels to their original perches atop the organ case.

Holy Family’s original main altar—52 feet of elaborate wood carving with 13 wooden statues—was dedicated in 1865. It is the work of Anthony Buscher, a German immigrant. Anthony’s nephew, Sebastian Buscher, carved the altars of Mary and St. Joseph as well as the church confessionals.

A new altar, a simple wooden table of black walnut similar to the original used by Christ in the Last Supper, was designed by Chicago restoration architect, John Vinci and constructed by Michael Jarvi, a master craftsman. It was consecrated on the Feast of Corpus Christi in June, 2003.

Holy Family Church escaped serious damage by a fire in 2003, that was quickly struck by members of Chicago Fire Department Engine Co. 18 stationed in what was then the oldest firehouse in the city just across Roosevelt Road.

Today, the nearly restored Holy Family church serves a growing diverse community on the city’s near west side. Rev. Jeremiah J. Boland, of the Archdiocese of Chicago, is the parish administrator.

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