Staring at Our Lady of Mercy, I couldn’t help but think of St. Peter’s in Steubenville, OH. I’ve shared a photo of Chicago’s St. Peters, however it doesn’t seem to trigger memories of the church where I was baptized, despite its namesake. St. Peter’s of Chicago is in the middle of the Loop and has a proper citified facade, bringing thoughts of Dali to mind. Our Lady of Mercy is a massive neighborhood church, more modern than the St. Peter’s of Steubenville, but with its domed roof and soaring spires, they are siblings of worship.
Churches are landmarks in my rusty hometown along the banks of the Ohio. Back home, we don’t give directions using “North” or “South”, rather we say “turn left at Holy Name” or “hang a right at Grace Lutheran”. These churches are specific communities, led by unique individuals, guiding their fellow worshipers down the path to salvation. In my hometown, the elder members would have Italian and Greek spill out of their mouths when praying or lecturing the youth. My Buna would whisper Romanian prayers over her rosary. My 6th grade social studies teacher celebrated Christmas on January 7th because of his Serbian Orthodoxy.
By the time I moved to Chicago, I no longer practiced a religion but I continued to mark where the churches were located. Catholic churches draw an extra glance and mental note. After staring at Our Lady of Mercy from several angles, I walked on, promising myself I would learn more about this specific parish. The original Our Lady of Mercy was built in 1911 and was attended by mostly Russian immigrants. Their book celebrating the church’s 100th anniversary contains their mission statement written in English, Spanish AND Filipino. The same book highlights that the church’s congregation is comprised of 60 nations and 46 languages.
I really do enjoy taking pictures of churches. My favorite thing about Chicago is it’s neighborhoods. Each one is different, comprised of unique and vibrant communities. Growing up in and around churches, I know that neighborhood churches are often reflections of those communities. In high school, I could stare out the windows at the stained glass of St. Peter’s. It is also where my father, uncles, aunts and siblings were all baptized. Churches can be special places for family and friends. Our Lady of Mercy is a special place for the Catholics of Albany Park, Chicago. Churches still serve as landmarks for me, though, in this big old city along the banks of the Chicago. Our Lady of Mercy is where I hang a left, headed to a dear friend’s apartment and St. Peter’s of Chicago is only a couple of blocks from where I work.