Week 8: Have Catholic Parishes and Politics Been as Local as the Rest of America?

This week our class was mixed with Chicago Open House, one of the best events the city offers. For this two day event, buildings around the city open up for visitors to freely walk through. All of the buildings are historically significant and represent a specific time in the city’s past. While exploring around Chicago with Spencer and Sydney, we started to notice a multitude of similarities and differences based on the area we were in, what kind of building we were looking at, and the time that it was built. Because I’m taking another class based on Chicago’s metropolitan architecture, looking at these seemingly mundane buildings from the outside was even more interesting.

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Outside the Holy Name Cathedral Taken by Spencer Bailey
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Inside the Holy Name Cathedral Taken By Spencer Bailey

The first place we went to was the Holy Name Cathedral in the Gold Coast. We were amazed by the entire structure of the building. The outside of the building was created using concrete from Elgin, a neighboring suburb an hour away, in 1874 when it was opened to the city after the original was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1871. The church is meant to carry the motif of the “tree of life” in the building, seen with the heavy wood usage throughout the structure. The high arched ceiling was made to resemble the inside of a ship, the dark wood with the golden accents, the marble columns, and the stained glass all came together to give the church a “holy feel,” as as if anyone that came in through the doors would be blessed with the building’s beauty.

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Ceiling of Holy Name Cathedral Taken By Spencer Bailey 

Our second location was City Hall, which I was extremely excited for. City Hall was finished in 1911 and the structure is reminiscent of the classical revival period the building was constructed in, to pay homage to the Columbian Exposition in 1893. When we first walked into the building the decorations had a vintage feel to them, which ended up being carried throughout the building. When we got up to the third floor there was a large mural showcasing the city’s past and present skyline. The mural is appropriately named Chicago Architecture by the artist, Richard Haas. There were then different plaques giving small historical background on City Hall, where Richard Daley was mentioned in almost every single one. After following through the rest of the floor, we were lead back to the City Council Chambers, where I lived my Leslie Knope dreams. I was actually surprised by the amount of excitement I felt when we walked into the Chambers. After walking back through the doors and out onto the street, I was overwhelmed by the amount of history that has taken place in that building, and perplexed by the amount of history that could be taking place in the future.

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Outside City Hall Taken by Spencer Bailey
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The Entryway in City Hall Taken by Spencer Bailey 
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City Hall Council Chambers taken by Spencer Bailey

Our third stop was the Catholic Charities in the Gold Coast. The first thing I noticed was the bench, where there a sculpture of Jesus asleep, and I thought it was a person at first. When we walked inside the building it was much smaller than it looked from the outside, but as we walked up to the chapel it became clear that it was in fact very large. The building has an impressive history of being a maternity ward for single mothers, day care, a home for the sick, and a place for emergency food and housing. The chapel was on the fifth floor, which I didn’t think of the significance of until a woman leading the tour said it was because the chapel was meant for the people inside building. The chapel was small, but there was an obvious sense of community you could feel by just walking in. The interior was mostly red with gold accents, which was absolutely beautiful, and one of the first times I had seen red used throughout the entire chapel.

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Inside the Catholic Charities Chapel Taken by Spencer Bailey

Our fourth stop was St. Stanislaus in West Town, when we finally arrived after a 45 minute bus ride, I realized I had never been to this area before, which made it even more exciting. After getting off the bus and walking a couple of blocks, we seemingly stumbled upon one of the most beautiful churches I had ever seen. After a quick Google search I found that St. Stanislaus and Holy Name Cathedral were both designed by Patrick Keely, and I was able to see similar motifs and integrated decorations throughout the church. The first thing we noticed when we walked in was the beautiful white and gold alter at the end of the aisle. The designs were extremely intricate and tied the entire room together. The stained glass was extremely impressive, which then drew your eyes to the ceiling where there were more green colored accents than there were in any other parish. Additionally, there’s a sign outside of the church with the mass schedule and shows that the masses are given in three different languages: English, Polish, and Spanish.

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Walking up to St. Stanislaus Taken by Spencer Bailey 
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Inside of St. Stanislaus Taken by Spencer Bailey 
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St. Stanislaus Stained Glass Taken by Spencer Bailey

Our fifth and final stop took us back past City Hall and to St. Peter’s. The first thing we noticed was the giant sculpture of a crucified Jesus outside of the church. When we walked in the cathedral was smaller than the other’s we had seen, but it was still a relatively large area. When we walked into the chapel, there was white Jesus, which contrasted very nice with the amount of bronze and brown throughout the room. This was also the only church where the fountain of Holy Water was at the entrance of the parish.

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Outside of St. Peter’s Taken by Spencer Bailey
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Inside St. Peter’s Taken by Spencer Bailey 

After the day ended, I was surprised by the information I had learned and the amount of the city I was able to see in a single day. When we discussed our readings the next day in class it was seemingly difficult to pull the open house and the readings together, but it seems that politics remain local if a person’s roots are attached to something locally. For instance, if someone is very religious and their life takes place in a local parish, their politics are more likely to follow what their other local parish-goers agree with. When exploring Chicago’s politics, there are further distinctions because of the history the city has with churches and politics. While there are many ethnicities in the city, there is a large Irish population because they established Chicago. When the Irish got to New York and Boston, the cultures for those cities were already established, but because Chicago was a newer city, the culture was waiting to be universally formed by a large group.

In John D. Buenker’s Dynamics of Chicago Ethnic Politics, he explains the importance of the Irish as a large ethnic group in the formation of Chicago politics. Buenker emphasizes on the importance of coalitions for ethnic minorities to find a voice in a upcoming metropolitan area. The example he gives focuses around the anti-prohibition coalition, which was lead by the Irish and followed by German, Slavic, Italian, Polish, etc. groups to come together as a group of over 200,000 people. Because the Irish were seen as the ideal/average immigrant, their persuasion over newer immigrants was pivotal in the formation of a new political machine. These ideas show that politics remain local because of the influence based on who’s around to promote the ideas, but it’s important to note that it’s easier to keep politics local when there’s no social media, or easy access to a plethora of information. Additionally, it’s important to note that the politics in Chicago remained neighborhood-ized because ethnic minorities lived in the same area and were taught to believe the same things. In Patrick D. Kennedy’s Chicago Irish Americans, he includes the difficulty of Irish American Democrats on whether or not to endorse Roosevelt because of his anti-machine beliefs, which directly contrasted the politics in Chicago.

In modern day, it’s more difficult to keep political beliefs local because of our ability to find any piece of information with a couple Google searches and a spare ten seconds. Additionally, after growing up in Illinois my entire life in a post Daley, Blagojevich, and Rauner state there’s a general mistrust of politicians. Also it’s difficult to get the rest of the state to vote in presidential elections because we’re aware that Chicago will always vote Democrat, and therefore we end up being a blue state (which isn’t a bad thing, go Obama!) When it comes to voting in local elections it’s difficult, especially for younger people who are in college and aren’t in their home state. While there are some young people who care for their local politics, it’s difficult to get them to vote for smaller positions because they don’t believe it will have an affect on them, whereas in national or state-wide elections it’s easier to be able to see the direct outcome of having different politically affiliated candidates in office (ie: the jump from President Obama to Trump).

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Remember to vote on November 6th! Cartoon By https://www.omahalwv.org/how-do-you-decide-how-to-vote-on-judges/
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