"CHURCH HILL" has seen its fair share of history
By Father Andrew Harrison.
Source: The Reporter, December 9, 2004
Erected in 1904 as the Roman Catholic Mission of the Sacred Heart, this
building replaced the original log church at 101st and Kean Avenue, which had burned down
earlier that year. The hilltop location on 107th Street was the site of a fort built by
the French army during the 1600’s. In 1830's visitors to this area found the remains of
what were apparently earthworks fortifications on the bluffs overlooking the sag swamp
near the intersection of 107th and Kean Avenue. Three cannon balls were found at 87th
Ave. and 103rd The fort was located a few feet from the present church building.
There is a possibility that the famous missionary explorer Father James
Marquette spent the winter of 1674-1675.in a log cabin on this site. This information is
legendary and comes from the history of Sacred Heart Mission since all records of this
period were lost when Joliet's canoe sank. Although there is a possibility of Marquette
and Joliet having been in Palos, there is no way of proving where they went in the Chicago
area from records now available. Most historians locate the cabin in Chicago but this has
not been absolutely proven since the entrance to sag swamp and the Chicago river from Lake
Michigan would have appeared very simular in the 1600s.
Land for the church was donated from the farmland of the Peter Lucas
family. At the time the church was built, farmland surrounded the church. The Cook County
Forest Preserve has since purchased much of the surrounding land. The Forest Preserve
District purchased 50 acres in 1916. By 1975, the acreage was well over 7,000, which add
up to almost half of the entire Palos Township.
The architect chosen to design the building was William J. Brinkman who
built several other architecturally notable churches in Chicago. It was constructed of
brick in the Romanesque style. The steeple, which has since been removed, housed a bell
and was topped with a golden cross.
The basement was not original to the building. It was dug out later to
make room for a fellowship hall. In 1971, when Sacred Heart parish moved to its new site
on 111th Street near Roberts Road, the church building became the Newman Center for
Moraine Valley Community College. When the Newman Center relocated, the Roman Catholic
Archdiocese rented the facility to the newly formed Orthodox mission of Saint Luke. Two
years later, the St. Luke Orthodox Parish purchased the building from the Archdiocese and
became 'official' owners, with the final mortgage payment made in December 1996. Today the
building is being shared with the newly formed St. Mary’s Antiocian Orthodox Mission. The
building has used by four parishes and instrumental in founding four more for a total of
eight parish communities.
Interesting features of the original building included a round rose
window over the front door and an arched ceiling. All the windows of the building were in
stain glass most of which have been removed over time and lost. Today, the original steeple
has been replaced by a bell tower dedicated to those who lost their lives in the terrorist
attack of September 11th. The bell tower contains the few remaining stained glass windows
constructed from the original windows. In addition to the original stained glass, some of
the glass used came from a church located across the street from the Federal Building in
Oklahoma City. The windows add to the commemoration of those who died on September 11th,
Work continued on this historic landmark building, mostly in the form
of repairs and patches until 2001, when plans were formulated to expand the church with
an addition that includes the bell tower, fellowship hall, office space and church school
classrooms. Today, the original building, along with the newly erected addition, stands
proudly on the hilltop popularly known as Church Hill and the bells ring out again.
The 100th anniversary of this historic building was celebrated during
Great Vespers on Saturday, November 27th at 5:30pm. A reception was held afterwards.
Sacred Heart Catholic Church and St. Mary’s Antiocian have been invited to participate
in the event.