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A Timeline of Catholicism in Chicago

Coat of Arms for the Archdiocese of Chicago. Image courtesy of Archdiocese of Chicago via Wikimedia Commons


September 1673- Fr. Jacques Marquette, a French Jesuit along with Louis Joliet discover the between the Des Plaines and Chicago Rivers.

1696- Father Francois Pinet founds La Mission de l’Ange Gardien, within a Miami Indian village on the Chicago River. It exists until 1702-1703.

1700- A mission and trading post exists at the Marquette/Joliet portage

1700s- French traders and missionaries live on the Chicago River despite consistent native raids and conflicts between French and British invaders.

1784 – Jean Baptiste Point de Sable and his wife, Catherine, a Native American arrive and build a log cabin at the mouth of the Chicago River. He is Roman Catholic.

1788 – De Sable (Du Sable) and Catherine have their marriage solemnized by  a Catholic priest in Cahokia.

1803 – U.S. government erects Fort Dearborn at the mouth of the Chicago River. It is destroyed during the War of 1812 and rebuilt in 1816. This is the beginning of Chicago.

By DN-0001295, Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago Historical Society. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

1821 – 1924 – Massive European immigration to the New World. While other cities in the U.S. seem to extract a specific ethnic group, Chicago attracts and accepts immigrants of various ethnicities.

April 16, 1833 – Chicago Catholics petition Bishop Joseph Rosati of St. Louis to send a priest to minister to them. The petition is signed by 36 men of French, Scottish, English, and Irish descent and represents 128 Catholics in the settlement.

May 1, 1833 – Newly ordained, French-born priest, John Mary Irenaeus St. Cyr arrives in Chicago from Bishop Rosati. He says mass for the first time in prominent Chicago citizen, Mark Beaubien’s log cabin.

1833 – John St. Cyr begins Chicago’s first parish by erection of the first “balloon-frame” buildings in Chicago as St. Mary’s Church. Originally built at the corner of State and Lake, the lightweight frame and pine board structure was easily taken down and moved two times: to Michigan and Madison, then Wabash and Madison.  Parishioners at St. Mary grew from the original 128 petitioners to include 400 Indians and African Americans in the surrounding area.

1834 – Chicago comes under a new diocese, a Catholic district overseen by a bishop, based in Vincennes, Indiana.

October 1836 – Despite being from a different diocese, John St. Cyr remain in Chicago for two more years before returning to St. Louis. He is replaced by a priest from Vincennes, Indiana.

1843 – Chicago becomes its own diocese, overseeing the whole of Illinois.

May 5, 1844 – Irish-born New Yorker, William J. Quarter, arrives in Chicago as its first residential bishop to find the parish in $3000 worth of debt trying to finish a new, more substantial brick and masonry neo-Classical cathedral at the southwest corner of Madison and Wabash.

1844 – Through an Illinois Legislature charter, Bishop Quarter opens the University of St. Mary on the Lake as an establishment of higher education. It also contained a seminary. University of St. Mary on the Lake is the oldest institution of higher education in the state of Illinois.

September 23, 1846 – Invited by Bishop Quarter to help the impoverished parish, the Irish Mercy Sisters arrive in Chicago and quickly found St. Francis Xavier Academy for women and Mercy Hospital next door to St. Mary’s Cathedral on Wabash Ave. They also shrewdly bought property outside of Chicago, which would allow for Mercy Hospital to grow into a modern health care institution and St. Xavier Academy to extend its work into higher education.

1846 – Bishop Quarter establishes parishes for German, than later French, speaking Catholics, perpetuating a separation of new immigrants by ethnic groups. This was important to maintain the faith but also shows an interesting historical point for ht prominent racial segregation in Chicago. Each new Catholic ethnic group would build their own separate community and parish in the Chicago.

1856 – A Jesuit order of priests led by Fr. Arnold Damen arrives in Chicago.

1857 – Fr. Damen establishes Holy Name parish for Irish families living in hovels on the prairies west of Chicago.

1866 – University of St. Mary on the Lake is closed after mentally unstable bishop James Duggan argues with the school’s director.

1870 – The Jesuits open St. Ignatius College, which exists today as a college prep school, and would help form Loyola University.

Early fall 1871 – The Great Chicago Fire. The original St. Mary’s cathedral burns down. Massive Gothic Holy Name cathedral, built by Fr. Damen, survives and becomes Chicago’s new cathedral.

St. Mary's Cathedral. Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Author unknown.

1880 – Chicago is raised from a diocese to an archdiocese and no longer encompasses the whole state.

1880 – 1903 – Patrick Feehan, Chicago’s first archbishop (has more authority than an archbishop), established 140 new parishes to satisfy Chicago’s numerous Catholic groups.

1881 – The pastor of St. Mary’s parish reaches out to black Catholics to form the St. Augustine Society.

1889 – Fr. Augustine Tolton, Chicago’s first African-American priest, takes over the black congregation and begins raising money for a separate church, St. Monica’s.

1893 – Although the church is unfinished, Fr. Tolton’s congregation moves into St. Monica’s.

July 9, 1897 – Fr. Tolton dies.

End of the 1800s – Immigrant parishes tend to build schools first, a unifying space for parishioners, before beginning on a church.  Service would be held in the basement until a church was built.  ¾ of 114 parishes had a school.  (Learn more about in Chicago Catholic beginnings and Schools)

1901 – Feehan announces American-born Irish chancellor of archdiocese, Peter Muldoon as an auxiliary bishop, which caused foreign-born Irish priests to revolt. Their ringleader, Fr. Patrick Crowley, is ultimately excommunicated and Peter Muldoon is transferred to the Rockford diocese.

1903 – 1915 – Archbishop Quigley maintains peace amongst the ethnic groups by helping new ethnicities begin parishes.

1908 – Roman Congregation of the Propaganda declares that the U.S. is no longer missionary territory.

1916 – Catholics total around 646, 200 members in Chicago, making up around 30% of Chicago’s population.

February 14, 1916 – George William Mundelein becomes the next Archbishop of Chicago.

April 10, 1917 - Mundelein pledges unwavering support to the U.S. war effort against Germany, in an attempt to protect Catholics from assumptions of disloyalty.

Summer of 1917 – In an attempt to diversify appointments, Archbishop Mundelein sends new appointed priests of Slavic and Polish descent to mixed territorial parishes.  Sixty-eight priests of the Polish Clergy Association protest this as an attempt to “denationalize” the young priests.

December 1917 – Catholic laymen form the Associated Catholic Charities of Chicago. The leaders of the group are made of prominent Chicago Catholics.

Spring 1918 – Initial campaign of Chicago Charities is meant to raise funds for needy families citywide rather than a specific parish. However, the group finds difficult in finding support from the clergy and other ethnic parishes as the leaders are mainly Irish.  Mundelein reorganizes the group asking that the leaders solicit funds from business while he would appeal to the parishes.

1920 – Polish priests from across American petition the Vatican, where the Pope lives in Rome, for them to send Polish bishops to some important cities, including Chicago. The petition is ignored and Mundelein appoints no Polish bishops in Chicago. He does reappoint the young priests in questions.

1920 – Mundelein reinstates St. Mary on Lake as a seminary to remedy the lack of a Chicago area seminary.   The seminary, based off a Roman model, created a corps of American-born, Roman-trained clergymen. To combat the ethnic segregation, Mundelein emphasized in his seminary the welfare of the Chicago Catholic Church as a whole and not just one ethnic group.

March 1924- Mundelein is names a cardinal in Rome. Chicago is the second U.S. city to possess a cardinal seat. A cardinal was appointed from New York fifty years earlier.

Cardinal George Mundelein. Photo courtesy of Inconnu via Wikimedia Commons

1925- The Spanish order of the Claretians establishes Our Lady of Guadalupe parish in South Chicago for Mexican Catholic immigrants. They also are bequeathed St. Francis of Assisi church, an old German church in the Near West Side, by Cardinal Mundelein for a second Mexican national parish

June 20 -24, 1926 – Mundelein brings the 28th International Eucharistic Congress, a bi-annual  pilgrimage of priests, prelates and lay people honoring Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, to Chicago, elevating both Chicago and Catholicism in the world view. This drew over 1 million people to Chicago and Soldier Field. It was the first time the event was hosted in the U.S.

1930 – Auxiliary Bishop Bernard J. Sheil starts the Catholic Youth Organization as a way to prevent youth from ending up

in the county jail, where he ministered. Boxing was their signature activity but the organization also hosted Boy and Girl Scouts, baseball and basketball teams, and summer day camps.

May 1933 – Mundelein visits the White House and develops a friendship with FDR

after he was sent a “jaunty” letter and autograph by the president on his saint’s day. Mundelein collected stamps, signatures, and memorabilia. Mundelein and FDR’s relationship were politically and visually important. Church leaders saw the New Deal as sympathetic to left-wing, even Communist, tendencies. Mundelein helped provide legitimate Catholic backing to plan while FDR helped Mundelein show the importance and staying power of Catholicism in America.

Mid-1930s – Catholic Charities partner with non-Catholic association, United Way.

1936 – 15% of Chicago diocese clergy is foreign born, as opposed to in 1926, when 50% were foreign born.  75% of priests were born in the Chicago area.

October 5, 1937 – President Roosevelt lunches with Cardinal Mundelein after delivering his “Quarantine Speech” in Chicago.

January 2, 1938 – Mundelein give a sermon supporting FDR’s New Deal and organized labor.

1939 – Mundelein dies and is succeeded by Cardinal Samuel A. Stritch.

1946 – 1957 – Six confrontations between black and white Chicagoans turn into race riots. These included significant participation from Catholics and sometimes with the approval of Catholic clergy. The racial tension in Chicago cause many all-white parishes to move into the suburbs, abandoning many once-thriving parishes.

1947 – The Archdiocese of Chicago consists of 430 parishes between the city and the surrounding suburbs. This totaled to around 1,261, 700 parishioners, the majority of which live in the city, maintaining that 30% of Chicago’s population is Catholic. 375 of the parishes operate elementary schools.

1952 – Catholic Charities, with $1 million grant from Kennedy family, opens the Lieutenant Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. School for Exception Children, a special education school.

1954 – The commemoration of the Marian Year is celebrated at Soldier Field.

March 1, 1954 – Monsignor Vincent Cooke, director of Catholic Charities, suggests to Cardinal Stritch that the Puerto Rican immigrants need to be ingratiated into parochial and civil life. Without creating a new ethnic parish, he suggests that the Puerto Rican Catholics be amalgamated into a parish with Spanish or Puerto Rican priest and their spiritual welfare be looked after by Americanized priests that speak Spanish.

1955 – 1976 – Richard J. Daley is mayor of Chicago and his religious identity as a Catholic plays an important role in his political identity as a devoted family man.

Richard J. Daley, Mayor of Chicago. Photo By Jimmy_Carter_and_Mayor_ Richard_J._Daley_at_the_ Illinois_State_Democratic_ Convention_in_Chicago,_ Illinois.jpg: Thomas J. O'Halloran derivative work: Daffy123, via Wikimedia Commons

1955 – Cardinal Stritch establishes the Cardinal’s Committee for Spanish Speaking, through which the Catholic lay group, the Caballeros de San Juan (Knights of St. John) are formed.

December 1, 1958 – The school at Our Lady of Angels catches fires and causes wide spread panic at the over crowed school. 92 children and 3 sisters die from the tragedy.

January 1959 – Due to disaster at Our Lady of Angels, Chicago passes a city ordinance requiring water sprinklers in school buildings with wood frame construction of two or more stories and mandates fire alarms wired directly to the Fire Department and monthly supervised fire drills. Nationally, 16,500 schools installed new fire safety equipment within the year after the Our Lady of Angels fire.

March 1960 – The archdiocese’s school board votes for racial integration, encouraging black Catholics to enroll in previously all-white Catholic schools. In the fall of 1960, at least 20 black students were enrolled in each of the major South Side Catholic high schools, while a fewer number traveled large distances to the more welcoming North Side high schools.

September 1960 – Cardinal Albert Meyer, Cardinal Stritch’s successor and champion of civil rights, instructs clergymen not spread racial hatred and welcome black Catholics into their parish. Despite his efforts, Meyer is unable to change the racial make-up of neighborhoods. Most white Catholics move into the suburbs.

October 11, 1962 – Cardinal Meyer attends the first session of the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II) in Rome.

January 14, 1963 – Cardinal Meyer hosts the National Conference on Religion and Race at Edgewater Beach Hotel. The conference consisted of the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Conference, the National Council of Churches and the Synagogue Council of America. This was a turn major directional shift in Chicago Catholics. Nine years earlier, Cardinal Stritch had forbidden Catholics to participate in the General Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Evanston.

May 16, 1963 – Chicago Conference on Religion and Race is formed with the Catholic archdiocese, the Protestant church federation, and the local synagogue council. They organize smaller conferences across the city and suburbs over the next few years and lobbies Congress for civil rights legislation.

1964 – As part of the American bishops in Rome during the Second Vatican Council, Cardinal Meyer helps push forward the Decree on Religious Liberty.

September 14, 1964 – As per the decisions of the Second Vatican Council, the Holy Sacraments are administered in English rather than in Latin in Chicago.

November 29, 1964 – Mass is first celebrated in English, rather than Latin, in Chicago.

April 1965- Cardinal Meyer dies.

June 1965 – Martin Luther King, Jr. leads a march in Chicago focusing against racist public school superintendent, Benjamin J. Willis. In the spirit of civil disobedience, 3 priests and 6 nuns, along with other denominational clergymen and laymen are arrested for disrupting traffic. Their actions raised the question if a priest or nun in full clerical uniform is an official representative of the Church.

1965 – Chicago Catholic Schools enroll over 300,000 children from the city and suburbs, the largest private school system in North America

1965 – The Archdiocese of Chicago number over 1.5 million Catholics.

March 1966 – The Cardinal’s Committee for the Spanish Speaking, supporting issues in the Hispanic community, garners permission to march with Cesar Chavez in support of migrant workers’ unions.


October 24, 1966 – The Association of Chicago Priests is formed.

1967 – the Diocesan Clergy Personnel Board is created to remove the appointment

process of new clergy members from solely the archbishop’s duties.

January 24, 1968 – Catholic, along with Protestant and Jewish leaders vow to support the “Redmond Plan”, a series of pilot projects that would bus black students from inner city schools to mostly white schools on the outskirts of the city.

1968-1969 – Chicago Catholic school board implements “Project Hospitality”. 250 black students, were bused to previously all-white Catholic schools where they were welcomed and “adopted” by white students and their families.

Spring – Winter 1968 – Holy Name Cathedral is closed and renovated following new liturgical ideas from the Second Vatican Council and necessary structural upgrades.


August 30, 1968 – The Vatican grants the permission for married deacons, an ordained clergyman, in the Catholic Church. The Archdiocese of Chicago has one of the largest corps of married clergy.

January 1, 1970 – Retirement is set at 70 years of age for all priests in Chicago.

1971- Due to the influx of Spanish-speaking immigrants in Chicago, 53 parishes in the Chicago Archdiocese have a significant enough Hispanic population to merit assignment of a Spanish-speaking priest.

June 15, 1971 – The Association of Chicago Priests vote to censure Cardinal Cody and the auxiliary bishops of Chicago when they fail to represent the broad views of Chicago Catholics at the Catholic Bishops’ Conference in Detroit.

December 1971 – Cardinal Cody convenes a formal Priests’ Senate, per Vatican II directives, to help defuse the controversy with the Association of Chicago Priests. The Priests’ Senate is still a formal branch of the archdiocese’s administration today.

March 1972 – In a backlash of the “priests’ rights” movement, the Priests’ Personnel Board found that in the past five years, 186 priests had been ordained, 163 had resigned priesthood, 106 had retired, and 85 had died, which totaled to a net loss of 168 priests.

October 5, 1979 – Pope John Paul II visits Chicago.

1982 – Cardinal Joseph Bernardin succeeds Cardinal Cody as Archbishop of Chicago.

November 29, 1982 – Cardinal Bernardin appears on the cover of Time magazine, in regards to the Catholic opinion on nuclear war.

May 2, 1983 – National Conference of Catholic Bishops decide upon a draft of Cardinal Bernadine’s pastoral letter discus

sing the morality of nuclear war. It condemns offensive war of any kind.

December 6, 1983 – Cardinal Bernardin delivers a lecture at Fordham University in New York championing the pro-life movement on a wide

range of issues, not just abortion. He connects that one may not argue the right to life of the unborn without looking at the sacredness of life in other matters. One cannot support war or capital punishment while opposing capital punishment. He also links “right to life” with “quality of life” issues.

1986 – Cardinal Bernardin signs a covenant of cooperation with the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago.

1989 – Cardinal Bernardin signs a covenant of cooperation with the Metropolitan Synod of the

Evangelical Lutheran

Church in America.

January 1990 – The archdiocese announces the closing of 37 parishes and schools.

November 12, 1993 – Steven Cook, a former seminarian from the Cincinnati archdiocese publicly

accuses Cardinal Bernardin of sexually abusing him. Bernardin denies these accusations and cooperates with investigation.

March 1, 1994 – Steven Cook recants his accusation.

March 1995 – Cardinal Bernardin travels to Israel as part of his outreach plan to the Jewish community in Chicago.

September 9, 1996 – President Clinton awards Cardinal Bernardin the Presidential Medal of Freedom, for his efforts towards racial equality and arms control.

October 1996 – Cardinal Bernadin convenes the Common Ground Intiative to attempt bridge the gap between liberal and conservative Catholics.

May 7, 1997 – Cardinal Francis George succeeds Cardinal Bernardin as Archbishop of Chicago. He is first native-born Chicagoan to serve as archbishop of this diocese.