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Saint Mary Parish, 1012 Lake St., celebrated its 150th anniversary Mass on Aug. 15. Archbishop Blase Cupich presided at the mass, with Saint Mary’s pastor, Rev. Gregory Sakowicz and other area priests. It was the parish’s feast day, the Feast of the Assumption.
Saint Mary was Evanston’s first Catholic church and the North Shore’s first English-speaking parish, created in 1865 to serve the area’s growing Irish Catholic population. At the time, the community of Evanston was only eight years old, and its 50 Catholic families would make the often muddy trek to attend Mass and receive sacraments at either Saint Henry Church in Rose Hill (at what is now Ridge and DevonAavenues in Chicago, founded in 1851) or Saint Joseph Church (Ridge Road and Lake Avenue in Wilmette, founded in 1843, the same year the Diocese of Chicago was created by the Vatican). At that time, both were German-speaking parishes.
Saint Mary’s first Mass was celebrated on the Feast of the Assumption, Aug. 15, 1865, by Reverend P.M. Flannigan, taking place in the open air under a white oak tree about 150 feet from what is now the entrance to Calvary Cemetery. The altar was a plain kitchen table. It was four months after the Civil War ended, six years before the Chicago Fire, 16 years before Marshall Field & Company opened on State Street and 28 years before electrical power first reached Evanston.
At the first Mass was a young altar server named David Philip O’Leary, whose family owned the surrounding farm. He later became a priest and gave a chalice to Saint Mary Parish in honor of that first Mass. It has been dusted off and used on every anniversary in recent decades and was again used at the 150th anniversary Mass.
The spired limestone church building that now stands at Lake Street and Oak Avenue is the third building to serve as the parish’s church. Designed in 1892 by prolific Evanston architect Stephen A. Jennings, the building is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is part of the Evanston Ridge Historic District. The building survived a major fire in 1908 and was renovated in the 1940s, 1970s and in 2004.
“Since our first celebration of the Mass near the shore of Lake Michigan 150 years ago this weekend through to the present day, we have been blessed as a community of faith,” said Rev. Sakowicz.