“Our Lady of Chicago”
“Matka Boska z Chicago” —Pope St. John Paul II
The icon of Our Lady of Częstochowa at St. John Cantius Church
Our Lady of Częstochowa—the Black Madonna—is honored by Polish people everywhere. Her image has been venerated for over six hundred years at the Jasna Góra Monastery in Częstochowa, Poland (presently, the third largest Marian shrine in Europe after Fatima and Lourdes). And so, just as you might expect, just as in any Polish Church, St. John Cantius has an icon of Our Lady of Częstochowa—but this particular icon stands out for it’s unique story, its blessing, and it’s wide veneration, making it special for Catholics in Chicago and beyond.
For over 100 years, Chicagoans have knelt at Our Lady’s altar at St. John Cantius Church to pour forth their petitions to the Heavenly Mother in times of sadness and joy. Who could forget the loving gaze of Our Lady that can be seen in this historic icon. But what is it’s story? Where did it come from?
The icon at St. John Cantius was brought from Poland in the early twentieth century by Father Barzyński for use at the mother church of all Polish immigrants in Chicago, St. Stanislaus Kostka. The icon was lent to St. John Cantius for a period of time and the women of St. John’s fell so in love with it that they did not want to return the image of Mary! But Fr. Barzyński had a solution. He decided to have the two parishes draw lots for it. Needless to say, the women of St. John’s prevailed. An so, in preparation for the silver jubilee, the icon was solemnly installed in the altar.
Pope St. John Paul II blesses the crowns for the icon
as Father Phillips looks on.
In 1997, the pastor of St. John Cantius Parish, Father C. Frank Phillips, C.R. announced his plans to rededicate the parish to Our Blessed Mother for the approaching third millennium and that he would like to accomplish this by making a new set of crowns for Mary and the Christ Child. Eager to help in this project, many parishioners soon began to donate jewelry and “old gold,” which were then fashioned into new crowns by a local goldsmith. In April of that year, he and a small delegation from the parish took the crowns to Rome. After attending the Holy Father’s morning Mass in his private chapel, Pope St. John Paul II met with them in his private study and blessed the new crowns.
As the Holy Father was exiting the audience hall, he turned back to the group from St. John Cantius Parish, raised his right arm, as if in solemn pronouncement, and declared: “Matka Boska z Chicago,” that is, Our Lady of Chicago!”
The final words of our Holy Father as he left the audience hall, “Matka Boska z Chicago!!” still ring clear in my ears. I still get that feeling of awe when I recall the moment Our Lady was unveiled on September 15th, hearing the same powerful melody with brass and tympani as used in Częstochowa.—Fr. C. Frank Phillips (Letter, February 20, 1998).
On September 15, 1997, the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, pastor Father C. Frank Phillips, C.R. held a solemn re-coronation ceremony to officially consecrate the parish to Our Lady for the third millennium. In front of a packed Church with prelates, priests, religious, dignitaries and citizens of Chicago, Our Lady of Chicago was unveiled to the strains of the Częstochowa fanfare for the first time with its newly blessed papal crowns. Among those present were: Apostolic Nuncio for Central Asia, Archbishop Marian Oleś, Bishop Emeritus of Chicago, Bishop Alfred Abramowicz, Fr. Władysław Wyszowadzki of Christ the King Parish in London and Fr. Regis Barwig, prior of the Community of Our Lady in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
Later, Fr. Phillips and the parish received a personal thank you from the Vatican:
“I am glad that they are crowns blessed by the Holy Father and that Our Lady of Częstochowa has Her shrine in the city of Chicago, a place to which Poles will be able to go in order to seek comfort and consolation from the Queen of Poland in their troubles.”—Bishop Stanisław Dziwisz (Letter, April 1, 1998)
Devotion to this image continues up to this day—on the various feasts of Our Lady throughout the year visitors can find Mary’s altar decorated with flowers. After each of the Sunday Masses the faithful come to kneel at Our Lady’s altar to ask for Her intercession.
Not but six months after Her solemn re-coronation, a new religious community of men, the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius, was founded at the parish. On Sundays and holy days they end their Night Prayer by solemnly processing to Her image bearing the blessed papal crowns chanting a hymn in Her honor. She, in turn, looks down upon them, Her sons who were born of devotion to the Great Mother of God.