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ABC7 in Your Neighborhood: St. Hyacinth's Basilica

Sunday, November 20, 2011

From St. Hyacinth's Basilica in the Avondale neighborhood, you can draw a direct path to Poland as well as to Rome.

Its beginnings date back to Chicago's earliest days.

"You have to go back to 1894 when there were about 40 Polish families. This was prairies. This was suburbs of Chicago," said Fr. Francis Rog, a former pastor at St. Hyacinth.

St. Hyacinth was built to support the city's growing Polish community.

"For years, it was the biggest church here in Chicago for Polonia," said Fr. Michael Osuch, pastor at St. Hyacinth.

It is perhaps best known for its connection to the Polish Pope John Paul II. People around here can boast that they knew him when he was still Karol Wojtyla. Fr. Osuch studied under his tutelage in Crakow, and Wojtyla celebrated mass at St. Hyacinth during a visit in 1969. Then, he was the Cardinal Archbishop of Cracow. It was an experience he never forgot.

"We visited him in Rome and we mentioned to him a group of people came from St. Hyacinth in Chicago," Fr. Osuch said. "He was joking that we called the area where we are living from St. Hyacinth. We call it 'Yev Skow Vuh.' And he remembered the people who are living in this area, not talking about Avondale, but they are talking about Yev Skoh Vuh.' He said, 'I was there.'"

And so those words adorn the 17-foot tall monument of him that welcomes visitors. The church also has his skull cap and a relic sent from Rome that contains an authenticated drop of the pontiff's blood. It is the newest of about 70 relics from patron saints and famous fathers the church keeps locked in a built-in safe. Each was gifted from the Vatican and contains either a drop of blood, a piece of the saint's clothing, or something he touched.

With its intricate stained glass windows and elaborate statues, the building easily rivals its European peers. The icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa, patroness of Poland, was recently dressed up by parishioners.

"They contributed old gold , $70,000 worth of gold has been placed into that particular icon," Rog said.

The mural on the dome shows 150 faces, including Pope John Paul II, Cardinal Joseph Glemp and the church's current pastor.

"Cardinal Glemp from Poland was coming to Chicago and he was here. As he spoke to the people he said, 'This is the most beautiful church. It ought to be a basilica,'" Rog said.

In 2003, the Vatican accredited the church as a basilica, which means "royal house" and indicates its close relationship to the Holy See. Trademark symbols are kept near the alter, like the basilica bell that would lead a procession with a dignitary and a small umbrella in the papal colors of red and yellow.

"It's slightly open," Rog said. "I say it's open to invite all of the people under our umbrella."

Several companies offer guided tours that include a stop at St. Hyacinth Basilica. To find out more about these tours, check out http://catholicchurchtours.com/tours/registration/index.html#top and http://www.explorechicago.org/city/en/things_see_do/tours/tourism/humboldt_park__wicker.html.

"ABC7 in Your Neighborhood" will uncover hidden gems, introduce you to people and places with cool connections, and plug you into coming attractions in Chicago, its suburbs and northwest Indiana. If you think ABC7 should come to your neighborhood, "like" us on our Facebook page and then tell us where we should visit.

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