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February 3 - 16, 2013

St. Raphael’s: recycling parts of closed churches

Fr. John A. Jamnicky, pastor of St. Raphael the Archangel Parish in Antioch breaks ground in June of 2010 with Auxiliary Bishop George Rassas, Vicar for Vicariate I, near the intersection of Route 45 and Kelly Road in the Village of Old Mill Creek, the site of the new church. The new permanent church will have a capacity at this time for 900, and include two steeples that are 115 feet tall. Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

The exterior of the original church; St. John of God, 1234 W. 51st Place in Chicago is being dismantled piece by piece in August of 2010 and will be re-assembled as the new facade of St. Raphael the Archangel in Lake County.Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

Workers disassemble St. John of God Church, 1234 W. 51st Place in Chicago in Sept 2010. Parts of the church will be restored and be a part of the new St. Raphael Church in Lake County. Cardinal George will preside during ceremonies to bless and lay the cornerstone of the new church for St. Raphael the Archangel Parish, which will be located at Hwy 45 South near Kelly Road in the Village of Old Mill Creek. Since the summer of 2007, Mass has been celebrated in a renovated barn in Antioch, and an adjacent farmhouse is being used as the parish offices, meeting space and the rectory. The new church will be located on a nearby 40-acre parcel owned by the Archdiocese. St. Raphael the Archangel Parish is the newest parish in the Archdiocese since 1999 when St. Stephen, Deacon and Martyr was established in Tinley Park. Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

Visitors tour the new St. Raphael the Archangel Catholic Church in Old Mill Creek during a celebration for the completion of Phase I construction of their new church on Jan. 27. The celebration featured a tour of the church, music, and exhibits of the unique architectural features that are planned for Phase II. These features included: the restoration of the historic 1915 Austin organ from Medinah Temple, installation of antique museum quality Tyrolean stained-glass windows, new art glass light fixtures from Savoy Studios in Portland and 11,000 lbs of reclaimed bells that will be housed in the church's 140 foot towers.Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

Exterior view of St. Raphael the Archangel Catholic Church in Old Mill Creek at the completion of Phase I construction of their new church.Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

Randy Bernhardt talks with fellow parishioners Beverly and Brad Brenna near a sign explaining the bells that will be coming from St. Simeon Church in Bellwood and the now-closed John of God in Chicago. Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

The stations of the cross are from Blessed Sacrament Church.Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

Marie Huml talks with visitors over some of the lighting fixtures from closed churches that will be used to illuminate the new St. Raphael Church. Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

By Joyce Duriga


Photos by Karen Callaway


The shell of the new St. Raphael the Archangel Church is up in Old Mill Creek, but this is not just any new parish building under construction. The building includes the façade of the now-demolished St. John of God Church from the South Side and will include the interior of the now-closed St. Peter Canisius Church on North Avenue.

St. Raphael, the newest parish in the archdiocese, undertook an effort to give new life to the closed churches by recycling their materials in a new structure. It also enabled the parish to build a classical structure at a fraction of the present-day cost.

“Nothing like this has been built in the Archdiocese of Chicago for a hundred years,” Father John Jamnicky, pastor of St. Raphael’s, told the Catholic New World during an open house at the new building on Jan. 27. Jamnicky was referring to the quality of workmanship that exists in the façade of St. John of God, which includes a front balcony, bell towers, three bells and 20 wood doors, each of which stand 11 feet tall. Of the doors, Jamnicky said, “They would cost you $15,000 a piece for each door if you were to buy them.”

The pastor said he hopes what is being done at St. Raphael’s could be a model for other parishes around the country.

“Throughout the country people have been contacting us because they are in the same situation,” he said. Many dioceses have church buildings in inner cities that are going unused that could be given new life if parts are used in other areas of the dioceses where the population has shifted.

“If we can make this work it can be a prototype for other dioceses and archdioceses across the country,” he said.

The church will hold 900 people and should be operational in a year, while construction continues on the steeples and bells, the exterior colonnades and organ.

The idea to use the façade of St. John of God, designed by architect Henry J. Schlacks, actually came from an off-hand comment made by Cardinal George when he came to officially open St. Raphael Parish in Antioch in 2007, Jamnicky said. After working for months to create a viable worship site in an old machine shed, the pastor remarked that it was time to start thinking about a permanent church. Cardinal George said that he should give them St. John of God, Jamnicky recalled. The pastor was aware of the church and had a similar idea.

In the machine shed worship site, the parish already was using pews, statues, confessionals, an altar and other things pulled from closed parish buildings, so they were open to the idea of giving new life to items from closed churches.

It cost $2 million to remove the façade of St. John of God and rebuild it in Old Mill Creek. The entire project will cost $15 million and the parish is still raising funds for construction. Jamnicky believes a project like this would cost around $150 million if it were being built from scratch. A parish couldn’t afford to build a church of this quality today, he said.

Architect Simon Batistich said “it was fun” to work on this project even though many people told them “it can’t be done.”

“It’s not rebuilding a church, it’s taking pieces of two churches and making a new church,” Batistich said.

The interior fittings, including marble furnishings, pews and stained-glass windows, will come from St. Peter Canisius Church on North Avenue, which closed in 2007. The interior of St. John of God was not usable — the stained-glass windows were missing, much of the interior was demolished and the altar was plaster and couldn’t be moved. The highlevel of craftsmanship that went into St. John of God exists in the interior of St. Peter Canisius, said Jamnicky.

The stained glass from St. Peter Canisius is “museum quality” and “worth over $2 million,” Jamnicky said.

The church is being built with modern innovations and meeting current building codes while preserving the unique work and architecture of the older churches. The bell towers were even reconstructed to withstand an earthquake.

“This is the only church in the Archdiocese of Chicago built under seismic specifications,” Jamnicky said. “This church is going to stand for the next hundred, 200 years.”

Keeping with the theme of giving new life to existing beauty, the Austin Organ that will be installed in the parish loft came from the Medinah Temple. Three bells for the second tower were acquired from St. Simeon Parish in Bellwood and the stations of the cross came from Blessed Sacrament Church on 22nd Street and Kedzie Avenue.

Parishioner Bob Eberhardt sold part of his farm land to the archdiocese to build St. Raphael and called the church “awesome.”

“It’s like God calling us,” he said of the building. “We’re all excited,” he said of the parish community. “We just wish we had more money to get it finished faster.”

Former parishioners of St. John of God and St. Peter Canisius have visited St. Raphael’s on different occasions and have told Jamnicky that they are happy their old church buildings are being used again.

There are two niches on the front of the church exterior that were vacant at St. John of God but Jamnicky said the parish is going to put statues of St. John of God and St. Peter Canisius there to remember the structures of the past that helped create this structure of the future.

“This new St. Raphael the Archangel is the wedding of these two churches,” he said.

For more information about the new church building, visit