The community consists of an old Gothic style ethnic parish church plus newly constructed monastery complex. The Church of the Immaculate Conception had been briefly closed in 1989 before being given to the monks in 1991 by His Eminence Joseph Cardinal Bernadin. It had been used as a warehouse during the time it was closed, so much work needed to be done. The church was redesigned to accommodate the liturgical life of the monastery. It includes a raised choir with new stalls and railing and a new marble altar with a baldacchino. The attached monastery is the work of the architectural firm of Duncan G. Stroik, designers and renovators of dozens of churches throughout the United States. Built of brick and limestone, the Renaissance-style complex includes a gatehouse, garden court, guesthouse, and a bed and breakfast, in addition to the schola, chapter room, refectory, etc. of the monastery proper, all opening off a central cloister.
The bed and breakfast consists of two spacious apartments with all the modern conveniences, and is available to guests who are (quoting from their website) "coming to town for fun." The monks also maintain two retreat houses that (again quoting from their website) "provide a quiet, prayerful, unhurried space for reflection and prayer" for hour-long, day-long or multi-day retreats. The church itself is the monastic church for the community.
This is the Bridgeport neighborhood on Chicago's South Side, home to a variety of working class ethnic groups throughout the years. Five of Chicago's mayors, including Richard J. Daley (who served for 21 years and is considered the last of the big city bosses) and his son Richard M. Daley (who outserved his father by one year), were born in Bridgeport. It is now a predominantly Polish neighborhood. The monastery sits on a corner and has nice old trees surrounding the front entrance.
The service was chanted by all the monks present.
What was the name of the service?Vespers
How full was the building?
Three lay people and a nun in the pews, with the monks sitting in choir.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No. The church was locked until five minutes before vespers began. Being that they are a monastic community, we did not want to disturb their silence.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, but it had odd speakers on the back of the pew in front of us. They appeared to be car speakers.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Silent. The monks were scurrying about getting ready for vespers lighting candles, readying the incense, etc.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Lord, open my lips."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
Chicago was suffering from a heat wave, and the church does not have air conditioning. They attempted to use fans but they were not much help.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Reflective and silent, as one would expect at a monastic liturgy. The monks composed their own liturgical offices. Vespers consisted of psalms, a reading, and prayers. It was distinctly novus ordo Roman Catholic with some Anglican chant and Byzantine chant in the intercessions.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
There was no sermon. Sometimes it's nice not to hear a sermon, but simply to be left alone to reflect on God's majesty.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The monastic chant. The monks did a beautiful job of chanting vespers and there was clear harmony in their voices. It was very reverent and prayerful, and I was surprised that they had young vocations.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
It was hot! The fans did not help. Plus, due to the incense, the air became even more heavy.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We had to leave, so I did not have an opportunity to wait around. The monks left after the service and went about their monastic business.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – I lament the lack of prayerful reverence that exists in some churches today. It is a blessing to have a monastic parish in the middle of the city. However, I could imagine that families would need a more stimulating environment.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The beautiful chant.