You’re beautiful, it’s true.
There must be an angel with a smile on her face,
When she thought up that I should be with you.
– James Blunt, “You’re Beautiful” lyrics
Chicago Catholics, its time for a celebration! This would be a good week to play the classic James Blunt song “You’re Beautiful” in honor of America’s most beautiful Catholic Church. According to voters across the country, its none other than Chicago’s own St. John Cantius Catholic Church, which takes home this prize.
In April 2016, St. John Cantius beat out 63 other finalists to win the title of “Most Beautiful Church in America” in a national online contest. Thousands of people viewed the choices and more than 16,000 votes were cast in the contest. The 118 year old church was the last church standing in a month long, March Madness style “Church Madness” bracket. As the churches were eliminated, the bracket names went through church inspired names like the Sacred 64, Theological 32, Stunning 16, Ecclesiastical 8, and Ferial 4. It ultimately defeated the Cathedral of the Madelein in Salt Lake City in a head-to-head match-up between the two finalists on April 14th. (Obviously, it wasn’t the first time Chicago beat out Utah in a championship.)
This wonderful honor for Chicago is all the more remarkable given St. John Cantius’s history in the city. St. John, located in the Goose Island neighborhood near Chicago Avenue and the Cabrini-Green area, nearly folded 30 years ago due to lack of membership. During the mid 1980s, its membership had dwindled to only a 40-member congregation, and it was thought to be nearing extinction by the end of the decade. (The church was also in very poor physical shape, but has since been restored. ) In the summer of 1988, the church was even threatened with the wrecking ball until neighborhood residents rallied to bring it back from the brink. Today, St. John has experienced an amazing renaissance, and now has about 1,500 registered families in the parish.
St. John Cantius Roman Catholic Church was originally built by Polish immigrants in the late 19th century, and is known for its opulent baroque interior. You can find many breathtaking photos of the church online, through sites like Instagram (its Instragram page is https://www.instagram.com/SJCantius/)
Like Jesus Christ himself, St. John Cantius was once left for dead, only to experience a glorious resurrection. So Chicago Catholics, let’s take pride in the fact that the “Most Beautiful Church in America” is right here at home. Here’s to you, St. John Cantius. You’re Beautiful.