St. Therese Chinese Catholic Church, Chicago

St. Therese Chinese Catholic Church, Chicago

Following the waning demand for labor during the California gold rush and the construction of the Transcontinental railroad, a significant number of Chinese immigrants embarked on a journey eastward to Chicago. The earliest Chinese settlers primarily hailed from Taishan, a county in the southern province of Kwangtung, and the majority of them adhered to some form of Buddhism or Taoism. Many of them found employment with small import-export enterprises and manufacturing companies, and it wasn't until around 1912 that they began to establish their presence in what is now the Chinatown area.

In 1940, Reverend John T.S. Mao, a native of Nanking, China, leased a storefront at 2302 S. Wentworth and inaugurated Chicago's first Chinese Catholic Church, christening it Saint Therese in honor of the patron saint of missions, as a culmination of prior endeavors to foster a Chinese Catholic community in the city. In 1947, as Chinese immigrants began fleeing from communist China, the church's Mission played a pivotal role by providing free education to their children and addressing their other essential needs.

As the Chinese Catholic population continued to grow, the need for expanded worship space became apparent. The nearby Italian community graciously extended their hospitality by sharing the rectory and basement auditorium of their own church, Santa Maria Incoronata. In 1960, Chinese Catholics officially held their Chinese Mass within the Italian church, and just three years later, the building was formally transferred to them. This transition was a poignant moment for many Italian parishioners who had worshipped at the location; however, today, both groups coexist harmoniously, regularly sharing in worship. While the Italians once hosted the Chinese at Santa Maria Incoronata, the Chinese now reciprocate the gesture by hosting the Italians at Saint Therese.

The ensuing decades leading up to the 21st century have witnessed a transformation in the church's composition. Although still referred to as a Chinese mission, it now proudly represents a "salad bowl" of diverse ethnic origins. Acknowledging its rich heritage and looking forward to its future, this church stands as one of Chicago's most exquisite, a testament to its past and its evolving identity.

In 2000 and 2001, a comprehensive renovation and refurbishment project breathed new life into the church, shining brighter than ever in its century-long history. During the planning of this ambitious endeavor, great care was taken to preserve the church's cherished traditions while seamlessly incorporating the contemporary. The statues and stained glass windows pay homage to its Italian heritage. Statues of Saint Rocco and Saint Christopher symbolize the towns of Simbario and Ricigliano in Italy, while many stained glass windows honor the patron saints of specific Italian regions. Simultaneously, Chinese influences are prominently featured, with the parish's primary statement written in Chinese above the altar—a character signifying "love". The parish's motto is beautifully inscribed along the columns from right to left, bridging the rich tapestry of its diverse congregation: "Together in Christ, we are one happy family."

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St. Therese Chinese Catholic Church on Map

Sight Name: St. Therese Chinese Catholic Church
Sight Location: Chicago, USA (See walking tours in Chicago)
Sight Type: Religious
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