The geography of Chicago is anchored by Lake Michigan on the east. Pioneer urban planner Daniel Burnham conceived a city with an entirely open lakefront, and so Chicago has miles and miles of beaches backed by the tall shoulders of buildings, which cast their shadows onto the water as the sun sets every evening.
A few blocks inland, megalithic towers create narrow canyons and form the center of the city, known as “the Loop”. The Loop is the aggregated ring and central hub of elevated rail lines (the “El”) leading into the city like spokes on a wheel — the Red line running generally north-south; the Green running from Hyde Park in the south to the Loop and then due West out to Oak Park; the Orange to Midway; the Blue to O’Hare; the Brown to Lincoln Park.
If you are “in the Loop”, you are in the geographical (and economic) center of Chicago. And, the only Catholic Church “in the Loop” is not the famous Holy Name Cathedral, nor historically Irish Old St. Pat’s, nor St. Michael’s in Old Town, nor Our Lady of the Angels (mercifully preserved by Opus Dei), nor the EF-pioneering St. John Cantius, but only St. Peter’s in Loop, one of the most interesting and beautiful churches in Chicago, if not the United States.
Apart from the stained glass adorning its south-facing facade behind the massive rose marble crucifix overlooking Madison Street, St. Peter’s is a windowless edifice, sandwiched between two taller buildings on its east and west. In place of windows, the designers of this building installed sort of false-frame shadowboxes, within which you find a series of scenes sculpted in white marble — primarily depicting moments from the life of St. Francis of Assisi (a relic of whom is housed in a side alcove) — illuminated from behind. These scenes are captivating and unusual, bright and yet monochrome.
The church also houses a fine reproduction of Michaelangelo’s Pieta, as well as a statute of St. Anthony of Padua and child Jesus (and a reliquary housing relics of the Saint), and rows of confessionals. Staffed by Franciscans, St. Peter’s in the Loop offers confession Monday through Saturday, all day, and seven masses every weekday. It is refreshing and lovely to see people attending mass during their lunch hours, or visiting the church to go to confession before or after work.
On the level below the church is a well-appointed book store offering a wide array of goods. During my last visit, I noticed a lot of sale items and markdowns on prices that were fairly reasonable even before being discounted. It would be a great place for the traveling Catholic to stop and purchase gifts or souvenirs for loved ones, with the added bonus of having the strong likelihood that you might stumble upon a Franciscan to oblige you by blessing your items.
When I lived and worked in Chicago, I found St. Peter’s to be a wonderful comfort, because I could stop there on my way to or from the courthouse for a few moments of prayer. Out on the street, hundreds and people pass by every few minutes, the sounds of traffic (and, in the summer, road construction) are blaring, but as soon as the multi-ton bronze doors close behind you, the cool air of stone and incense pass over you, and suddenly the sacred is in sight.
In your pilgrimages, St. Peter’s in Loop is a worthy place to visit while in Chicago.