Santa Maria Addolorata Parish History
When founded in 1903, the church was staffed by priests of the Archdiocese. However in 1905, the church was transferred to the care of the Scalabrini Fathers, an Italian order of clergy. The first pastor was Rev. James Gambera who gained a reputation as a builder. Among his accomplishments were construction of a rectory, numerous parish societies, neighborhood feasts, parish visits, a kindergarten, a day nursery and finally Catechism classes. These classes were taught by the Italian Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart who were founded by Mother Frances Cabrini. The parish flourished, however, in 1921 Father Gambera resigned due to ill health.
In 1931, the church was extensively renovated. But less than a year later in January, 1931, fate took a tragic toll. A massive fire destroyed the entire church structure leaving only four brick walls standing.
Once again, a vacant Norwegian Lutheran Church, this one at the northwest corner of Erie and May Streets was purchased as a replacement for the burned out Santa Maria Addolorata. On Easter Sunday, April 5, 1931, the church was opened. Eight years later, the parish’s first school was built and opened, staffed by the nuns of the Italian Daughters of St. Mary of Providence.
In 1949, the church was redecorated and the steeple rebuilt. But who was to know that three years later, construction of the Northwest (Kennedy) Expressway would take another toll on this beleaguered parish. The church, school, and rectory of Santa Maria Addolorata were condemned and razed.
One more time, the now defunct parish would shop for another site. In 1955, ground was broken for a new school building and three years later construction began at the corner of Ohio and Ada Streets for a new church. It was dedicated in 1960 and is the present site of the parish church.
The opening of the expressway cut the parish boundaries in half. This separation caused many Italian families who were now divided to relocate elsewhere. This opened the way for a new wave of immigrants, the Latinos, who settled in and currently occupy the near Northwest side neighborhood.
Santa Maria Addolorata lives, but it’s ethnic makeup had changed dramatically. Less than ten percent of the parish is considered Italian. What was once one of Chicago’s twelve Italian Catholic Churches is no longer the case. It is now a spiritual home to primarily Hispanic families.