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2923: St Jerome, Chicago, Illinois, USA
St Jerome, Chicago (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Liffey.
The church: St Jerome, Chicago, Illinois, USA.
Denomination: Roman Catholic, Archdiocese of Chicago.
The building: Dedicated in 1916, St Jerome's is an Italian Renaissance masterpiece – very large, very beautiful. It is the work of architect Charles H. Prindeville, known for his several Chicago churches. It was enlarged in 1934 by Joseph W. McCarthy, one of the most prolific designers Catholic churches in the United States in the early 20th century. It has beautiful marbles and murals with a spectacular carved gold leaf ceiling. The doors from the vestibule to the nave, the confessionals, the baptismal font, the altar of the Sacred Heart, the ceiling, the windows, the facade of the church, the Virgin and Child carving above the door of the convent – all beautiful.
The church: St Jerome's is a very diverse parish. They sponsor a chapter of the Legion of Mary and Men of Faith, and have a book club, prayer group, youth group, couples ministry – and a chess team! They minister to a large Spanish-speaking congregation as well as English speaking. Sunday masses are celebrated both in English and Spanish.
The neighborhood: This is the Rogers Park section of Chicago, a densely populated and diverse neighborhood on the far north side of the city. It is noted for its concentration of housing stock in the Chicago bungalow style, a relatively narrow one-story brick structure with attic dormers and either an enclosed or open veranda.
The cast: The Revd Sergio Mena, associate pastor, assisted by the Revd Jeremy Thomas, pastor, and the Revd Mr Francisco Marin, deacon.
The date & time: Saturday, September 26, 2015, 5.00pm.

What was the name of the service?
Vigil Mass.

How full was the building?
Practically empty. But St Jerome's is a large church and tomorrow is the celebration of the feast of St Jerome, so I'm assuming that most parishioners will go to the celebration mass.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was with a friend and I'm afraid we were rather conspicuous as we looked around. A woman approached, greeted us, and asked if we had any questions. Also, at the beginning of mass, we were asked to greet those around us, a nice touch.

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes. In fact, the pews were beautiful, with curved edges and
old-fashioned hat hooks still in place. The patina was enchanting, showing how many people had worshiped in the church over the last hundred years.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
People were talking quietly and smiling.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to St Jerome's."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Standard hymnal and paperback book with the readings.

What musical instruments were played?
Piano, with one cantor who was a member of the church youth group. It was the first time we'd heard the cantor speak the psalm, but I liked it.

Did anything distract you?
We were a tad distracted by some of the trash outside the church and the need for fresh flowers in the planters, but once inside we were impressed by its beauty. This is a beautiful "churchy" church. I found myself looking around a lot. Pity that adjacent buildings block the sunlight from coming in through the beautiful stained glass.

St Jerome, Chicago (Interior)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship was reverential; however, the youth group was awesome! There was a wonderful 11-minute performance, an interpretive dance, by the parish youth group to raise money for them to attend World Youth Day in Poland next year. It inspired us to donate as well as to purchase a t-shirt to help.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
There was no sermon.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Watching the youth group perform. They were very serious about their performance but also very happy to be participating so deeply in the service.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
It did feel depressingly dark, even though it was sunny, because of the west facing windows being blocked by the school/parish center building. The school is now closed. Demolishing the building and renovating the plot as a garden would be super (but super expensive).

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Both priests greeted us. It was very pleasant.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
No after service coffee.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – I love my regular church, but I would revisit St Jerome's and just may do so during Open House Chicago in a few weeks. I'm hoping some of the volunteers will be able to give a meaningful tour of the church.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Absolutely!

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
How impressed I was with the youth group, and that the pastor knew each kid's name!

 
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