The Story of Rogers Park
Rogers Park, one of the northernmost neighborhoods in Chicago, sits against the blue backdrop of Lake Michigan. According to the Rogers Park/West Ridge Historical Society, the community area was named for Phillip Rogers. Rogers settled there in the mid-nineteenth century in what would ultimately become one of the city’s most diverse neighborhoods. When the Northwestern Elevated Railroad opened the Howard Street station in the early twentieth century, the neighborhood began to grow.
Watch: Rogers Park
Rogers Park has always been home to a large immigrant population. The Rogers Park Business Alliance estimates that roughly 80 languages are spoken in Rogers Park among a population of nearly 55,000. The main campus of Loyola University Chicago, a Jesuit university of more than 16,000 students (and the beloved Sister Jean) also sits within Rogers Park.
Today, Rogers Park attracts artists of all kinds. The cobblestone Glenwood Avenue Arts District features storefront theaters, music venues, murals, and studios. Four ‘L’ stops run through Rogers Park: Loyola, Morse, Jarvis, and the Red Line terminal, Howard. It is one of the official 77 community areas of Chicago.
Neighborhood Highlight: Madonna della Strada Chapel
Overlooking Lake Michigan and tucked up against its shore stands the Madonna della Strada Chapel. Named for the church in Rome in which St. Ignatius Loyola was buried, the chapel opened in 1939 on Loyola University Chicago’s campus.
According to a university publication about the chapel and its history, it took years to build. A university priest, Father James Mertz, made it his mission to construct a place for the university students to worship and gather for mass. Mertz began the process in the early 1920s, but fundraising for the project was interrupted by the Great Depression.
As the funds trickled in over the years, the university hired Andrew Rebori to design the art deco-inspired chapel. Rebori was known for designing the Racquet Club of Chicago on Dearborn Street in the Gold Coast. Artist Melville Steinfels was tasked with creating the stations of the cross paintings that line the chapel, along with the focal point: a large fresco of Jesus crowning Mary.
The east entrance to the chapel was originally intended to open to people traveling along Lake Shore Drive. (Loosely translated, Madonna della Strada means Our Lady of the Wayside, or Our Lady of the Road). But the city never extended the drive up through Rogers Park. Today, the chapel’s east entrance is mere feet away from Lake Michigan. That left the building exposed to the freezing waves of the lake in the winter, damaging the exterior.
In the 1980s, the university began to renovate the building to improve the structure and modernize the interior. To keep up with changes in the Catholic mass that emerged from the Second Vatican Council, the pews were removed and replaced with chairs, while the stained glass windows were refinished to allow for a brighter space. The chapel was again renovated and reopened in 2007, with new marble floors and additional gold leaf on the stations of the cross. On the chapel’s 75th anniversary in 2014, the university added four bells to the bell tower, which had previously been vacant.
Things to Do
If you’re hungry, grab a bite at Taste of Peru for paella and other Peruvian favorites or visit the Emil Bach House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, now a vacation rental house on Sheridan Road.