The Sacré-Cœur of Chicago: Franco-American Devotion and Community, 1880-1920

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Window depictions of Margaret Mary Alacoque witnessing Jesus and the Sacred Heart. Top left: Notre Dame de Chicago, bottom left: Sacred Heart Church, Right: Our Lady of Fatima (formerly St. Joseph & St. Anne)

Chicago is not often associated with the French, save for references to Jacques Marquette and early fur traders. Yet during the latter 1800s, the city’s French immigrant population expanded far beyond what it had been during the French colonial era. Thousands of French-Canadians and French-nationals called Chicago’s industrial South Side their home, and from 1864 to 1892 founded five Catholic parishes, numerous ethnic associations, and ran a French language newspaper. This community lived in the shadows of Irish, Polish, and Italian communities, but its complex place within the “City of Big Shoulders” provides a useful look at the identity of a marginal Catholic group. Forming a “tri-national” outlook that blended elements of Quebec, France, and the United States, French-Americans defined their position in Chicago through the  Catholic Church. French-American immigrants connected to their homelands by bringing native personnel, devotions, and traditions into their parishes. Additionally, the community actively sought to replicate the sacred spaces it left behind through the construction of shrines to St. Anne and grottos to Our Lady of Lourdes, capturing the miraculous and healing spirit found both in southern France and on the St. Lawrence River at Beaupré.  French-American Chicago also defined itself through processionalism and community organization. Ethnic societies linked together French-Americans spread out over Chicago, and brought them together to experience linguistic and ethnic commonality, while celebrations offered a chance to march in force through the neighborhoods the French could not control at any other time. Although the French seem lost in Chicago’s past, their story highlights the utility of religion for the immigrant community and speaks to the minority experience in an urban environment.

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One thought on “The Sacré-Cœur of Chicago: Franco-American Devotion and Community, 1880-1920

  1. Great to find your blog! It was recommended on the Great Lakes French Canadian & Metis forum on Facebook! Check out my Chicago entries at frenchcanadianatoz.tumblr.com.

    Great work!
    James

    Like

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