A Brief History of the Shrine of
Our Lady of Sorrows
The Parish of Our Lady of Sorrows was
founded in 1874 by three Servants of
Mary (Servites): Fathers Austin Morini and
Andrew Venturi, and Brother Joseph
Camera. The Bishop of Chicago, Right
Reverend Thomas Foley, enthusiastically
approved their dream of a sanctuary
where the Blessed Virgin could comfort
her people and honor her Divine Son.
Within that first year, a plot of farmland
was acquired on the city’s far West Side,
and a brick church was built. It was 102
feet long, 38 feet wide, and two stories
high. Midnight Mass was held inside on
Christmas Eve, 1874. In the following
year, the little church, on the site of
today’s Servite monastery, was beautifully
The History of Our Lady of Sorrows
Soon a much larger church was needed, and on June 17, 1890,
ground was broken for the Italian Renaissance-style church we see
today. The building was opened for Masses within months, under a
temporary roof, while the walls had reached only half of their
eventual height. It was not until January 5, 1902, that the great
church could be dedicated.
When improvements were made to the lower church, Father James
M. Keane compiled a booklet of prayers to be used in a new service
that would take advantage of this basement shrine. On January 8,
1937, the Sorrowful Mother Novena began an era that would
establish Chicago’s Our Lady of Sorrows as a Marian Shrine of
national and international fame. Through the 1940’s and into the
1950’s the Great Novena filled the church weekly in up to 38
separate services. The Novena spread to over 2300 additional
parishes at the peak of its popularity.
In 1956, Pope Pius XII granted to Our Lady of Sorrows National
Shrine the title of Basilica, and this honor was celebrated all
through the following year with special pilgrimages.
The Novena is still celebrated weekly, and the Basilica is
increasingly being recognized for the splendor of its architecture,
and the history it has witnessed. Tragically, the upper stages of the
Western tower were lost to fire in 1984. But the interior and the
exterior brickwork have benefited from periodic and ongoing
restoration in recent years, resulting in a shrine that is breathtaking
to many who enter for the first time.
Like Lourdes, or Czestochowa, or Fatima, or the Shrine of Our Lady
of Guadalupe……Our Lady of Sorrows remains a foyer of Heaven,
where the Blessed Virgin seems close enough to surprise us with
the rustle of her veil.