In early July of 1957, a severe rainstorm hit the Chicago area causing widespread flooding and damage throughout the city and suburbs. "Central Manor," a mixture of older homes and new brick bungalows, located on the southwest side near Midway Airport, was especially hard hit. Flooded streets and basements, power failures an substantial damage to personal property was sustained as the storm roared through the area. Many tears were shed and many prayers were offered. Legend has it that one distraught resident sent a request to Heaven asking Noah to send down his Ark. After two days the rain subsided, the water receded and the people returned to "business as usual." First and foremost on the "business as usual" agenda was the formation of a 44-man committee headed by James Higgins, Vince Kenny and Joseph Sikora. The committee worked tirelessly with Fr. Edward Kilroy of St. Richard's Parish obtaining a long list of petitions for a new parish church and school to be build on a parcel of property owned by the Chicago Archdiocese. The area was bounded by Laramie on the west, Leamington on the east, 48th St. on the north, and 49th St. on the south.
On June 15, 1959, Father Leo J. Kinsella was commissioned to form the parish. Finally, on the third Sunday of July, 1969, during Mass at Hearst School on 47th and Laporte streets, Father Kilroy's assistant formally introduced Father Kinsella to his future parishioners. It had been exactly two years from the date of the great flood to the time of great expectations. Our Lady of the Snows was on the way to becoming a reality!
Later that summer, a brick bungalow at 4721 South Laramie was purchased by Fr. Kinsella as a temporary rectory. He moved in with an army cot and a folding chair. he cot, no doubt, was a reminder of his time spent an an Air Force Chaplain during World War II. People on individual blocks got together and contributed bed linens, kitchen utensils, silverware, food, curtains, money, etc. to make life a little more comfortable for their new Pastor. During those early months, neighborhood ladies showed up on a regular basis to clean the rectory or bring a home cooked meal to him.
It was from this location that Fr. Kinsella directed the construction of a combination church-school building at 4810 South Leamington Avenue. He outlined his requirements to the architects, Kefer and Cronin. They submitted drawings: a church to seat 1100, 8 fully equipped classroom units, a library, a large parish hall, complete convent facilities and room for future expansion. One of the unique features of the structure was the pre-cast cement folded plate roof covering the school wing.
Ground was broken on March 10, 1960 and the cornerstone was laid on June 26th of the same year.
During the period of construction, Sunday Masses were celebrated at Hearst School. Holy Days of Obligation were held at Richard Funeral Home on Archer Avenue and christenings took place in the rectory basement on Laramie Avenue.
The fledgling OLS parish had come a long way from the storms of 1957 to the celebration of its inaugural Mass at Midning, Christmas Eve, 1959.
When the OLS school and church building was constructed, the area housing the church was considered a temporary arrangement. Plans included eventually converting that space into a gym and erecting a separate building for the church. However that dream faded as years passed, and the parish began to accept the idea that the church would remain on its present site. So in 1983, 22 years after the dedication of the church, discussion about renovation began.
A committee was formed which visited other parishes that had renovated their churches to get ideas and to learn about the process. In 1985, a finance committee was appointed which began a Memorials and Special Gifts Program. The parish pledged $ 100,000 in memorials, doubling the $ 50,000 goal.
On May 24, 1986, parishioners gathered in the church to celebrate two special occasions: primary completion of the renovation and the First Mass of newly ordained Fr. Jim Presta, an OLS graduate.
The new design involved moving the altar to the north wall from the east wall. The 9-row semicircular arrangement brought the assembly closer to the Lord's table compared to the former 44-row vertical layout. Other improvements included an updated sound system, as well as new lighting and flooring.
The Last 20 Years
Our Lady of the Snows continued growing during the following 20 years, welcoming into the parish Spanish and Polish speaking parishioners who moved into this area. In 2007, regularly scheduled Sunday Masses in Spanish began to be celebrated. In June 2012 a Sunday Mass in Polish was also instituted. Both liturgies have attracted and continue attracting new parishioners making this a vibrant parish in the southwest side of Chicago. We celebrated our 50th anniversary in 2011 with a special Mass presided by our former pastor, Fr. Stan. We look forward to many more years of evangelization.