The following years leading up to the twenty-first century witnessed an evolution at St. Therese Chinese Mission. Although a Chinese mission in name, it is in fact a “salad bowl” of ethnic origins. As one of the most beautiful churches in Chicago ’s Archdiocese, the physical church acknowledges this with reference to its past as well as its future.
Renovated and refurbished three years ago, the church shines today like at no other time in its 100-year history. At the turn of the millennium, the current pastor, Reverend Michael Davitti of the Xaverian Missionaries, organized and presided over one of the largest renovation projects in parish history. Much of the fundraising was achieved through the Tree of Life program and through the generosity of anonymous benefactors. Also, with the help of Reverend Aniello Salicone, Fr. Davitti initiated the much-embraced annual “International Noodles Night” dinner and fundraiser to help defray the costs of the renovations.
During the planning stages of the renovation, Fr. Davitti was very careful to keep the design respectful of past traditions while beautifully including the present. The statues and stained glass windows symbolize its Italian roots. The statues of St. Rocco and St. Christopher point to the towns of Simbario and Ricigliano in Italy , and many of the stained glass windows are dedicated to the patron saints of specific Italian regions. Although many of the archives have been moved to Santa Lucia, the shrine of Santa Maria Incoronata remains here at St. Therese. And recently, Alexander Street also received the designation of Honorary Santa Maria Incoronata Street by the City of Chicago.
The Chinese influences are prominently featured as well. The parish’s main statement is in Chinese, located on the keystone above the altar. This character, “love,” appropriately represents our parish, as if to say, “All are held together by love.” The parish’s motto is reflected along the columns from right to left:
“Together in Christ, we are one happy family.”
“God’s grace nourishes my soul like rain pouring on parched land;
Christ’s teachings enliven me like the spring breeze awakening nature after a long and desolate winter.”
Many other symbols can also be found throughout the church to proclaim the community’s rich Chinese heritage, including a painting of Our Lady of China represented as an empress and a table laden with fruits, flowers, and incense offered in respect to the ancestors.
But despite the distinct symbolic reminders of two different heritages, the Chinese, Italian, and many other ethnicities have bridged their differences and now work in harmony for the common needs of the parish.
October 2004 marked the 100-year anniversary of the parish; it was a celebration of the hard work of all who have been blessed by God. It was the perfect time to thank God for the precious gifts He had given us, and it was taken as the cue to use those gifts to live our lives in His image and to spread His message for the next 100 years and beyond. In the words of one Chinese poet, together we joined to praise God:
Amidst a heavenly shower of gently floating flowers,
The fragrance of roses covers our body and fills our thoughts. Truly this majestic church has been raised
Through the loving grace of our Lord!
In these past hundred years, the lofty ideals and saintly mission
Of many who came before us have been realized and taught.
Lo! Ahead is the path of ever harmony and grandeur
Leading us, through loving all people, to glorify God.
As expressed throughout these years, the values taught in the Santa Maria Incoronata and St. Therese community are shining examples of the principles of the Catholic Church. Our community is a diverse but united body dedicated to serving its “borderless” community and practicing Christ’s teachings. As you have read, we have very distinct cultures represented within our parish, yet we share many of the same hardships and successes as immigrants in this country. But most importantly, we all share the love of Christ, and it is through this love that we continue to strive for the will of God.