- June 20, 2012
- 12:01 am
A picture is worth 1,000 words, but when paired with an article? That is worth immortalizing a piece of Chicago church history.
Journalism students from John Slania’s advanced reporting class and Jamason Chen’s photojournalism class teamed up during the spring 2012 semester to photograph and report on some of Chicago’s most prominent churches, hosted at the website Chicago Churches. They hope their work can be a part of awareness efforts to repair these upwards of 100+ year old churches.
Fittingly, the idea came to Slania in a church.
“This project had its genesis when I was sitting in a pew at St. Michael in Old Town for Christmas Mass, and looking up at all the lovely, ornate architecture and statues in the cathedral,” he says. “I also noticed peeling paint. I thought, there are all these beautiful Catholic churches in Chicago, some struggling and in disrepair, and there’s a story here.”
Students in Slania’s class were assigned churches throughout the Chicago area, from St. Alphonsus on the Northside to St. Sabina’s on the Southwest side. Once their articles were finished, they loaded them onto a Google document where students from Chen’s class could read the story, decide which church they wanted to cover, and contact the reporter to find out how they could best capture the church on film.
Chen was impressed at how the photojournalism students were able to capture both the written profiles of the church, and unique aesthetics the written word can’t capture. “When I saw the pictures [I realized] it was a great project for students working together,” he comments. “They read the text and visualize the components they can combine with the text.”
The combination of photos and articles paint a changing portrait of the Catholic church in Chicago, as older churches fall into disrepair and congregation demographics switch, Slania points out.
“Some of the churches are elaborate, ornate cathedrals. Many are in need of repairs and have fund raising drives. Some are in neighborhoods that have changed over the years. So these gorgeous old churches represent the evolution of the Catholic church in Chicago and the evolution of the neighborhoods,” he says.
Angela Wells (CAS ’12), a senior international studies major at the time of the photojournalism class, found all of those factors in the church she photographed in Wicker Park.
“I enjoyed learning about how it had changed from a Polish influenced parish to a Hispanic one as Chicago immigration patterns shifted,” she says. “Also, the tenacity of the church members to maintain their place of worship was inspiring. The church’s intricately designed dome has been disintegrating but they had nets up to protect parishioners from falling debris and were obviously putting a lot of resources and energy to maintaining the church’s beauty.”
Other students, however, simply took the project as an opportunity to discover a new section of the city. Shawna Sellmeyer (CAS ’12), an anthropology major and senior at the time of the photojournalism class, says she chose a church in Chinatown because she had never been there before.
“The assignment felt like I was actually working for a newspaper; I was given an article about the church and had to put those words into visuals in order for the reader to get a better understanding of the church,” she says. “Going out into a unknown area and immersing myself in the environment was at first intimidating, but since everyone at St. Therese welcomed me with open arms, I felt totally at ease.”
Ultimately, Slania and Chen hope the project will be displayed in the School of Communication and more of the hundreds of historic churches in Chicago can be added to the website.
For more information about the project, visit the website, here.