St. Hyacinth Basilica is the stunning heart of Chicago’s Polish community. The Catholic parish was founded in 1894 to serve local Poles, and the current basilica was completed in 1921.
The basilica has hosted many high-profile visitors due to its importance to the large Polish community. Future Pope John Paul II visited multiple times when he was the Archbishop of Krakow, and George H. W. Bush attended mass twice before becoming the US President; visiting the basilica was an important stop on the campaign trail to win votes from Polish Americans.
I was a visitor today and was treated no less graciously than these other VIPs, I’m sure. Stan the maintenance man showed me around to the bells and beyond.
St. Hyacinth boasts four bells cast by the McShane bell foundry in Baltimore, Maryland in 1924. The four bells are named St. John (the largest), Queen of Poland (or Ave Maria, as Stan called it), St. Joseph, and St. Hedwig.
The Latin inscriptions on each of the bells say:
“Saint John, Behold the Lamb of God, Church of St. Hyacinth, Church Pastor John Sobieszczyk” [Fr. Sobieszczyk was the pastor of the new basilica in 1921.]
“Queen of Poland, Hail Mary, Full of Grace”
“Our Help is in the Name of Saint Joseph”
“St. Hedwig, To the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” [St. Hedwig of Silesia was born in Bavaria in 1174 and reigned over Poland as a Duchess through her marriage to Henry I of Silesia. She was canonized by Pope Clement IV in 1267.]
At one time all four bells could be rung by swinging the whole bell or by striking it with a hammer. Only a couple of the bells are rung via hammers now.
St. Hyacinth’s still has the original clock mechanism from Seth Thomas Clock Company in Thomaston, Connecticut from 1924.
As a special treat, Stan took me out on the roof of the basilica.
Thank you for the tour, Stan and all the folks at St. Hyacinth’s! I hope you find a way to bring the bells back to their full glory.