St. Joseph the Betrothed Ukrainian Catholic Church
5000 N. Cumberland Ave.
It’s a Bird! . . . It’s a Plane! . . . It’s St. Joseph the Betrothed Ukrainian Catholic Church! Well it isn’t flying yet, but it looks as though it just might.
Ukrainian-born and Canadian-bred architect, Zenon Mazurkevich, designed the Cumberland church. After graduating from the University of Toronto, Mazurkevich worked for a few years with the Chicago-based architectural firm of Skidmore Owings and Merrill. While there, he was involved with the design of the Hancock Tower and a few other commercial buildings. Disenchanted by commercial architecture, he began studying church architecture as a hobby. Mazurkevich commented, “We are dealing with a very functional architecture today no matter what we do, but church architecture is aesthetically functional more than anything else . . . It probably is the last architecture, as our buildings become more regimented, in which you can be exuberant.” He began lecturing on the subject. It was at one of these lectures that he was introduced to St. Joseph’s building committee. The committee liked what they heard, and out of a field of 22 architects they commissioned Mazurkevich to design the church they had been saving for during the previous five years. It was completed in 1977.
Looking part rocket ship and part church, the design of St. Joseph’s is both modern and traditional. Highly reflective, and built out of concrete, steel, and glass, its modernity can’t be denied. But the design is also in keeping with the tradition of Ukrainian and other Eastern European churches. Symbolism is key. Twelve towers, representing the twelve apostles, surround a large central dome symbolic of Christ. The building is divided into three levels, representing the Trinity. The ground floor is in the shape of a Jerusalem cross, the second floor of a Coptic cross, and the top floor of St. Vladimir’s cross.
The interior is as surprising as the exterior. Seventy-five percent of the building is glass, so the interior is flooded with sunlight. Brilliant blue circular walls surround an ornate gold chandelier hanging from the ceiling, representing Christ as “the light of the world.” Much of the interior is decorated with iconic Byzantine designs.
Standing in the church’s sanctuary, you can see and hear airplanes continuously flying overhead to nearby O’Hare airport. Mazurkevich’s church is a spiritual haven that evokes thoughts of the skies above. My thoughts are of rocket ships and how this one looks about ready to take off.
Did I forget to mention that it was listed as one of the 10 most unique churches in the world? Check out the other nine here. And if interested, also be sure to explore St. Joseph’s website. For more pictures of St. Joseph’s check out BLUEPRINT: Chicago’s facebook page.