Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Rumors Tie Mobsters to Stained Glass Church Windows North of Chicago

This stained glass window at St. Peter Catholic Church in Antioch has rumored mob ties.Amid the monks and saints depicted in a stained glass window at St. Peter Catholic Church in Antioch appears a car wheel, headlight and a wrench that have baffled parishioners.

For years they have speculated that the three-panel windows were somehow tied to Chicago mobsters who spent summers in northeastern Lake County around the time the church was dedicated in 1930. The gangsters were proud of their cars, had money and may have wanted to atone for some of their sins by donating to a church.

Mary Leonard, director of religious education for the parish, looked through church archives and even contacted the company that created the windows, but she hasn't found anything that proves a mob connection. "But it makes a really good story," she said.

What we do know about the windows is that they were made by Rambusch Studios of New York, according to Leonard. The company sketched out the glass iconography with the Rev. Francis Morgan Flaherty. The windows were then crafted by a stained-glass studio in Munich, Germany.

Church records don't indicate who paid for the windows. But painted at the bottom of the three-panels above the choir loft, it reads: "In memory of Harry Martin, Patrick Quilty and Margaret Quilty." It's unclear who they were or if they had a say in the window design.

Antioch and its lakes used to attract Chicago residents and tourists. During the summer, church attendance swelled at the first one-room Catholic church built in 1897 on Victoria Street in Antioch. A tent was needed to accommodate the faithful during summer Masses, Leonard said. Out-of-towners likely contributed to the $250,000 needed in 1930 to build the stone St. Peter Catholic Church on Lake Street.

Could Chicago Prohibition-era gangsters have attended Mass and cut a big check? There's no evidence of it, but reportedly Al Capone hung out in Fox Lake, and gangster Bugs Moran played golf in Antioch.

Adding another layer of mystery to the windows is that the central figure is clearly St. Patrick, not St. Peter, the parish's patron saint. The figure is holding a staff with a shamrock and is standing on a snake. (Pious legend credits Patrick with banishing snakes from Ireland, though post-glacial Ireland never had snakes.)

The St. Patrick iconography could be a tribute to the church's past. The one-room Catholic church in Antioch was a mission church of St. Patrick in Wadsworth until 1909.

We'll probably never know for sure if mobsters paid for the windows, or if the car references were the result of artistic license by the pastor or a German window builder.

"I see some parishioners pointing it out to their grandchildren, and they tell other children," Leonard said. "If nothing else, it interests them in the church."

-- not that we want them to be looking at the back of windows while Mass is going on."

Thanks to Ryan Pagelow

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