In the early 1900s, some 200,000 Lithuanians immigrated to the Chicago area. Economics, politics and religious persecutions played significant roles in effecting the exodus of these people from their native land to America.
In 1927, in honor of Our Lady of Siluva — a beloved Lithuanian devotion based on a Marian apparition — the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church was built and named after the original church in Siluva, Lithuania.
The original church was replaced by a new church built half a block away in 1957, on the anniversary of the coronation of the first king of Lithuania.
Love for Our Lady
Siluva, Lithuania, was originally a deeply Catholic village, but the faith was extinguished during the Protestant Reformation. In fact, Siluva had become a seminary center for Calvinist ministers. The local Catholic Church, named Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, fell into disuse and eventually burned to the ground.
Prior to leaving the village of Siluva, the local Catholic priest buried the treasures of the Church, including a painting of Our Lady, in a nearby field adjacent to a large rock.
One summer day, in 1608, some children who were playing in that same field were surprised to see the Blessed Mother standing on the aforementioned rock.
The following day, the children returned with the whole village and a Calvinist minister. The Blessed Mother appeared once again, but this time, Our Lady was crying.
When the Calvinist minister asked why the Blessed Mother wept, she replied that it was because her beloved Son was no longer worshipped on that spot as he had once been.
As a result of the appearance of the Blessed Mother, the people of Siluva returned to the Catholic faith.
Our Lady of Siluva is the first widely known apparition of the Mother of God in Europe.
In addition, it is a unique instance of Our Lady conversing with a non-Catholic Christian minister. However, history is remiss in telling us whether or not the Calvinist minister also converted to the Catholic faith.
But other miracles occurred: An old blind man who had assisted the priest in burying the treasures of the original church recalled the burying location. When the chest of treasures was opened, the blind man regained his vision.
That marked the first miracle of Our Lady of Siluva. Today, in Siluva, the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary is built on the site of the original church.
A Chapel of the Apparition was also built in the Egyptian-Revival and Gothic styles over the rock where the Blessed Mother stood.
The rock itself, which pilgrim visitors make a point to kiss, is under the altar of the chapel that features the tallest steeple in Lithuania.
For its love of Mary, Pope Pius XI called Lithuania Terra Mariana (Land of Mary).
The new church in Chicago, built in the form of a cross, also features three rose windows, including one in the front and one on each arm of the cross. On either side of the front façade are towers, including a bell tower with an electrified chime and a clock tower.
Built in Lithuanian-Baroque style, the church, which holds 750, features crescent moons and sunbursts on the crosses. The crescent moon commemorates 1571’s Battle of Lepanto, when the Christians fought against the Muslims and freed Europe from Islam, with the Blessed Mother’s help.
The sanctuary features a huge marble altar with six pillars. In the center of the sanctuary is an eight-foot-high icon of Our Lady of Siluva — a copy of the Madonna in the Chapel of Our Lady of Siluva in the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome, Italy. Our Lady of Siluva is recognized as one of the oldest Madonnas of the Catholic Church.
Within the sanctuary, there are also two small arches, each containing a small altar in honor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and an altar in honor of St. Anthony, the Franciscan "wonder-worker."
There are two altars at the ends of the cross-shaped church, too. Each comprises a wall mural with a marble altar in front of the mural. One of the side altars is of the Sorrowful Mother.
The other side altar is of the apparition of the Blessed Mother standing on the rock at Siluva. The mural for this altar was painted by Sister Mercedes, a Sister of Casimir, who passed away several years ago. It is the largest mural painted by a Catholic sister in the United States. All five altars in the church are adorned with Lithuanian crosses.
A visitor to the church easily has one’s heart and mind lifted heavenward by virtue of the many lovely statues, the like of which include the Sorrowful Mother (the Pietà), St. Casimir, St. Anne, St. Francis, St. Jude, St. Joseph, Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Teresa.
Each year, there is a novena in honor of Our Lady of Siluva from Sept. 8 — the nativity of the Blessed Mother — to Sept. 15, the feast day of the Sorrowful Mother. A homily is preached in Lithuanian at 10 each morning.
On the last day of the novena, there is an outdoor procession through the parish complex, which includes the church, rectory, convent and school building, and the local neighborhood.
The procession includes a statue of Our Lady of Siluva. Local Lithuanian organizations participate as well. Upon return to the church, there is an 11am Mass that concludes with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.
In addition, on the 13th of each month, a Mass and novena to Our Lady of Siluva is celebrated at 6pm in both English and Lithuanian.
Catholic visitors to this Chicago church are easily motivated to pray to Our Lady of Siluva for those family members, friends and neighbors who have left the faith, because Our Lady of Siluva is invoked as the patron saint of fallen-away Catholics.
In fact, my wife and I have developed the habit of praying to Our Lady of Siluva for those of our children, now grown, who no longer practice the faith.
Joseph Albino writes from
Syracuse, New York.
Planning Your Visit
Daily Mass is said in Lithuanian at 8am. The Saturday Mass of Anticipation is said in Lithuanian at 4pm. Masses on Sunday are at 9am in English and 11am in Lithuanian. Confessions are heard on Saturdays from 3 to 3:45pm.
Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church
6812 S. Washtenaw
Chicago, IL 60629