The faithful who gathered at Holy Family Roman Catholic Church hoped it wouldn't be the last Christmas celebrated in the deteriorating church, one of the few buildings to survive the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
Parishioners need to raise $125,000 more by New Year's Eve to save the 130-year-old Victorian Gothic church, said Dick Barry, a spokesman for the Holy Family Preservation Society."We're going to make our goal," the Rev. George Lane said Monday. "Our motto is `Say prayers and send money.' "
The Society of Jesus, which owns the church, has threatened to tear it down and sell the property unless the parish can raise $1 million of a $3 million repair bill by the deadline.
Construction on the church began in 1857. By 1860, it was the third-largest church in the United States. Its 226-foot bell tower was the tallest structure in Chicago and its stained glass windows were the first installed in the city.
When fire broke out in October 1871 and devastated the city, Holy Family, only five blocks from where the fire began, was unharmed. It was one of only five public buildings spared by the fire.
"The Rev. Arnold Damen, Jesuit founder of the parish, vowed that if the church was spared, seven lights would burn perpetually at the church's shrine to Our Lady of Perpetual Help," Lane said.
The seven lights, now electrified, still burn in the church today.