Chicago-pedia: Religion

An encyclopedia of the terms that define our city. In this edition, we cover some of Chicago’s religion.


People enter Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago before the start of the memorial service for the late Chicago Chef Charlie Trotter on Monday, November 11, 2013. | Michael Jarecki/For Sun-Times Media

Sun-Times Media

Some call it “Chicago-ese,” or “Chicago-speak.” Whatever you call it, we’re capturing it here, in Chicago-pedia — highlighting our local terminology and linguistic quirks (sometimes with humor and obvious exaggeration).

SISTER JEAN: 1. Jean Dolores Schmidt, a beloved century-old nun serving as the Loyola University Chicago men’s basketball chaplain who became a national celebrity during the team’s storybook 2018 Final Four run.

2. Fashion icon who made maroon-and-gold scarves a seasonal trend.

RAMBLERS: Nickname for Loyola University Chicago, coined because of the since-disbanded football team decades ago used to “ramble” around the country for games. The mascot was once, unbelievably, a hobo. Now, it’s a wolf.

DEPAUL: North Side Catholic college whose nickname, the “Blue Demons,” carries no religious implication: The uniforms for one of the school’s early sports teams included the letter “D” for “DePaul,” and, accordingly, the players became known at the “D Men,” which evolved into “Demon.”

BAPTIZE: 1. Something parents do to babies and then never bring them to church again except maybe on Christmas and Easter.

2. To dunk an Italian beef sandwich au jus.

PUBLICS: Used by Chicago Catholics, in particular parochial school students, to describe non-Catholics. “Publics went to public school, were subjected to ‘what can you expect from public school kids’ glares from adults and went to different churches, which were all the same anyway.” — John R. Powers, “The Last Catholic in America”

THE REV: The Rev. Jesse Jackson, Chicago civil rights leader.


The Rev. Jesse Jackson

Susan Smith/For the Sun-Times

THE MOSQUE MARYAM: Golden-domed headquarters for the Nation of Islam in what used to be a Greek Orthodox church at 73rd and Stony Island. The building was reportedly bought with the help of a $3 million loan from the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, a onetime friend of Nation of Island leader Louis Farrakhan.

THE CARDINAL: 1. Blase Cupich, Chicago’s top Catholic cleric since 2014, who’s pledged greater transparency to heal a wounded flock but continues to withhold information on the extent of the sex abuse crisis and its financial implications.

2. The state bird of Illinois.

THE PENGUIN: Nickname for a nun, popularized by 1980 movie “The Blues Brothers,” whose character was a ruler-toting, habit-wearing sister running an orphanage in Calumet City.

CHINATOWN: 1. Popular dinner spot for Chicago-area Jews on Christmas.

2. One of Chicago’s top tourist neighborhoods, home to numerous restaurants, an award-winning Skidmore, Owings & Merril-designed public library and the beautiful Ping Tom Memorial Park.

THE FEAST: For many Americans, a special day honoring the Virgin Mary, Jesus’ mother. The Dec. 12 “feast day” of Our Lady of Guadalupe marks, in Catholic tradition, Mary’s appearance in 1531 to an indigenous man named Juan Diego in Mexico. In Des Plaines, there’s a shrine dedicated to her that includes a 12-foot, 2,200-pound statue. Every year, hundreds of thousands of faithful descend on the site, seeking intercession, lighting candles, laying flowers and giving thanks. Many walk miles in the cold to get there, some finishing the pilgrimage on their knees.

ELCA: The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the biggest Lutheran denomination in the U.S., headquartered in Chicago near O’Hare Airport. The presiding bishop, Elizabeth Eaton, is the first woman to hold that post. She’s married to an Episcopalian priest. And she’s not a big fan of hell as a concept. If it exists, she once said, “I think it’s empty.”

FOURTH PREZ: Nickname for the gorgeous, Gothic-style Fourth Presbyterian Church on the Magnificent Mile. Dedicated in 1914, it’s the oldest structure, besides the old Water Tower, north of the Chicago River on Michigan Avenue.


Fourth Presbyterian Church. Susan Smith/For the Sun-Times

MEGACHURCHES: The flip side of storefront churches. Massive Christian congregations meeting in theater-type setting, with Salem Baptist Church on the Far South Side and Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington among the most notable.

STOREFRONT CHURCHES: Congregations, usually small, that gather in refashioned commercial and retail spaces. While they are numerous, especially in African American neighborhoods, they’re shrinking, in part because younger people are less likely to attend Sunday services. Known for powerful preaching, their origins date back to the Great Migration, when blacks moved from the Deep South in the early 1900s. Unhappy with traditional churches, they started their own wherever there was space. By one account, more than two-thirds of worship sites started in Chicago by African Americans in 1930 were storefronts, “categorized as either Baptist, Holiness or Spiritualist.”

ROMANIAN: 1. Rogers Park’s Romanian Kosher Sausage Co., where Jews have rushed under its machine age sans-serif stainless steel sign for 62 years to loan up on Kosher pastrami, salami, chicken, kishke, cold cuts and other delicacies, versions of which can be purchased elsewhere but somehow aren’t quite as good because they didn’t come from Romanian. Ex: “Sorry I’m late, but the guy in front of me at Romanian was buying $450 worth of garlic hot dogs to take back to St. Louis.”

2. A person from Romania.

BAHA’I TEMPLE: Towering building on Wilmette’s lakefront that looks like a giant orange juice squeezer, serving as a house of worship for members of the Baha’i faith, which teaches that “one God sent all the messengers, all the founders of all the great faiths with the same essential message, which is to love God and love thy neighbor.” Dedicated in 1953, the structure is described by the Chicago Architecture Center as “an intricate concrete masterpiece” that “combines neoclassical symmetry, Gothic ribbing, a Renaissance dome, a Romanesque clerestory and Islamic arabesque tracery with the suggestion of minarets,” which are towers often associated with mosques.


Baha’i Temple.

Susan Smith/For the Sun-Times


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