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By Ken Trainor
We're not sure if anyone has ever called East Avenue Oak Park's "Church Row," but it could make a pretty strong claim — at least on the south side of town. In fact, the East Avenue Religious Corridor, to coin a designation, will be featured in the Third Annual Sacred Spaces House of Worship Walk this Sunday, June 22, from 2 to 5 p.m.
Co-sponsored by the Community of Congregations and the Historical Society of OP-RF, you can start on the north end at Good Shepherd Lutheran and finish on the south end at Ascension. In between, you'll find St. Christopher Episcopal, Parkview Presbyterian (a slight detour to Oak Park Avenue), Euclid Methodist, and a twist: the Fenwick High School Chapel.
Most houses of worship have stained glass, but the Fenwick Chapel has stained glass and a good story behind it.
"The windows in Fenwick's St. Dominic Chapel were constructed onsite by an Italian Dominican, Fr. Rinaldo Zarlenga, in the 1950s," said Gerald Lordan, Social Studies Department chair and planned giving officer at Fenwick.
"During World War II, Fr. Zarlenga and his brother, Vincent, also a Dominican friar, were hiding 17 Italian Jews in the basement of their priory. Every day the seven friars could each draw a one-day ration of food from the Germans, and every night they would feed 24 people on enough food for seven people," Lordan said. "They did this for almost two years."
The Zarlenga brothers remembered the pain of starvation, the weight loss, the physical weakness, and their obsession with food," he noted. "They were embarrassed to recall the craving they had for the bread and wine that they would consecrate during their celebration of Mass."
The stained glass depicts the lives of Dominican saints, and Zarlenga's symbol, a small circle with a "Z," appears in the lower right-hand corner of each window — a medieval glazier guild custom on cathedrals to show the craftsman's identity
"There is a small cement head with a beard and a stocking cap peeking out from behind a shield on the formal entrance on Washington Boulevard," said Lordan. "That was the symbol for an Italian immigrant mason from New York who worked on our construction in 1929. He has a great-grandson who is a student here now, a boy named Boyle from Elmhurst."
Fenwick turns 85 this year. The building was designed by W.B. Anthony in the English Collegiate Gothic style. The Neo-Gothic chapel is in the East Wing, which was finished in 1948. Mass is celebrated there every day at 7:30 a.m.
Each of the worship houses on the tour, of course, have interesting stories. Euclid Methodist, for instance, merged with Cornerstone UMC in 2012 and the sale of the Cornerstone building is helping to fund Euclid's "building sustainable communities" ministry, among others. Recently, they converted to a geothermal heating-cooling system, replaced the asphalt on their parking lot with permeable brick pavers, and this month will finish replacing the old roof with 132 solar panels.
Architects Roy Hotchkiss and Samuel Bird designed Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, at Randolph and East, which was completed in 1940. Before that, the site was the location of a train station for the old Randolph Street dummy line that ran from Austin and Lake to Concordia Cemetery in River Forest.
As Joe McDonald, an Ascension parishioner and Community of Congregations board member, points out, "Few of us, even in this day and age, have been inside these houses of worship. This walk gives us the opportunity to share knowledge about each others' beliefs — and see gorgeous architecture."
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