To talk about Garfield and Peoria is to talk about St. Basil–Visitation parish. Its two landmarks face one another on either side of Garfield Boulevard: Visitation Catholic School and St. Basil’s Church, with Peoria running in between. Today, the church and school communities are both small but vibrant; Father Hernán Moran-Rosero of St. Basil’s speaks fondly of Visitation’s annual Christmas concert, which is held at the church each year and marks a rare instance when the pews are filled. Just a few decades ago, empty seats at St. Basil’s would have been unthinkable, as would a Latino reverend.

The St. Basil’s of the 1940s and 1950s was the church where 14th Ward Alderman Ed Burke grew up. At the time, the church was located a mile west, in a Byzantine-style building at Garfield and Honore, in Back of the Yards. St. Basil’s current home was known as Visitation—the two churches would consolidate in 1990, and St. Basil’s original, Byzantine building was demolished soon after. For Burke, as for three 14th Ward aldermen before him, St. Basil’s was “an integral part of the experience of growing up in [the neighborhood].” In an interview, he had little to say about the church as it is now. What he did say was that the community there, as he knew it, had “vanished.”

So what happened? Visitation parish has survived in name, but any survey of its population—schoolchildren and churchgoers—reveals that it has been subject to the same demographic changes that transformed the surrounding neighborhoods of Englewood and Back of the Yards in the middle of the century. While both neighborhoods were almost entirely white, today Englewood is almost entirely black, and Back of the Yards is predominately Latino. The church’s eleven o’clock service is now conducted in Spanish, and its bulletin is printed in two languages. The parish was founded, however, to serve the predominantly Irish population that lived in Englewood before the “white flight” of the sixties and seventies.


In November 1949, riots began at 5643 South Peoria, where a mixed-race union gathering was held a block and a half from Visitation Church. Worried that the presence of blacks meant they were about to occupy the neighborhood, whites gathered in the thousands over the next several days, chanting racial slurs and fighting with neighborhood outsiders. Many of the rioters were parish members; a reverend of the church at the time, Monsignor David Byrnes, had said to his congregation that only “if Irish families remained in the neighborhood would Visitation continue to flourish.”

Even so, in 2013 the shift has taken place, and some of the strife seems to have died down. 5643 Peoria is now a vacant lot. And St. Basil’s mission is, after all, not to maintain a demographic but a faith; the bulletin pledges, in English and Spanish, to “continue the work of Jesus here in Englewood and maintain always his presence alive on the Boulevard.” Garfield and Peoria may have served as a crossroads of racial tension, but its spiritual heritage has emerged on top, and the Parish quietly flourishes once more.

This story has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: December 6, 2013

An earlier version of this story did not acknowledge that St. Basil’s was originally located at Garfield and Honore in Back of the Yards. The church merged with Visitation and moved to its present location in 1990. A reference to the boundaries of Englewood and Back of the Yards also did not make clear that while the official community areas are divided by Garfield Boulevard, Ashland Avenue is, for the most part, the de facto boundary between the two neighborhoods.

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      1. Joan cronin donovan so good to see emmett coyne’s name…I remember you well! I graduated, as President of the class in 1945 from visitation kindergarten, then from the grade school in 1953, then from the high sc.hool in 1957. Then went on to Loyola for my BA and to U. of Connecticut for my MA. So nice to hear of former Vis parishioners!

  1. My grandma and her many sisters and their parents and an aunt were among the first families in Visitation. They lived at 5746 S. Peoria Street.
    Three of them lived at 5746 until the middle or late 1960s. They were the Walsh family, also Cayer, Henessey, Carmody, Haley, and Purcella families. My mother went to Viz grade school and high school, then to DePaul.
    Father Charles Carmody, son of grandma’s sister, served in Marquette, Escanaba, and Chicago.
    Joseph Downs
    San Diego CA

    1. My gram and grandfather Robert and Mary Fox lived at 919 Garfield Blvd. I was 10 when I would visit and walk with gram past the church where my mom and dad got married. Visitation. So many stories. My uncle Bob, Robert and Mary’s son was Father Bob and I’m sure he knew Fr Carmody and the Walsh family. My gram knew everyone. I was reading my uncles detailed writings about his childhood memories of visitation parish, and it truly brings back fond memories for me.

  2. My parents were married at Visitation on April 23, 1949, she was Visitation parishioner growing up and he was a St. Basil’s parishioner, both growing up in that area of the south side. I was born in 1957, while they lived at 5608 Emerald Avenue. My two older siblings and I were all baptized at Visitation.


    1. We were neighbors Glen…..The Cavanaugh’s 5212 S. Peoria. My sister Pat and I had our 50th Grammer School Reunion last Saturday…such a great time. The good times flew by didn’t they. Miss the memories.
      Pam Cavanaugh Munley

      1. OMG
        Just happened to read these posts, an saw yours Pam. Your sister Pat is your twin.
        I’m Cheryl (Idstein) Salmasian. Lived at 5206 So. Peoria. I lived on 2nd floor and the
        Lostroscio family was on first floor.
        The Kenny family and Mrs Enright were my neighbors also the Hogan family on the other side of my house (next to empty lot) were my neighbors.
        Some other families on our block were the Bobans, Biondos, Millers, Kanes, Becks, Gallo, Tylers
        I graduated Vis in June 1970. Moved to FL, never went to any reunions.
        Many many great childhood memories of that block. especially playing in that big apt building.
        Sad to see that the grammar school is gone, also the high school, and quite a few homes boarded up.

    2. I was one of the Walsh family living in Visitation …. my home was at 5524 S. Peoria….an address that still rolls off my tongue as easily as does our old phone number…Triangle 3-3108. Funny what you remember when you age. We lived in Vis from 1952 to 1967 when all of the old crowd was moving out (we moved to St Thomas More parish). Our address put us right across Peoria street from the Church and just across Garfield Blvd from the school. I graduated 8th grade there in 1963 and went on to Leo High………my advice is that if you have good memories of Vis and that area do not go back and look at it now.

      1. Jimmy Walsh, it’s an old classmate from “63 – Tommy Rice. Seems I always add the “Y” to names from Vis. We were all Jimmy, Tommy, Timmy Johnny, Danny back then. Funny you mentioned your phone number rolling off your tongue. Outside of my present number now I can not remember any of my phone numbers except for Kenwood 6-4563 from 725 West 54th Place. That was just down from my more prosaic landmarks of Zaug’s Tavern and Duffy’s Florist up on Halstead. I’ve been in Connecticut and California for almost 40 years now but on a few trips to visit my Mom who is still going after 98 birthdays, I have gone down to the old nieghborhood. I first came from the maternity ward to 5410 South Union across from Dewey School. As my grandmother from Ireland would tell me, “it’s was where the Publics went to school”. It was a good size apartment building but it is now a rubble strewn lot. I went over to 725 and found that to be a rubble strewn lot. On one trip I had my twin sons with me and they asked if maybe the government tried to wipe out all traces of my background. They are sad visits back there but not strong enough to wipe out the good memories.

        1. my family went to the German church at 5859 Prinston. it used to be such a great neighborhood before the downfall. now dangerous and churches like ours is falling apart. Had to move, after being robed and attacked back in the late 1950’s. But at least you and I have the memories

  4. The spire of the ancient cathedral rises majestically to such a narrow point.
    Reminds all who will see, that thus, is the road to our Father.
    As the steeple’s shadow touches each home; He touches each heart!
    Wide eyed fourth graders stand before the bishop to be confirmed to Christ.

    The sun releases the secrets held in the holy windows of the cathedral.In vivid color and beauty they tell God’s story. They announce his Glory.
    Eternal Salvation!
    A young boy prostrates himself before the altar chanting Kyrie eleison, Kyrie eleison, Criste eleison

    The voice of Visitation,
    the heartbeat of the people who called it home tolled from its bell tower.
    Whether to call the believers to worship or the children home for dinner, it rang unceasingly.
    Its mournful dirge of the funeral march reminds all of our final destiny.
    The pallbearers cried from the cloud of incense that blessed the coffin.

    In Mary’s month of May, when our Boulevard bloomed,a colorful plush carpet.
    The children process , as they sing in devotion. “Ave, Ave Ave Mariaaa”
    On the Boulevard each season had its own scene and scenery.
    During the rites of fall our gridiron warriors stomped through the fallen foliage .
    The war cries of the Ramblers rose in furor the closer we came to Sherman Park
    We rushed forward to defend the pride and honor of Visitation!
    I built my first snow fort , held my first hand and tasted my first kiss on the Boulevard.
    Such Sweet Memories!

    God took six days to create the Earth and all its creatures.
    For nine years the Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa nurtured God’s spirit in me.
    Worship God in your words ,deeds and attitudes we were taught.
    Read His sacred Scriptures, sing His sacred Songs, live life to give HIM glory!
    So said the Catechism of Baltimore. So the Sisters insisted with love and discipline!

    I remember the alleys I played in; the roller rink on Saturdays, the smell of the first day of school.
    So many places, so many faces. so many emotions, so many years ago! I close my eyes I am there.
    “ At Dear old Vis, at good old Vis ,the people are so kind.” We sang. We still sing.

    I remember the annual words of our beloved Monsignor the last day of school…
    “ This summer I want you to work hard , play hard, but most of all PRAY Hard!”
    Now in the autumn of my life his words take on a new more urgent meaning.
    I now live in Texas and very well may die here but I will always be a Vis Kid!
    BY Jim Griswold Copyrighted Nov. 2017
    Graduate of Vis Grammar School (1967)

    1. I remember you, Jimmy Griswold. I can see you tearing towards me on your skates Saturday morning at the rink in the basement gym. You would grab my hand to drag me around when I could barely skate. Makes me smile. I’m Kathleen Carey. Graduate of Vis 1967. Still live in Chicago area. Many bittersweet memories of those times.

  5. As the cycle of life occurs, our parish will once again reborn with yuppies moving back into Vis. The south side of boulevard is almost totally vacant and the north side is getting there. The loop is expanding rapidly and now might be the time to buy your old lot back! The church is still glorious and well taken care of. Tim McCarthy 5650 Peoria class of 1963

  6. To say that the Vis demographic was transformed by “white flight” is comparable to saying that East St. Louis’ population plummeted by over 50% in 30 years because of “black flight.” Everybody, black and white, is not fleeing, but being driven out of their neighborhoods, by an orgy of black crime. Sorry so few have the spine to state the truth but take a good look at the crime statistics for the 1960s and early 1970s in Englewood and THERE you will find the reason for the departure of families who had, in cases, lived in Vis for four generations. Today literally 50% of the homicides in the US are perpetrated by blacks who constitute 12.8% of the population. Yet, when black people understandably “flee” their own neighborhoods to escape the horror of black crime, it is dubbed “social progress” whereas when whites did so to escape the same horror, it is “racism.” One might turn to “racial experts” (and bombthrowers) such as Mike Pfleger to explain this but, oh, I forgot, he was raised in lily-white St. Thomas More in the 1950s-1960s so he would not know what he is talking about-as usual.

  7. I lived at 5517 Marshfield I went to kindergaren and 1st grade at St. Basils
    I was born in 1964 and my parents sent me to live with my grandparents in 1972 due to the neighborhood changes and my sister had been mugged but I was the youngest and they wanted to protect me. I felt abondoned by my parents as it took almost a year for them to sell. My mother grew up on Justine street and it broke her heart to leave. We ended up in Indiana and I now live in Texas but I remember with a child’s eyes what a beautiful church The church where me and my siblings were baptized The church where my parents were married At the time my father was in the Diaconate program one of the first in the country and was the first deacon of the Gary diocease It makes me very sad that we have decaying neighborhoods with such rich history like Englewood/Back of the Yards/Detroit/Gary that will never recover but maybe someday??

  8. I’ d love to hear memories from the elders in relation to living in the Byrne Building , 55th & Halsted, in the war years, late 1930s, through the 1940s.

  9. Our family lived at 53rd & Lowe. My parents were married at Vis in 1955. I believe that Father O’Keefe married them. I attached Vis grammar school ’61 – ’69. I remember roller skating at Vis, I think the roller rink was in the basement of the high school.

  10. My mother, Helen Pruchnicki, graduated from Visitation High School and married my father, Bill Peterson, on October 13, 1951 at Visitation.

    1. I remember Helen! We were in the same graduation class at Viz (1950). I was then known as Janet Jarrett. I had also gone to Visitation grade school (lived at 5601 S. Peoria). Then we moved further south after grammar school (83rd & Carpenter). I told my parents I wanted to travel back (via streetcar) to attend Viz. They told me they couldn’t afford it, so I contacted the school and set up an appointment with one of the nuns to discuss possibilities. I ended up attending the high school by “paying my way” by cleaning up classrooms after school. How good they were!! I now live in Northbrook as Janet Pigott.

  11. Just attended the “alumni” mass at VIS today. Such a honor to be able to return to the church/parish I spent my childhood years in. For a day or two after this annual mass I yearn for those days of happiness. For playing on the boulevard, roller skating Saturday’s, candy store at 56th and Morgan, the Racine bakery, Kressels Drugstore, BW baseball Saturday’s at 55th and Lowe, Sister Alexander keeping us in line ( okay maybe that’s a stretch), hanging on the benches, cutting through the Daley’s drive way. Well you get the picture. Getting old, I guess . I would not trade a moment good or bad for the 15 years I grew up in VIS. I was lucky. Hope to see everyone next year at the Alumni Mass.


  12. I have meny memory’s of going to Vis grade school grad of 59 . Played basketball behind the church was a patrol boy in frount of the church my best friend T.J Eagan was a patrol boy on the on the other side of the boulevard we both lived in the Byrnes building I lived at 817 W Garfield on the 4th floor . Most of the kids in the bldg went to Vis one of the most beautiful churches I know of . Many memories of school church and Byrnes
    Building would not trade them for anything.

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