Back of the Yards | Englewood | Junctures

Peoria Street & Garfield Boulevard



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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Thoughts on “Peoria Street & Garfield Boulevard”

      • 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

  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.


    • 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

  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)

  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

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