top of page

Parish History
Including excerpts - A Brief History of the Church of Our Saviour, Chicago by Jean Ross 

In the Beginning (1867 - 1868)

The Church of Our Saviour was born, like the Saviour himself, in a barn. That barn stood at Belden and Cleveland Avenues and was donated by a devoted man by the name of R.D. Van Wagenen (who would later become the first Senior Warden of COS), who also gave $630 to fit it with a chancel, pews, and a tower. 


The first service of public worship of what was then known as The Chapel of Our Saviour took place on the evening of Easter Sunday, 1867, by the assistant pastor, the Rev. Edward C. Porter, and the choir of St. James Church (later to be known as St. James Cathedral). 

In October, 1867, the little congregation called it's first rector, the Rev. Charles Ritter, and with the help of diocesan funds, offered him a stipend of $775 a year. And in September, 1868, the congregation of The Church of Our Saviour, numbering about 28 communicants and 72 souls, was admitted to the Diocese of Chicago. 

The 'Chapel' of Our Saviour at Belden and Cleveland, 1867

A Permanent Church (1869 - 1889)


The Chapel of Our Saviour, from 1869-1889.


The Great Chicago Fire (1871)

The parish was rapidly outgrowing their little barn-chapel space. It was during the rectorship of the Rev. Albert E. Wells that plans for a new wood-framed church building at the intersection of Lincoln, Belden, and Orchard came to fruition. Alas, Wells would leave the parish before the new building was completed. The Rev. William F. B. Jackson was called as the third rector and he was present at the final service held in the 'barn'. It was with mixed emotions that the parish said goodbye to the little barn, but the new church building was opened to worship by the winter of 1869. It was more than a year after this that Jackson was compelled to resign due to ill health.

The great Chicago fire of 1871 spared the new building but burned the barn where the parish began. In this year the parish called as rector the Rev. William Jacob Petrie, who served until 1895. The church served as a shelter for victims of the fire. In the civic emergency the rector suspended pew rents for six months and refused to accept any salary.

By 1884 the city and the parish had recovered from the fire and the financial panic of the 1870s. The prosperous parish bought a new pipe organ for $1,800 which they would continue using for over 80 years!

Interior of the old church with the 'new' organ.

A New Church on Fullerton Parkway 


Church of Our Saviour ca. 1890s

The parish continued to worship in this wood-framed church until 1889 when, again, they had grown too large to gather comfortably. Once the remaining mortgage was paid off with the Easter collection in 1888, the old church was sold for $15,500 and land for the current church building was purchase for $13,000 from the Fullerton Avenue. The new property came with the purchase of an older wood-framed building which had been a Presbyterian Church, enabling them to build a new church as well. This remaining building, built around 1863, was incorporated into the design of the new church, serving as the parish house, to save on costs. Clinton J. Warren, a well-regarded local architect also known for the Congress Hotel on Michigan Avenue, was selected to design a new church and rectory. for $23,776.50.​


The cornerstone of this church was laid by bishop McLaren, November 4, 1888, and the first service was held on Easter Day, 1889, twenty-one years to the day from the time of the first service in Mr. Van Wagenen's barn. 

The parish growth during the first forty years was remarkable, and the work accomplished was noteworthy. By 1907 there were 521 communicants. The parish could point with pride to notable vocations from its ranks, including the Rt. Rev. Frederick William Keator, Bishop of Olympia, who was confirmed at COS, taught Sunday School, and sang in the choir. The Rt. Rev. Samuel Cook Edsall, Bishop of Minnesota, grew up in the parish and sang in the choir. The Rev. Henry Edward Chase, youngest grandson of the first Bishop of Illinois was also confirmed here. 

The interior of the church continued to developed as well. The bright, geometric, stained glass windows first installed in the church by the Chicago Stained Glass Company, were originally meant as placeholders until custom windows might be commissioned by parishioners. 

During this period five memorial stained glass windows were commissioned before a recession and a market crash changed the economic landscape. The first and fourth of these were created by the Tiffany Studio and the other three were designed in the style of Tiffany.

The Grand Days & Dorothy Day


The two Tiffany-designed windows


Church of Our Saviour 's trademark multi-colored windows

Soon after the turn of the 19th century, the plush days on Fullerton Parkway were drawing to a close. The Rev. Edwards, writing in 1907, observed that apartments were crowding out the homes of the neighborhood. No longer was it possible for a few well-to-do people to support the parish. Contributors in 1907 numbered three or four times as many stated contributors just twelve years previously. Under Rev. Edwards the parish became integral part of the diocese, after a prolonged period of virtual total isolation. A vested choir was introduced (which cost the parish a few families, he observed wryly) and mission-giving was increased to the point where the parish won honors for its generosity. 

It was also during Edwards' tenure that a young girl of only ten moved to the neighborhood with her family. Her name was Dorothy May Day and, though her parents were not regular church-goers, she joined the Christian formation programing at the church and her brother joined the choir. She was then baptized and confirmed at Church of Our Saviour in 1911 before eventually joining the Catholic Church and becoming a world renowned American journalist, activist, and co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement.  

In early 1921, the Rev. Frederick L. Gratiot became rector. He had served previously as curate at Trinity, Highland Park, St. James, Chicago, the Church of the Holy Spirit, Lake Forest, and as instructor at the old Western Seminary Chicago. With great zeal and cheerful determination, he set about to guide the parish to great achievements both materially and spiritually. It was under Fr. Gratiot that a central steam heating system was installed and gas jets were replaced with electric lights and all the woodwork in the church was refinished. The sanctuary was improved and redecorated; a new altar was installed in 1926, and a painting was commissioned for above the high altar portraying the eternal priesthood of Christ. In the period of 1921 - 1926, about $20,000 was spend in modernizing and decorating. 

The same energetic approach was also applied to the parish's spiritual life. In the early twenties a missionary church school, St. George's, was established at 1503 West Fullerton Parkway to provide the neighborhood children with a proper religious instruction. 

It must be noted that it was Fr. Gratiot who brought the first definitely Catholic teaching and practice to the Church of Our Saviour. From the beginning of his rectorate the full Catholic piety, found in the Anglo-Catholic movement of this era, was openly taught. The Parish Monthly, begun in the summer of 1923, was used for this

Father Gratiot: Modernization & The Anglo-Catholic Movement

COS alter 1926_edited.jpg

New high altar and painting, 1926 

purpose. When the new high altar and first tabernacle were dedicated in March of 1926, the practice of Reservation of the Blessed Sacrament was begun. Later in 1926, Fr. Gratiot introduced the use of proper Eucharistic vestments. At Christmas, 1926, the first Midnight Mass was celebrated. In 1927, having procured the aid of a curate, the Rev. Charles Evans, the daily offerings of Morning and Evening Prayer as well as Daily Mass were begun. Mass at 11 o'clock on Sundays became more frequent than the first of the month which had been the parish custom, and by the early 1930s the Mass had been restored as the principle Sunday service. The posting of

COS playground.jpg

The playground east of the church, 1950s


A wedding in the church ca. 1926

public Confession came with other advances in the 1920s as well. ​The year 1926 was a year of tragedy too, when the apartment building directly to the East of the church was badly damaged in a fire and was forced to be razed. Thus the parish lost a valuable source of income. Later that lot would be turned into a successful playground for the neighborhood.


Two World Wars and the Great Depression played a direct role in the economic and social experience of the neighborhood around the church. In the early 1940’s membership and parish finances had declined so significantly that Church of Our Saviour became a “mission” of the diocese for several years.​ After World War II, new residents gradually returned to Lincoln Park and reclaimed its Victorian legacy.

A Vibrant Spiritual and Social Community (1950s - Present)

Fr. Witherell offers Christian Formation ca. 1950

The 1950s and 60s saw a continued growth in the parish again as financial stability returned more broadly. Under the rectorate of the Rev. William Witherell, formation programming continued to climb, weddings and other sacraments also continued on an upward trend and new families joined the parish. 

Church of Our Saviour continued to operate at the forefront of radical hospitality; sheltering 1968 Democratic National Convention protesters in the wake of the violent crackdown on their organizing; electing the first woman as Senior Warden to the Vestry in the diocese; supporting the nascent efforts of the Lincoln Park Community Shelter: welcoming women priests; and embracing LGBTQ Christians, all while preserving Episcopalian traditions and heritage. ​

From elaborate festivals like the Renaissance Fair to neighborhood-wide events like the Antique Fair, COS has definitely made a mark on the northside of the city, and proudly continues a tradition of celebration and hospitality any chance it gets. The skills and gifts of the whole community, including its priests helped shape the unique and colorful expression of community life at COS. The Rev. Wilson Reed who was rector from 1965-1995 was also a musician and actor and helped organize the Parish Players. 

This theater troop went on to produce over 20 plays and musicals at the church. ​Reed's time oversaw a stable period of community life and the incorporation of what was then called "the new" Prayer Book of 1979. The liturgical reforms of this period refocused common worship on the role of the laity as central to our Christian worship. Reed's charming and gregarious personality was a natural fit for this pivot in how COS welcomed people into the heart of the parish.


The Rev. Linda Packard (rector from 1996 - 2007) was the first woman rector at Church of Our Saviour but not the first woman clergy at the parish. She brought a strong sense of spiritual renewal and helped fostered new family programming, such as the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, along with parishioners and clergy, such as Carol Cade and the Rev. Patrick Raymond. Programs like these would quickly become a new cornerstone of spirituality for the parish and attract a whole new generation of families and formation.​ The parish also expanded its mission work, including efforts in Chiapas, Mexico, and youth service projects in the Appalachian region.

JWilson Reed002.jpg

Fr. Reed celebrates his final Eucharist with his usual joy, 1995

Feast of the Epiphany, 2023

The Rev. Brian Hastings was the third-longest serving rector (2008 - 2023), not including his time as associate rector. His tenure was marked by a continuation and deepening of Linda Packard's spiritual renewal along with a strong sense of lay-empowerment. His approach to spiritual development, soulful liturgy rooted in the Catholic spiritual renewal era found at the heart of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, and his desire to see parishioners truly lead within their parish greatly shaped the church community of today.


​The long line of dedicated rectors, assisting clergy, deacons, wardens, vestry-persons, and deeply devoted parishioners have allowed this parish to not only weather great challenges but continue to grow into the thriving, faithful, spiritual community it is today. As COS looks towards its future it is continuing the good work is has inherited with a campus-wide renewal, including a new Parish Center (opening Fall 2025), and the search for the 15th rector of Church of Our Saviour. 

Full List of Church of Our Saviour Rectors

Rev. Charles Ritter

1867 - 1868

Rev. William Jackson

1869 - 1871

Rev. Albert E. Wells

1868 - 1869

Rev. William J. Petrie

1871 - 1895

Rev. John H. Edwards

1895 - 1912

COS Logo_new_2018.png

Rev. John McLauchlan

1913 - 1920

Rev. Frederick L Gratiot

1921 - 1942

Rev. Donald B. Kline

1942 - 1946

Rev. William Wetherell

1946 - 1957

COS Logo_new_2018.png

Rev. James E. Tripp

1957 - 1959


Rev. John C. Mainer

1959 - 1965

JWilson Reed005.jpg

Rev. J. Wilson Reed, Jr.

1965 - 1995


Rev. Linda Packard

1995 - 2008


Rev. Brian Hastings

2008 - 2023

bottom of page