Every year during Lent, architect Dan O’Brien takes photographs of Chicago churches and posts them on his personal Facebook page.
O’Brien has embarked on what he calls his “Lenten architectural pilgrimage” since his days as an undergraduate architecture student at the Illinois Institute of Technology about 10 years go.
“I was doing a project photographing the churches that my grandparents had grown up in,” O’Brien said. “In addition to being interested in the architecture, I felt like it was a way to connect with my family’s roots.”
For that project, O’Brien visited St. Kilian Church in the city’s Auburn Gresham neighborhood, St. Mary of Perpetual Help in Bridgeport, St. Ambrose Catholic Church in North Kenwood and St. Gabriel Catholic Church in Canaryville.
O’Brien says he was fascinated by the buildings’ architectural differences based on their ethnic origins: Two of the four churches are Irish; one is German and another Polish.
Although O’Brien attends Mass as a churchgoer, he said his annual photography ritual is a secular endeavor.
“It’s spurred by my interests to see these spaces and experience these spaces,” O’Brien said. “The artistic effort that was put into designing these spaces – the iconography and symbols – were all meant to tell a story.”
About five years ago, O’Brien put his research skills and architectural knowledge to work as an intern for Geoffrey Baer at WTTW. These days, he specializes in adaptive reuse and historic preservation as an architect for Johnson Lasky Kindelin Architects.
O'Brien joins us to discuss the architecture of Chicago's churches.
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