We are grateful to local historian and author, Joseph D. Kubal for researching, writing and submitting this informative and comprehensive article about the history and future of St. Mary Carmelite Church in Joliet, Illinois. The saving and repurposing of the grand structure represents a huge win for preservation efforts along Route 66.
Be certain to scroll past the Bibliography for a complete Timeline of the life and times of St. Mary Carmelite Church provided by the author.
By Joseph D. Kubal
It has all the earmarks of that classic 1945 movie, “The Bells of St. Mary’s” starring Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman, but with some unusual twists. In the Academy Award-winning film, Crosby, as Father Charles "Chuck" O'Malley, portrays an unconventional priest who helps save a Catholic school from being demolished. Does life now imitate art? Perhaps.
Scott Henry, an unconventional developer with Celadon Holdings, LLC, of Northbrook, Illinois is trying to save another St. Mary’s. St. Mary Carmelite Church at 113 North Ottawa Street is in the heart of downtown Joliet. Located on Historic Route 66, this unoccupied Catholic Church also may be spared from a wrecking ball – but this is where the similarity to the movie ends. Henry proposes the renovation of the old church complex from a dormant, physically dilapidated church building complex into a vibrant 40-unit senior housing center for low income residents age 55 and older. And he has complete faith that this will happen.
Henry is an ardent fan and booster of Route 66. He believes in promoting the adaptive reuse project as a stopping point of interest for those traversing old Route 66 (its downtown detour along Ottawa skirts the front of the building). The housing project’s name reflects that interest: it’s been dubbed The Limestone Residences along the Mother Road. Henry’s plans include the creation of a Route 66 visitors’ center with displays highlighting Route 66 churches and other historical themes. The visitors’ center would be located in the remodeled building’s ground level foyer and would be open to the public during normal business hours. One display may be modeled after the wayside markers installed along the Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway – or may even be created in association with the state’s scenic byway authority.