St. John’s was build on the land of Native peoples. For thousands of years this was the territory of the Council of Three Fires, the Ojibwe, Potawatomi, and Odawa. They welcomed the Ho-Chunk, Fox, Sauk, Miami, Kickapoo, and Illinois confederacy tribes and offered assistance to the first Europeans to travel here. These nations were forced from this land in 1833 by the Treaty of Chicago.
Sunday School Classes In 1883, Mrs. Boswinkel, an early Episcopalian resident of the Irving Park area in the town of Jefferson (annexed by Chicago in 1889), undertook to conduct Sunday school classes in her home for children of area Episcopalians. Two years later, and largely through her efforts, the Reverend Henderson Judd was appointed to conduct occasional services held first in a drugstore, then in a schoolhouse, and later in a hall, none of which are now standing.
Mission Establised In August 1886, the society was recognized as a mission and in 1887 Sheriff John Gray donated a lot on the southeast corner of Kostner and Byron in the Grayland subdivision. By the end of the following year, the congregation had acquired a large stained glass window, known as the Advent or Rose window; vestments, and pledges of four hundred dollars each from a neighboring, ecumenically inclined Dutch Reformed minister and deacon, and a bank loan of $1,500 were applied to the estimated $1,963 cost for construction submitted by the Cookingham company.
In the glow of the large advent window–then located at the west end of the church–given by The Children’s League (and paid for by countless fund raising events by the children), the Right Reverend William McLaren, then Bishop, and the Right Reverend William Richmond officiated at the opening services in 1888.
In 1900 a two-manual Kimball pipe organ (the first in the Irving Park area) was dedicated to and played by noted organist Harrison M. Wild. At that time, a planned expansion of the church began.
Parish Status Attained On March 31, 1905, St. John’s became a parish with the Reverend Henry C. Stone, formerly Priest-in-Charge, assuming the rectorship. Under his leadership the mission of St. Stephen was established ten years later.
Following fires, floods and structural deterioration, a building fund was established in 1915, during the rectorship of Dr. E. J. M. Nutter. After extensive fund raising efforts, the renovation of the church building began in 1924 when the Reverend William O. Butler was rector. During the process, the initial plans drawn by vestry member, Lawrence Dennis, were reworked by architect Clarence A. Jensen.
Contractor and builder, J. W. Campbell, assumed general contracting duties, and a member of the parish, C.E. Millard, who was a mechanical engineer, arranged for the installation of the heating plant. The Advent window originally at the west end, was moved to the north transept so that a new main entrance with a narthex could be located at the west end facing Kostner Avenue. A round or wheel window was installed at the west end. The entire structure was raised and moved two feet north and the basement was enlarged. The original wood siding was covered in stucco–the exterior appearance it has today.
In 1944 the church interior was renovated with the installation of new pews, altar, altar rail, and reredos. The latter is one of the church acquisitions closest to the hearts of parishioners with its oil paintings that were executed by a former member, the late Theon Betts. He was one of many children of Edwin and Jane Betts, several of whom have enjoyed successful artistic careers.
During the 1960s the installation of our fine stained glass windows commenced. All but one window in the nave are stained glass representations of Christ and the saints, dedicated to the memory of departed members. The last of these windows, which is a contemporary depiction of Pentecost, was installed as a joint memorial when the church celebrated its centennial in 1988.
In 1966 the parish sold the rectory on nearby Kenneth Avenue, as it was able to purchase the adjacent property to the south of the church building, which as well as a fine house, included a large garden, which the parish is able to use for many enjoyable events.
During the first hundred years, the parish witnessed many changes, not only in the building, but in our form of worship, the Prayer Book, the Hymnal, the placement of the altar, the role of women in parish leadership, worship, and the sacred orders. In 2005 we commemorated the centennial of our being granted parish status, and prayed that God will continue to bless those who will be part of our history for the next century.