As in so many Chicago parishes, the first structure to be built was a combined church and school. The Sisters of Saint Francis staffed the school until 1977. The first Masses were held in the combined building on Christmas Eve 1905, and the first classes began in September 1906. The design by architect William Brinkman proved to be adaptable to changing needs as the parish and school grew.
The building held an assembly hall on the lower level, the first-floor church with space for about 450 worshipers, and four classrooms, library and office on the second floor.
The original facade is still visible today, with the copper cornice and plaque now beneath a third-floor addition. The Tudor-arched entries still welcome students and visitors, with additions projecting beyond them at both ends.
Once the church building was in use, the school added high school classes. Before long it needed more space. In 1924, the parish approved an addition designed by Worthmann & Steinbach. It added a third story, a basement and a three-story wing to house a cafeteria, an auditorium with seating for 750 and a gymnasium. New classrooms brought the total to 12. Other alterations included a two-story addition along the rear of the original 1905 structure. The basement assembly hall was remodeled into Fireside Hall and the first dance was held there on October 30, 1925.
At the beginning of the new century, with the renewed popularity of Lincoln Park as a place to raise families, Saint Clement School needed to expand again. The former site of two 1895 apartment buildings, next to the school, was just big enough. Purchased in 1935, the buildings had been demolished and the 50-foot-wide double lot was used as a playground and parking lot for more than a half-century.
As part of the mission to serve even more parish families, the parish decided to expand the school yet again. Two committees went to work in May 2001 to plan the three-story, eight-classroom brick addition to the school.
This addition ingeniously incorporates covered parking at grade, two floors of classrooms above with four classrooms per floor, and a rooftop playground, all accessible to people using wheelchairs. Several offices are tucked into spaces off the main halls. Dedicated on September 2, 2003, it was completed in just over a year at a cost of $3.23 million. Bishop Kane blessed the new addition to the school, sprinkling the rooftop playground with holy water.
With the first building up and running, the parish founders began planning to build the main church.
The architectural firm of Barnett Haynes and Barnett of St. Louis was selected to design a Romanesque Revival structure with Byzantine interior, modeled as a smaller version of their design for the St. Louis Cathedral. Ground was broken March 19, 1917, and the building was dedicated on September 8, 1918.
Saint Clement Church is one of only two Byzantine churches in Chicago. Cruciform in plan, with a massive round dome rising from the center of the structure, it resembles Hagia Sophia, the jewel of the Byzantine church. The dome was originally covered with a green glazed tile roof, but now has a standing-seam copper roof with a copper cross at its apex.
The principal facade of the Bedford limestone structure is dominated by square corner bell towers flanking a front gable. The west tower is the belfry, with four bronze bells cast in the 1920s and named after angels: Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and Guardian Angel.
Within the front gable is an impressive rose window in the Romanesque wheel form, with a hub and 12 sections divided by tracery and capitals. A bracketed cornice echoes the pitch of the gable, whose peak is topped by a stone cross within a circle, an ancient symbol of divine, all-knowing power.
The combination church and school building is visible at left; the church we know was not yet built when this picture was taken. The home seen here served as the rector
This historic rendering of Saint Clement Church by Francis Humphrey Woolrych (1868–1941) hangs in the Fahey Center.
The building that now houses Saint Clement School was the parish’s first home, with the church on the first floor and the school on the second floor. The first Mass here was on Christmas Eve, 1905