Assumption Church in Homer Glen, IL, known as the “little church that wouldn’t go away”, celebrates its 100th anniversary with a myrrh-streaming icon and a thriving parish.
The Assumption Church of Homer Glen has been known for several things. It was the first Greek Orthodox Church in the Chicagoland area to be located outside the city limits. Also, this parish was said to be the only church in the area that didn’t carry a mortgage during the Great Depression. It’s the church that despite challenges, just “wouldn’t go away.” These days, it’s known for its myrrh-streaming icon of St. John the Baptist. However you know it, and no matter what the challenge, this small parish in Chicago’s south suburbs has endured against the odds, and now, thanks to the blessings of the myrrh-streaming icon, is thriving. They’ll celebrate their 100th anniversary on October 2, 2016.
The first Assumption Church in Chicago Heights, built in 1916. COURTESY ASSUMPTION CHURCH OF HOMER GLEN.
Assumption Church is established
During the immigration wave of the late 19th and early 20th century, Greeks from Arcadia, Laconia, and Messinia, as well as the islands of Evia, Zakynthos, and Crete settled just south of Chicago, in Chicago Heights. The first recorded Greek immigrant, Gregorios Diavatinos, arrived in the area in 1903. Many Greeks followed, and they found work on the railroad, in confectionaries, factories, and more. Closely tied to their Greek Orthodox Faith and their heritage, they sought to establish a church.
In the early years of America’s Greek communities, churches were often preceded by a society organized of immigrants. In 1909, the residents of this area organized “Pistis and Patris,” (Faith and Country”. The group united the Greek community and cared for the sick; a doctor came to the area to tend to medical needs. This paved the way for serving their spiritual needs as well. A rented hall on Wentworth Avenue became the first gathering place. There, Father Demetrios Rengos celebrated Divine Liturgy twice a month, as well as sacraments.
Building Assumption Church
Members of the parish from Zakynthos invited Archimandrite Kallistratos Galavas to serve the parish. Under his leadership, the society’s 500 members raised money to build a church. A property was acquired at 1501 Center Avenue. It was dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary on December 3, 1916.
Due to the dedication of its parishioners, Assumption Church’s mortgage was paid two years after construction. It was the only church in the diocese to be mortgage-free during the Great Depression.
Supporting the Greater Community
Assumption Church’s parishioners were proud to be Greek, but also proud to be American. They supported the greater community whenever possible. During WWI, the community marched in a parade in support of US troops in Europe. They also led a rally for War Bonds, and were cited for being a top-selling group. During 1918 and 1919, the Epitaphio was followed by a procession for two miles through the streets of Chicago Heights. Neighbors were invited to participate.
Thriving during the Great Depression
Codros Chapter 225 of the Order of AHEPA began at Assumption in 1929. Greek School was established in the 1928. Choir and Sunday School came in 1932. A Philoptochos chapter was soon established. In addition to serving the needy, through their fundraising efforts over the years, they’ve helped the church to pay off mortgages, purchase an inconostasion, and more.
After WWII, more immigrants arrived from Greece, the congregation grew. A new church was needed to accommodate the growing community. By the late 1960s, the community raised funds to purchase a property on Western Avenue. This mortgage was also paid in short order. In 1969, the community broke ground on a new church in Olympia Fields.
In 1969, the first Liturgy was celebrated in the gymnasium, completed in phase 1 of the building project. That same year, the parish hosted its first Greek festival, which for a time, was the largest Greek fest in Chicago. Incidentally, the man who created the loukoumades machine, Mr. Maris, who owned a Dunkin Donuts shop, was from the parish, and was an integral part of the festivals.
Construction of the church began in 1976. The church thrived in this location. For years, they welcomed several part-time and visiting priests. Over the years, the parish was served by Metropolitan Anthony of San Francisco and Metropolitan Nikitas. In 1993, the parish received its first full-time priest — Father Sotirios “Sam” Dimitriou. He reflected on his arrival at Assumption Church.
“I was very young when I came here. I’d only served as an assistant to Father Evagoras Constantinides, of blessed memory, for two years. It was a great responsibility. People were moving away, and the church was in financial trouble. However, this group was so dedicated to their church, to, despite challenges, making it work somehow. It became my mission to grow this community. Something or someone always came up when it was needed, and we’ve kept the parish going.”
As the neighborhood experienced changes and parishioners moved west, the community elected to move the church. In 2010, Assumption relocated to a temporary space in Orland Park. The community remained there for three years. During that time, a property in Homer Glen was secured and the church was built. The community moved to their new home in 2014. Here, they serve 220 families.
Father Sam and Presvytera Pam Dimitriou lead a vibrant and growing community. COURTESY ASSUMPTION CHURCH OF HOMER GLEN.
The tiny parish had some very lean years, and for a time, wasn’t sure if it would survive. An amazing blessing was bestowed upon this parish — on July 19, 2015, they noticed myrrh-streaming from the icon of St. John the Baptist.
That “something or someone arriving at the right time to save the parish”, arrived again.
“It’s such a great blessing that St. John picked our church. It’s reiterated to us that we’re here to help people, and everything else will work out.”
Word spread quickly, though the community did not publicize the appearance of the myrrh. People began flocking to the parish from throughout the area, to witness and be anointed by its myrrh. Later, people announced that they’d been healed of illnesses. By Easter 2016, everything changed when a visitor contacted the Chicago Tribune. Soon reporters from multiple news outlets arrived to get a glimpse of the icon. Since that time, thousands have already visited the church.
“People were lining up outside our tiny church. The icon gives them hope and we’re happy to share the blessing with others. We had to set special visiting hours to accommodate all the visitors, and still serve our parishioners.”
The next 100 years
Father Sam shared his goals for the community.
“God-willing this small parish will continue to grow. The blessing of the icon reminds us that we can do this. Our job is to teach our youth and ground them in the faith. Our eyes are on the future, and that means the youth. With our vibrant Greek School, a strong GOYA, and other programs, we provide the means for them to grow in the faith.”
Assumption Church of Homer Glen will mark its centennial at a gala celebration on October 2 at Chateau Del Mar in Hickory Hills, IL. Call 708.645.0652.