ST. ADALBERT REVIEW
6800 Milwaukee Avenue
Niles, IL 60714
Bella Morte Rating: 1.5 Tombstones
Established in 1872 to serve Chicago’s Polish Catholic population, Saint Adalbert’s is the Archdiocese’s largest single Catholic burial ground with over 300,000 interments. Spanning 255 acres, the cemetery is comprised of an eastern and western section, two nearly equal-sized tracts of land separated by North Newark Avenue. North Newark is an extremely quiet, lightly-travelled street, a bonus in that it makes crossing from one side of the cemetery to the other quite easy.
Upon first entering the St. Adalbert's, we were immediately struck by the number of monuments featuring angels, many of them identical, family after family having selected the same memorial to honour the memory of their beloved dead. In addition to the angels, a collection of images of Christ, the Virgin Mary and various saints also dot the landscape. The most unusual of these was the image of Saint John Nepomucene, Patron Saint of Czechoslovakia. In all of our cemetery explorations, we had never once seen an image of this particular saint; however, within the confines of Saint Adablert’s, we came upon half a dozen or more. Apparently, this saint is a particular favourite of Polish Catholics, at least in this area. Saint John is known as the “Martyr of the Confessional.” He was drowned for refusing to reveal the confessions of the Queen when King Wenceslaus IV commanded him to do so. Saint John is most-often depicted with one finger raised to his sealed lips.
Facing Milwaukee Avenue on Saint Adalbert’s eastern half is an enormous modern stone structure, possibly meant to resemble an angel, beneath which a bronze image of the Virgin Mary cradles the lifeless body of a fallen Polish soldier with a bullet hole in his head. This is the Katyn Forest Massacre Monument. An inscription near the monument reads:
Dedicated in Honor and Memory "Golgotha Of the East" Dedicated to the martyrdom of the Poles, who gave their lives for the fatherland - Hostages of the War
Slain in 1940 by the Soviet NKVD: Officers of The Polish Army, Spiritual Leaders, Intelligensia, Police Officers, Soldiers and
Border Patrol shot in Katyn and Mednoje, Charkow, Minsk-Kuropaty, Kijow - Bykownia....
Tortured and murdered in Kazakh, Siberia and other areas of the inhumane Soviet Territory
A second large memorial, this one commemorating the service of World War I Veterans, stands close to Saint Adalbert’s administrative office building. The monument features larger-than-life bronze sculptures of army, air-force, navy and marine servicemen.
The somewhat hidden jewel of the eastern section of Saint Adalbert’s is, without question, the mausoleum of the priests and brothers of the Congregation of the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ, more commonly known as The Congregation of the Resurrection or, even more simply, the Resurrectionists.
Surmounted by a stone cross, the front façade of the Resurrectionist mausoleum features the carved letters R.I. P. beneath which the Order’s insignia is nestled between four engraved crosses. To the left of the front doors, a bronze plaque bears the names of the Order’s deceased priests and brothers interred in the structure’s subterranean crypts. Another bronze plaque to the right of the doors bears the names of priests and brothers of the Order interred elsewhere. We had no way of ascertaining if the Resurrectionist sepulcher was full, thus necessitating burial outside of its confines.
A look through the front doors reveals stairs leading down to a set of bronze gates. Beyond the gates, an altar, complete with crucifix and candles, is the focal point of the room. Red tiles cover the floor while marble-front crypts line both sides of the chamber. Hallways to the right and left of the altar lead to areas out of view.
Aside from this welcome but tantalizing peek inside, the fortress-like Resurrectionist mausoleum employs numerous means to keep those who desire to take a closer look away. The use of chains, gates and an elaborate installation of medieval-looking barbed bronze rods preclude efforts to fully enjoy the structure. No peering in windows or taking the stairs to the roof-level balcony upon which rests a tall pedestal surmounted by a bronze image of the risen Christ. While protecting the building from vandalism, this inhospitable securing of the building also makes it inaccessible to those who mean no harm. What a shame.
Immediately before crossing to the western side of Saint Adalbert’s is a lovely and tranquil mausoleum row with a succession of private family crypts facing North Newark Avenue. The overall effect is that of a row of houses on a quiet neighbourhood street, which, on further reflection, it is. No matter that the residents in these silent domiciles ceased breathing some time ago. At any rate, as any devout taphophile knows, it is always worth taking the time to look inside these mausoleums. Though many may contain nothing of note, the extra effort sometimes yields hidden treasure. In this instance, a look inside reveals most contain beautiful stained glass windows as well as altars decorated with images of Christ, the Virgin Mary, candles and an assortment of saints and angels.
Crossing North Newark Avenue, exploration of Saint Adalbert’s western tract reveals a landscape quite similar to the eastern section, the notable exception being the new community mausoleum complexes. The smaller of the two, adjacent to the Saint Maximilian Kolbe shrine section, occupies the south-eastern corner of the property. Billed in Saint Adalbert’s cemetery advertising as the first combination mausoleum/interment chapel in the Catholic Cemeteries system, this singularly unattractive, modern, round red-brick building appears at first glance to be a large garage for cemetery maintenance vehicles, and, in fact, an open door in one area did indeed reveal maintenance facilities. On closer approach, however, wall crypts lining the outside of the building become visible. Some areas of the structure also contain built-in concrete shelving units installed to hold flowers and trinkets left for the deceased. Several interior chapel areas are viewable from the building’s exterior. These possess no points of particular interest as they are simply bare rooms with minimal artwork and that which is present could be classified as mediocre, at best. (Note: Just to the south of this mausoleum lies the small, privately-owned Norwood Park Home Cemetery).
The extreme north-west section of the cemetery, bordering North Harlem Avenue, is the site of Saint Adalbert’s second community mausoleum. Opened in 1990, this structure is the Mary, Mother of God Garden Crypt Complex. Although not extraordinary, it does merit ranking above the aforementioned community mausoleum structure.
Overall, with its plethora of monuments depicting angels, saints, crosses, Madonnas, and images of Christ, Saint Adalbert’s is a cemetery worth visiting while in the area, though we would certainly not recommend travelling a great distance to explore there.