St. John's Church to be demolished after long-fought battle against O'Hare expansion

October 24, 2013 (BENSENVILLE, Ill.)

The pews are gone and so, too, is the stained glass. The organ has been disassembled. For 61 years, it has stood at Foster and 83 in Bensenville. But a shrinking congregation, over time, means the end has come for St John's Church.

"See when the airport took the church we lost a lot of members. That really hurt," said Shirley Steele, church member.

Shirley Steele was a lifelong member of St John's, and remembers when it had a robust congregation, back when the church stood on what is now O'Hare Airport. That had been the church's home since 1849 when St Johannes was founded. A century later when the airport came and the church moved, its cemetery stayed as the final resting place for 1,300.

But the city wanted the cemetery land for O'Hare expansion. The church fought. The city won and a week ago dedicated a new runway where part of the cemetery used to be. Soon the wrecking ball will come here, where there were countless weddings, and funerals, where the organ played and the choir sang.

Some of the members of St John's have moved. Some have passed away. Some who remain say it's just too painful to discuss something that was once so much a part of their lives.

Shirley though can smile about the time a mouse nearly interrupted a wedding, and she affectionately remembers this mural, but she is also very sad.

"You think of all your ancestors and how they worked. . . All that work they did for us left us a beautiful place," said Shirley Steele.

Shirley says she will not watch the beautiful place come down. It would hurt too much. When it and the sign out in front are gone, the building that was St John's will be replaced by a gas station, on a corner where there are already three others.

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