After being officially declared a sister site to the Basilica in Mexico City in the late 1990s, The Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines, Illinois has experienced a continual rise in the number of weekly worshippers and pilgrims visiting from the immigrant Latino community. In the late 1980s, immigrants established The Shrine with a grassroots effort on a 122-acre campus shared with Maryville Academy, a residential institution that has served children for over a century. After years of decorating and undecorating a 1937 school gymnasium as a weekend worship space, Maryville Academy permanently ceded the facility to The Shrine.
Last year, the pilgrimage Chapel of St. Joseph was inaugurated as The Shrine’s first year-round worship space. The design team transformed the 1937 gymnasium into the Shrine’s first climate-controlled, sacred, sheltered space able to host over 6,000 weekend worshippers and over 300,000 pilgrims during the annual Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe celebration in December.
Over 75% of the former gymnasium structure was reused; Crews exposed the original timber roof deck and painted the original riveted steel trusses. A new glass and steel modern addition to the north, which inflects toward the Shrine, provides a fully accessible entry for visitors.
Upon entering, visitors encounter familiar materials and forms recalling traditional basilica forms. Like early churches in the New World, the sacred space is constructed with humble materials of wood, metal, and clay, elevated by prismatic forms bathed in natural light. Side chapels, highlighted with gossamer canopies of wire mesh, warm wood paneling, and grazed with LED lighting, provide places of devotion for visitors of multiple cultures.
Like traditional pilgrimage churches, the altar is raised above the main floor for visibility, while, unconventionally, a rear wall conceals two ramps that make both surrounding platforms accessible. A new skylight, positioned above the altar, casts natural light on the altar with universally understood meaning.
The Chapel resulted from efforts of a devoted community determined to make the best use of its available resources to elevate the spiritual experience of visiting pilgrims. The Chapel is a pledge of its own, the fulfillment of a promise, not only to Our Lady of Guadalupe, but to its community, proving that a small group of people can make a global impact.
Photography: Tom Harris Architectural Photography
General Contractor: Mazur + Son Construction
Structural Engineer: Enspect Engineering
MEP/FP Engineer: McGuire Engineers
Civil Engineer: Terra Engineering
Liturgical Consultant: Daprato Rigali Studios