The Haunted St. Michael’s Church

Posted by junketseo in Chicago Ghost Tours
The Haunted St. Michael’s Church - Photo

Old Town Chicago is a neighborhood known for its unique Victorian architecture, walkable streets, and bounty of retail shops and restaurants. Looming overhead, though, casting its long, pointed shadow over Old Town is a centuries-old structure that’s as ominous as it is architecturally astounding. Within the gothic walls of St. Michael’s Church, congregations gather, songs are sung, and praise is offered to the Lord.


Once a haven for German immigrants coming to Old Chicago, the church is lively, with frequent community events that welcome all—even the dearly departed. St. Michael’s has a unique energy as a place of worship as if drawing Old Town’s spiritual presence in droves. Guests may hear a gentle knock or a disembodied footstep, and they’re sure to feel the presence of an unseen force looking to find peace in the afterlife in the most logical of places. 


Unfortunately, St. Michael’s also has a sinister air that dates back to a particularly trying time for Chicago. Crime was slowly on the rise, and the city was creeping toward what would be its deadliest year. Was it the darkness that manifested in St. Michael’s one unassuming night in 1970 that turned the city mad? 


Who are the ghosts of St. Michael’s?


One can feel many spirits in the rows of pews of this ornate place of worship. Pinpointing just one isn’t easy, especially if you can’t be too sure you’re seeing the apparition of a former Old Town resident or the deception of the Devil himself. Learn more about the terrors of Chicago with Windy City Ghosts!


An Unlikely Beginning


It would make sense for the grounds that St. Michael’s was built on to have been donated by a local priest or someone more closely related to the church. Instead, the land at North Avenue and Church Street was owned by a German immigrant who loved distilling alcohol. Michael Diversey operated a relatively successful brewery in Chicago and owned the small plot for which he hadn’t developed a plan. So, rather than let it sit unused, he donated it to a parish committee established by the Diocese of Chicago.


The building constructed by the parish from the $750 collected from its parishioners was significantly more modest than its modern counterpart. It didn’t take long for controversy to rumble within the church as parishioners, driven by the ongoing feud in a divided Germany, closed its doors to outsiders. This remained in effect until 1860 when the Provincial Superior of the Redemptorist was given control of the parish. Under the Redemptorists, the church hosted its first Mass in February of that year.


All was at peace within the parish, so much so that the church grew out of its original building. In 1866, construction on a new red brick building began at Linden Street and Hurlbut Avenue (modern Eugenie and Cleveland). The finished structure stretched 200 feet high, its decorative steeple becoming a prominent part of Old Town’s visual charm and appeal.


A Great Fire Takes St. Michael’s


Unfortunately, the new, towering church, dedicated on September 29, 1869, wouldn’t last long in its current state. Almost exactly 19 years later, a blazing fire spread across Chicago. The insatiable inferno devastated the city for two days, killing 300 and leveling more than 17,000 buildings. Among them was St. Michael’s Church, relatively fresh off its new, impressive reconstruction.


Whether set accidentally or with intent, the fire moved like it had a purpose. Gusts of wind, known to locals as “fire devils,” seemed to uphold their monicker, pushing the fire closer and closer to the church. That the building would become engulfed in flames was inevitable, so parishioners and clergymen salvaged what they could. 


As the smoke cleared from the two-day burn, it looked as if the Devil himself had taken St. Michael’s Church. The once beautiful structure now stood a shell of itself, scorched and hollowed out by the flames. Surprisingly, much of the church still stood, though the bells had been fused and the tower, once a symbol of progress, now lay in ruins.


Not to be stifled by the Devil’s blaze, once conditions were deemed safe enough, the congregation constructed the church again. Within two years, it was back to its former glory, with five new bells named for St. Michael, St. Joseph, St. Mary, St. Theresa, and St. Alphonsus. Twelve years later, it was adorned with a new spire and a gilded cross topping.


Could the fire have been the Devil’s attempts at diminishing the congregation’s hold on Chicago? Many may scoff at the idea, but one pastor may feel differently after an unexpected encounter.


The Devil Came Down to Chicago


Many years after the church was rebuilt in 1970, St. Michael’s Church was hosting an evening mass. Nothing made this one any more special than all the others the church had hosted, and yet it would become quite distinct as the night wore on.


One pastor, who has remained unnamed in all retellings of his story, was offering reverence to parishioners, going down the line as he had done during all prior masses. It was such an everyday routine that he no longer focused on who was receiving the body of Christ, so he didn’t notice the dark-robed figure making its way down the line.


The pastor then took notice of the figure’s unexpected appearance and, even more frightening, the cloven hooves peering out from under the dark shroud. All other features remained obscured as if enveloped by an unnatural darkness. The pastor stood his ground, his faith giving him the strength to remain face-to-face with the Devil. 


As quickly as the fiend let itself be known, it was gone. Was the Devil looking to finish what he started in 1871, or was it a warning to the pastor of something evil coming? 


The Ghosts of St. Michael’s


The Devil’s visit that night was the last time anyone came that close to the robed figure. However, it wasn’t the last time the cloak had been seen during mass. Several parishioners have complained over the years of a raspy, shrouded figure sitting in the pews of St. Michael’s Church as if serving as a reminder of the evil that can befall them at any point. 


For as much as the dark figure may present himself in the Old Town church, St. Michael’s has never succumbed to the weight of his evil. Instead, the towering structure is a light in a city rife with crime. Maybe the spirits of former parishioners and clergymen who have remained tied to the building keep the Devil at bay. 


St. Michael’s Church in Old Town Chicago is a sight to behold, even if you’re not religious. These stories and more await on a thrilling Chicago ghost tour with Windy City Ghosts. Read more about Chicago’s best haunts on our blog or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok for more of the city’s haunted history.