At 160 years old, Holy Family Church is the second-oldest in Chicago

CHICAGO -- For 160 years it's stood the test of time, and Holy Family Church has grown from a church on the prairie to an urban center of faith on the Near West Side.

The church is the second oldest in Chicago and in many ways is a door into the history of Chicago as well, according to historian Ellen Skerrett.

Among the treasures on display are 19th century artifacts once used by its founder, Father Arnold Damen. Chicagoans may recognize his name from the street that was later named after the man who formed Holy Family Church in 1857.

The church has survived many times, including the Great Chicago Fire, the Depression, and constant changes in the neighborhood. More than a quarter century ago, parishioners held vigil outside the doors, praying to keep them open even then.

"In 1990 the church came very close to being wrecked," Skerrett said. "The faith of people that this great place of beauty shouldn’t be demolished [helped raise] several million, and it continues to this day."

That history means a lot to Bob Nolan, since his great-great-aunt was one of the first baptized there 160 years ago. He’s now the 6th generation of his family to belong.

"It’s been a part of my life, well, my family’s life since 1857," he said. "It’s stood and been there for people who’ve needed it, and now our door is always open," he said.