Inside the Luminous Wonder of St. John Bosco Church

Saint John Bosco Church, © Jeffery C. Johnson

Saint John Bosco Church, © Jeffery C. Johnson

If you are interested in architecture it’s very easy to be fascinated and enthralled by the big names that dominate Chicago’s skyline. But, when you venture just slightly off the well-trodden path you find all sorts of architectural works, filled with imagination and style, that are inspired in their design and shine in their execution.

Saint John Bosco Church, © Jeffery C. Johnson

Saint John Bosco Church, © Jeffery C. Johnson

One such building, a hidden gem deserved of more attention and praise, is Saint John Bosco Church at 2305 North McVicker Avenue in the Belmont Central neighborhood on Chicago’s Northwest side. The church, built in 1964, and designed by award-winning architects Belli & Belli of suburban Wheeling, is a thick slice of mid-century magic, a lovely piece of discovery, that knows how to deliver a visual punch.

Saint John Bosco Church is designed to echo a dream that Saint John Bosco had in 1862 concerning a “great ship steered by the Pope heading for pillars of the Eucharist and Mary amid storms and enemy ships.” From the outside, the church is simple in its mid-century modern appearance with a tall, curved, steeple-like structure at the top that replicates a great wind-filled sail guiding the strong vessel through the surrounding neighborhood of tall trees and angled roofs.

However, there are many (you might be one) who aren’t attracted to this building’s stark white exterior, shaped by straight lines and the few subtle curves. There are many (again, you might be one) who look at the outside of Saint John Bosco and are disappointed with what appears to be an example of religious architecture that is devoid of decorative beauty and visual power. It’s to all of these people (maybe you) that I recommend a trip inside this interesting building to get a glimpse of the beauty and a feel for the reverence that exists.

Upon entering, one is struck by the sheer volume and striking brilliance of the color and light that fills its interior. This contradiction between the austere exterior and the warm interior filled with color is a surprise for the eyes and one that moves your mood as well. For this is a space awash with color. A space where color seems to flow throughout. A space flooded with a deep, rich, almost delicious color by way of the unique windows that depict the exterior of the Saint’s dream from the blue water at the bottom of the windows to the yellow hue of the sun at the top.

Chicago is such an architectural embarrassment of riches that we often forget that there are works of immense beauty, skill, and importance that go relatively unnoticed amongst the celebrated and heralded.  It’s worth the effort to explore the city’s lesser-known communities and the treasures they hold.


Location: 2305 North McVicker Avenue, Belmont Central

Images and Text © 2015 Jeffery C. Johnson


Author: Jeff Johnson

Jeffery C. Johnson is a 3rd generation professional Chicago photographer whose work has appeared in many places including WGN-TV News, BBC, Yahoo! OMG and Chicago Reader among many others. You can see Jeffery’s work at

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