“Chicago Saints: Reaching Out for Spiritual Blessings,” Ensign, Aug. 1985, 77
It has been nearly 140 years since there was an operating temple in Illinois. The Saints who lovingly crafted the Nauvoo Temple were later obliged to abandon it, not long after its dedication in 1846.
At the time, Chicago was a town of fewer than five thousand people, not long removed from its days as a trading post protected by the troops at Ft. Dearborn. Just over the historical horizon was the water and rail transportation boom that would turn the city into one of the major hubs of the United States by the late 1850s.
Today, Chicago is a vibrant metropolis with a habit of reaching out to meet the future. But this month, some of its citizens are looking to the future with unusual anticipation, knowing what it will mean to have a temple in their state again as the Chicago Illinois Temple is dedicated.
During July, home teachers in the Naperville Illinois Stake carried a letter to their families asking them to ponder the question, “Are you really spiritually prepared to go to the temple?” From many, the answer has been unmistakable. Robert Ensign, president of the elders quorum in the Woodridge Ward, Naperville Stake, notes: “People’s lives are changing, and we’re finding that the closer we draw to the dedication, the more that momentum is building.” Many members have signed up to serve multiple shifts as tour guides and volunteer helpers for the temple open house, though the temple is more than forty miles away and they will have to take time off from work.
Some who plan to attend the Chicago Temple regularly will face much more than a forty-mile trip. The temple district will serve more than 123,000 members in stakes throughout the north central United States, from Fargo, North Dakota, to Independence, Missouri, to Cincinnati, Ohio.
The Chicago temple will be a little less than a two-hour drive from the chapel of the Valparaiso (Indiana) Ward, Chicago Heights Illinois Stake. Still, that is “a far cry from thirteen hours to Washington, D.C.,” says Bishop Marvin E. Guernsey. “We will enjoy this. We won’t have to take four days off to go to the temple.”
Not only do members of the temple district come from a wide area, they also come from a wide variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. The twelve-unit Wilmette Illinois Stake, for example, includes two Spanish-speaking wards and a Spanish-speaking branch, as well as Polish- and Korean-speaking branches. It also has one dependent unit of members from several other Asian countries, and a fifty-member deaf group in one of its wards.
Hector Barrera gave up plans to move to Guatemala when he was called as bishop of the stake’s Spanish-speaking Chicago Third Ward. The temple, he says, has been a boost to the efforts of the two seventies and other members of his ward who are working to introduce friends and acquaintances to the gospel. His ward area is “a fertile field for missionary work.”
Victor Soil, first counselor in the bishopric of the Hyde Park Ward, Chicago Heights Illinois Stake, says the comments of nonmembers about how beautiful the temple is provide a natural opening for gospel discussions.
“Chicago,” he says, “is like a lot of little cities mixed together. It’s an exciting place to be.” The Hyde Park Ward, located on the south side of the city, is growing rapidly. More than a third of its members, like Brother Soil, are black. The diversity of its membership—from factory workers to scholars in a variety of disciplines at the University of Chicago—makes for interesting priesthood meeting discussions, he says, chuckling.
“I can’t imagine a more faithful people than we have,” he adds, explaining that members are outstanding in service to others and to the Church—particularly in temple attendance.
The story of Steve and Bonnie Mroz of the Logan Square First Ward, Wilmette Illinois Stake, is representative of many in the area. Steve and Bonnie were introduced to the gospel about two years ago through the example of the organist at their church. The organist, a young Latter-day Saint, was helping to support himself and his wife by working as paid organist for the Mroz’s Methodist congregation and at a Jewish synagogue while attending music school. Steve and Bonnie Mroz were impressed by the example of love and service shown by the organist and his wife and wanted to know more about their beliefs.
The gospel has wrought great changes in the lives of the Mroz family. Brother Mroz, an early morning seminary teacher who loves to study the gospel, says he has noted that as he advances spiritually, there is parallel social and temporal development in his life. Sister Mroz comments, “There’s more meaning to our family’s existence. I never realized what an honor it is to be a parent. I look at my children more respectfully now.”