In 1994, during a round of parish consolidations in Chicago, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin closed Saint Francis of Assisi Church near Roosevelt and Halsted, combining it with the recently renovated but poorly attended Holy Family Church just west of it. Though Saint Francis was originally built for German immigrants in the mid-19th century, mass there had been celebrated in Spanish since 1925; one advocate calls it “the mother church of the Mexican community.” After many months of street protests by the congregation and an occupation of the church to save it from total demolition, it was finally reopened. The story is a heartening tribute to the power of direct action, but this 1999 video documentary by Jeffrey and Tanya Reshke is often awkward in execution. The filmmakers offer too many similar images of the church's interior and exterior, none particularly expressive in composition or movement, and some more creative attempts at illustrating the story, such as a zoom in on a burned-out building as a voice-over refers to “changing demographics,” seem weirdly inappropriate.
By Fred Camper