St. Michael in Old Town was started by the diocese of Chicago in 1852 to serve the German immigrants who had settled into the “Old Town” area and located near North Avenue and Larrabee Street. Michael Diversey, a prosperous immigrant brewer, donated a small plot of land for the newly founded St. Michael’s parish.
Within a year, parishioners began to bicker, and pastors came and went. In response, the Bishop wrote the Baltimore-based Redemptorists Provincial Supervisor, asking for members of his order to take charge of St. Michael’s. The Redemptorists came to serve the German faithful in 1860 and continue to staff the parish today. Father Joseph Mueller, sixth pastor and the first Redemptorist pastor, celebrated his first mass in the church on February 26, 1860.
On September 23, 1866 workmen broke ground for a magnificent new church with an exterior of red sandstone bricks and a 200-foot steeple, taller than the 140-foot height of the Chicago Water Tower. St. Michael’s became one of the tallest structures in the city and on September 29, 1869- the feast day of St. Michael the Archangel, the new church building was blessed and dedicated.
Two years later, on October 8, 1871 the fabled Chicago Fire began, fanning north, aided by gusty winds. Flames tore into all the parish buildings, leveling them leaving only three exterior walls of the church.
The task of rebuilding began within a week, and wooden structures were erected. On October 12, 1873, the rebuilt St. Michael’s church was consecrated and rededicated, one of the first Chicago churches to rise again from the ashes of the Great Fire. On January 30, 1876, the five new bells, blessed and dedicated and named: St. Michael, St. Mary, St. Joseph, St. Alphonsus, and St. Theresa rang out officially for the first time.