An Alley in Chicago


Monsignor John Joseph Egan has two great loves: his Church and his city. Like all good priests, he brings the sacraments to his people. Like the best of Chicago politicians, with whom he has a lot in common, he’s forever working the angles to improve his people’s lives. Like every gifted preacher, Monsignor Egan also likes a good story when he hears one, especially a story that strikes close to his heart like one of his favorites about the famous, perhaps notorious, Monsignor Patrick J. Molloy.

The then-Father Molloy functioned in the 1920s as the trusted go-between between two gangs warring for Chicago’s profitable bootlegging trade. Al Capone, the most powerful gang boss of his day, had a weekly payroll of $300,000. He could brag, “I own the police,” because half the police in the county were on his payroll. He also “owned” aldermen, state’s attorneys, mayors, legislators, and even congresspersons. The only major force in Capone’s way in 1927 was the brash Bugsy Moran who served three prison sentences before he was twenty-one for twenty-six known robberies. The leader of the North Side gang hated Capone and tried to assassinate him. Between them, Capone and Moran gave Chicago a reputation it has never shaken.

What Father Molloy was trusted to carry back and forth between the gangs is no longer known, but when $600,000 was “misplaced” between one gang and the other, a friendly phone caller let George Cardinal Mundelein know that if Molloy wasn’t out of town by midnight, he’d be at the bottom of the Chicago River by daylight. Father Molloy was transferred fast and far away—to Argentina.

As Father Molloy grew familiar with the Southern Cross, Chicago’s gang wars moderated. The Bugs Moran gang was whittled down by the famous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Then the Depression slicing into drinkers’ disposable income cut Capone’s profits. He could no longer pay off the police and the politicians. In 1931 he was sent to prison for income tax invasion. The gang wars had mowed down a thousand people, but they were over. It was safe for Father Patrick Molloy to come back to Chicago, to Annunciation Church, and then to St. Leo the Great Church at Seventy-eighth and Emerald Avenue on Chicago’s South Side.

On the fortieth anniversary of his ordination, Father Molloy was invested as a Domestic Prelate with the title Right Reverend Monsignor. The party was grand. Samuel Cardinal Stritch was present, as was Monsignor Molloy’s good friend, Mayor Richard J. Daley. Molloy circulated happily among family members, politicians, policemen, parishioners, trusted clergy, “and probably a few old time members of the mobs,” according to Monsignor Egan.

When it was Monsignor Molloy’s turn at the podium it was clear to all how happy he was to be home. “I have seen the great boulevards of the world,” he told friends gathered in his church basement. “The boulevards of Rome. The boulevards of Paris. The boulevards of Rio de Janeiro. The boulevards of Tokyo. They are all grand.” His voice had risen dramatically. His audience was in his hands where he liked to have them. He paused only briefly before he acknowledged his devotion to his native city. “But I would rather have an alley in Chicago than any one of them.”

Monsignor Egan, faithful attendee at wakes, Forty Hours, and priests’ anniversary celebrations, heard Monsignor Molloy’s avowal with a full heart. That self-same song made a path through his heart when he thought about the great city, the great people of the city, the great possibilities of the city. His spirits lifted at the thought of the vital, demanding, electrifying energy symbolized by Chicago’s alleys. He’d loved alleys since he was a kid in Ravenswood because they meant city to him. He knew he would never forget that evening because, “I felt exactly the way that Pat did. He loved Chicago and so did I. Chicago is my life.”

It was in that moment Monsignor Egan made up his mind that if ever a book should be written about him, he wanted it to be called An Alley in Chicago.

Next Chapter . . .