Grosse Kirchen – Part 2

Today’s continuation of yesterday’s post will tell the story of two sons of Ernst Moritz and Wilhelmina (Hahn) Grosse.  These two boys followed very similar paths through their lives.  The older of the two sons was Traugott Johannes (T.J.) Grosse, and the younger one was yesterday’s birthday boy, Frederick Grosse.  Each of them was baptized at Old Trinity Lutheran Church in St. Louis.  At our museum, we have a spreadsheet of Old Trinity’s records, but we do not have the actual images to show you.

Traugott Johannes was not the first child to be born into the Grosse family, but he was the first to live past infancy.  T.J. was born on April 24. 1844.  He later attended Concordia Seminary in St. Louis.  He graduated and was ordained into the ministry in 1868.  In 1869, T.J. married Louise Massmann.  We find this couple with one young child in the 1870 census for Chicago, Illinois.

T.J. Grosse 1870 census Chicago IL
1870 census – Chicago, IL

Traugott Johannes was shown as a minister of the Gospel on this census, but it is my understanding that at this time of his life, he was a professor at the relatively new teachers’ seminary in Addison, Illinois.  In 1878, Rev. Grosse was called to be the pastor at Zion Lutheran Church in Bensenville, which was the congregation at which the teacher’s seminary began in 1864.  In the 1880 census, the Grosse household can be found living in Addison.

T.J. Grosse 1880 census Addison, IL
1880 census – Addison, IL

The Minnie Grosse shown on this form is a real puzzle.  After all, she is only 10 years younger than T.J.’s wife, Louise.  I cannot say for certain how many children T.J. and Louise had, but it was several.

Before we look at the remaining years of this couple, we will take a look at what was going on with his younger brother, Frederick.  As we said yesterday, Frederick was born on April 15, 1845 in St. Louis, so he and T.J. were only one year apart in age.  He, too, attended Concordia Seminary to study for the ministry.  He graduated and was ordained in 1869.  Frederick married Anna Steffen in 1870, and in that year’s census, we find them living in Macon, Missouri.  Frederick was a minister.

Frederick Grosse 1870 census Macon MO
1870 census – Macon, MO

Ferederick’s brother may have been influential in his next move.  In 1871, he became the first resident pastor at St. John Lutheran Church in Forest Park, Illinois, which is not that far from Bensenville.  This Grosse household can be found in the 1880 census for Chicago.

Frederick Grosse 1880 census Proviso Township, IL
1880 census – Chicago, IL

The map shown below indicates with red boxes where the two churches were located that were served by the two Grosse brothers.  The blue arrows show the two locations where Concordia University, Chicago were located, first in Addison and later in River Forest.

Bensenville Forest Park IL map

You can see that the two Grosse brothers served in the midst of the early history of that Synodical college, which was established in 1864 in Addison and moved to River Forest in 1913.  Here is a drawing of the first building of Concordia Teacher’s College in Addison.

Concordia Teacher's College Addison IL

Let’s take a look at the two Lutheran churches in Bensenville and Forest Park.  The first one to be established was Zion Lutheran Church in Bensenville.  It began in 1837, even before the Gesellschaft immigration in 1839.  This congregation grew and became the mother congregation of several others in the Chicago area.  Zion joined the Missouri Synod in 1856.  There was some division within the church in its early years, and eventually there was a split.  Across the road from Zion Lutheran Church was Immanuel Evangelical Church, which split off from Zion.  We see both of them in this photo taken in 1910 (Zion on the right, Immanuel on the left).

Zion and Immanuel Bensenville IL

St. John Lutheran Church in Forest Park was organized in 1867 and was the result of mission work done at Zion, Bensenville.  As said before, their first resident pastor was Rev. Frederick Grosse who arrived in 1871.

The first building used as a church for this congregation is shown below.

St. John Forest Park IL first church
St. John, Forest Park, IL – first church

I am going to skip ahead to show the present church.

St. John Forest Park IL present church
St. John Lutheran, Forest Park, IL – present church

I just had to show the photos of the two church sanctuaries that existed during the time period when the Grosse brothers were pastors at these congregation.  In the case of St. John, Forest Park, the church building was constructed shortly after Rev. Frederick Grosse arrived.  It was built in 1873.  The church at Zion, Bensenville was constructed in 1862, right in the midst of the Civil War.  I placed the two photos next to each other with Zion on the left and St. John on the right in order to illustrate the similarities between the two structures.


Both of these historic structures fell victim to fires.  St. John Lutheran Church burned in 1916, and it was completely destroyed, causing the congregation to construct a whole new building (which was shown above).  Zion Lutheran Church was struck by lightning in 1937, and the fire destroyed the interior of the building.  They were able to keep the structure and redo the interior.  Here is a photo of the interior of that church before the 1937 fire.  I especially enjoy seeing the elevated pulpit like the ones here in Altenburg and Frohna.

Zion Lutheran Bensenville interior before fire
Zion Lutheran, Bensenville interior before fire

This is what Zion Lutheran Church in Bensenville looks like today.

Ziion Lutheran Bensenville IL
Zion Lutheran Church – Bensenville, IL

Rev. Frederick Grosse died in 1906.  We have this photograph of him.

Frederick Martin Grosse
Rev. Frederick Grosse

His wife, Anna, died in 1926, and she is said to be buried in the Concordia Cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois, but I was unable to find a record of where her husband was buried.  Rev. Frederick Grosse served at St. John Lutheran almost his entire career.

Rev. T.J. Grosse died in 1919; his wife, Louise, died in 1945.  Rev. T.J. Grosse was quite involved in an early controversy in the Missouri Synod which had to do with a theological disagreement with the Buffalo Synod and Rev. Grabau.  He wrote several documents supporting the position of the Missouri Synod during that dispute.  He and his wife are buried in the Zion Lutheran Cemetery in Bensenville.  Like his brother, T.J. served this congregation almost his entire career.

T Johannes and Louise Grosse gravestone Zion Bensenville IL
T.J. and Louse Grosse gravestone – Zion, Bensenville, IL

For a few reasons, I describe this story with the words, Grosse Kirchen.  Both of the Chicago congregations in this story were served by the Grosse brothers.  Also, the German term means “large churches” in English.  I think you would agree that these two churches could be described as large Lutheran churches, both with regard to the size of their buildings, and with regard to the number of members in their congregations.   I would add that there were quite a few Chicago churches that were served by pastors and teachers who had their roots in the Gesellschaft of 1839.

I knew yesterday already when I wrote the first part of this post that I would be telling the story of two historic churches that burned.  Little did I know that the tragic fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris would take place.  I was reminded also of the tragic fire involving historic Trinity Lutheran Church in Milwaukee that occurred about a year ago.  For folks like us who support the Lutheran Heritage Center & Museum, it is heartbreaking to see buildings with such a rich history come to ruin.


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