From Humble Beginnings
Greeting the visitor, the traveler, and the immigrant on the Statue of Liberty is the message: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” proclaiming that America has opened its shores to the people of the world with the promise of a better life.
Poles in America are recorded in the first permanent colony of Jamestown, VA, in 1608. Later arrivals helped the American Colonies gain independence, introducing heroes such as Tadeusz Kosciuszko and Kazimierz Pulaski. A number of Poles immigrated to the United States in the early 19th century during the partition of Poland, though it was between 1854 and 1914 that the largest waves of Polish immigrants settled in the United States, predominately in the expanding cities of the East and Midwest. Polish immigrants followed a pattern of settling in neighborhoods for mutual support, ease of communication, upholding their culture and for preserving their faith. To attain these goals they built churches, schools, and fraternal organizations. Although the 1880 United States census tract lists 200,000 Poles in the U.S., their number was much larger but with the partitions, many immigrants were listed as Austrian, German, Russian, etc.
The migration to Chicago started early with the 1860 Census listing 106 Poles. This early settlement of Poles in Chicago took place on the north side in the vicinity of St. Stanislaus Kostka and on the south side, in the vicinity of St. Adalbert. St. Stanislaus Kostka, established in 1867, became the “Mother Church” of Polish parishes on the north side of Chicago while St. Adalbert, established in 1874, gave rise to those on the south side.
For years, Poles on the north side sought to establish a parish for themselves. Due to the lack of Polish-speaking priests, recent Polish immigrants received religious support from missionary clergy traveling through Chicago. In 1867, St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish began with 265 families, and was without a permanent pastor until 1869. As the number of Polish families increased, in 1873 Holy Trinity was built a few blocks to the south. As their numbers increased, the Poles moved north to establish St. Josaphat in 1884 and St. Hedwig in 1888; to the east St. John Cantius in 1893; and to the west St. Hyacinth in 1894. The heart of Polonia, however, remained in the vicinity of Milwaukee/Ashland/Division Avenues, often referred to as “Little Poland.
In time, Poles continued to settle south of Holy Trinity, a neighborhood predominately German and Irish. At a time without paved streets, cement sidewalks or modern transportation, the distance to a church proved critical and on arrival, they often found standing room only. The education of their children was also in jeopardy with the schools too distant and overcrowded. For the Polish residents, the conversation at social gatherings was the dream of having their own church and school. As they discovered, about 300 Polish families lived in the vicinity of the present Holy Innocents, and so a committee was formed with Adam Konopek, Joseph Cieslewicz, and John Rydwelski, to conduct a census. With the results, they sought the support of Fr. Francis Lange, Pastor of St. Josaphat and Diocesan Consultor, to establish a Polish Parish in their area. Father Lange assured the committee that he would offer support. When months passed without a word, Mr. Konopek consulted with Msgr. Stanislaus Nawrocki who was sympathetic. He also promised his support but advised patience and made courtesy return visits to Father Lange. The committee did so and without word they began to feel it was a hopeless cause.
Just when their dream seemed shattered, a rumor circulated that the Diocese was seeking land for a new parish. This rumor rekindled hope and time proved the rumor true. On the northeast corner of Superior and Bickerdike (now Bishop) stood the German Lutheran church of St. John the Evangelist, a wooden structure with a rectory and a six-room school located on seven lots. Members of the congregation were already selling their homes to the newly arriving Poles and resettling a mile west. Eventually, members of the Lutheran congregation purchased land for a new structure on Hoyne and Iowa, with hopes of selling the Superior-Bickerdike property.
The Roman Catholic Diocese made offers for the old property. The Lutheran congregation considered nothing less than $54,000 while the Diocese offered $45,000. Negotiations continued for months, but the fledgling community -- without a pastor -- felt hopeless. Nine thousand dollars was a fortune and their dream of a new Polish Parish seemed lost. In time, God provided benefactors with Father Paul Rhode contributing $7,000 and Father Francis Lange, $2,000. The land purchase was completed in July 1905.
Diocesan officials intended to send Fr. K. Gronkowski to organize the Parish. However, during negotiations for the property, the Pastor of St. Adalbert died, and Fr. K. Gronkowski was sent there as interim pastor. On October 9,1905, Archbishop James Quigley appointed Fr. John Zwierzchowski as founding pastor of the new parish. On October 11, the new pastor received the keys to the old school building and rectory but not to the church. According to the contract, the Lutheran congregation would continue to hold services in their church building until the first of December. Fr. John found the rectory empty of furnishings and fuel. Mrs. Wyruchowski responded by donating a bed, table, and two chairs while Anthony Lewandowski gave two buckets of coal. Within four days, the first parish meeting was held in the new space, concluding with plans for a local collection. The new parishioners converted a classroom into a chapel and readied the space for worship. Men built the altar as the women cleaned the premises. The first Mass was celebrated on Sunday, October 22, 1905, with found vestments, house organ, and benches. Meanwhile, Fr. John continued with a census and a local collection resulting in $785.55 and 144 pledges. From the start, Fr. Lange envisioned a school for the Parish and persuaded the Nazareth Nuns to step in while Fr. John brought in the Felician Sisters as permanent faculty at the end of the school year. Katherine Gierszewski, Katherine Gorynski, Aniela Dorost and others readied the school for the official opening of three classes on October 23, 1905.
On December 1, 1905 the Lutheran congregation handed over the keys to the new occupants. That day volunteers readied the church for Roman Catholic services. A new pulpit was built and installed by Mr. Frank Piecuch and Michael Komosa, while the women washed the floors and furnishings. Within a week the work was completed. On December 10, the parishioners and neighbors greeted Archbishop Quigley for the Solemn Blessing of the church and school. In a matter of weeks, the remaining Polish families of the neighborhood enrolled in the parish. The new parish attracted additional Poles to the area so that by 1907 the Diocese assigned Father Felix Feldheim as the first assistant.
Soon, the school added six classrooms as enrollment increased to 414 students the first year. In 1911, enrollment rose to 896. To meet future needs, the remaining eight lots on Superior were purchased for $52,000 and plans for a new ecclesial structure and rectory were formed. In April 1910, ground was broken for a rectory which was completed in October for $22,000. The old rectory was renovated and enlarged as a convent with the addition of a chapel and sleeping quarters for the Felician Sisters.
In October 1910, work began on a massive church edifice at the northeast corner of Superior and Armour, according to the plans by the architectural firm of Worthman & Steinbach. Bishop Paul Rhode blessed the cornerstone in June 1911. Due to strikes, building progressed slowly, taking two years to complete. On October 2, 1912, the day of joy and jubilation arrived. Homes in the vicinity were decorated with American, Polish, and Papal colors and arches were built over the path of procession. Societies with banners lined the streets, while an orchestra welcomed Archbishop Quigley, who arrived to bless the new church. As in 1905, Fr. F. Wojalewicz celebrated Mass and Fr. K. Slominski preached the homily. Clergy from neighboring parishes joined in the celebration with overflow crowds lining the streets for entrance.
The Romanesque church with strong Byzantine influence is one of the most beautiful churches in the Archdiocese. The structure is 183 feet long, 70 feet wide at the entrance, and has a seating capacity for more than 1,400. Completed at a cost of $131,000 with $23,000 spent for organ, pews, altar and appurtenances. Materials used are pressed brick, sandstone, steel, very little wood, and tile for the roof. Below the windows encircling the center dome are four magnificent murals. The north and south walls of the church are enhanced by art glass windows imported from Austria. The life of Christ is depicted in these windows and the murals complete a “Pictorial Bible.” On the north wall, one of the windows depicts The Annunciation of Christ’s Birth to Mary by the Angel Gabriel. In the large window on the same wall is The Birth of Christ with the adoration of shepherds clad in the garb of Polish Mountaineers. Above, a smaller window has The Angel Announcing Christ's Birth to the Shepherds. On the opposite wall, the large window depicts The Slaughter of the Holy Innocents while the smaller depicts The Flight into Egypt. On the other north wall is the Presentation of the Child Jesus and The Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple. On the south wall are two windows from Christ's public life: The Sermon on the Mount and Christ Blessing the Little Children. Four murals, encircling the base of the center dome, continue with the mission of Christ and the Church. The front mural on the left side depicts The Last Supper, while on the right side, The Risen Christ. The third mural represents The Descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and Mary. The final mural depicts Our Lady of Czestochowa, Queen of Poland, surrounded by patron saints of Poland.
The elation of the parishioners worshiping in a beautiful edifice did not lead to complacency. Rising school enrollment meant additional classrooms. In 1914, construction began on a three story brick structure on the northwest corner of Superior and Bishop, the site of the former frame church. Completed at a cost of $75,000, the new school contained twelve additional classrooms, a parish hall and two meeting halls. On February 14, 1915, Archbishop Quigley dedicated the new school with 1,054 enrolled. The Parish continued to grow and by 1920, close to 9,000 names appeared on Parish roles with forty-two active societies, fraternities, and organizations.
The First World War awakened the dream for an independent Poland and a call began for help with the sale of Polish War Bonds. The parishioners prayed for their brethren and loved ones while providing financial aid and recruits for the Polish Army. Prior to the United States entrance into World War I, volunteers were recruited throughout the country for a Polish Army under General Haller. Parishioners of Holy Innocents held three farewell services in the church for such volunteers. When the United States entered the war, love for their adopted land was evident in their support and service in the U.S. Armed Forces. With the War’s end and Polish Independence, Poles formed clubs representing their villages and rallied to provide moral and financial support to them.
As the Parish continued to grow, school enrollment increased annually by 160-250 until its peak of 2,694 in 1923. The Felician Sisters continued to reside in the limited quarters of the old rectory and in fall of 1923, Fr. Zwierzchowski directed the construction of a new convent at the southwest corner of Superior and Bishop, following the plans by Architect L. Schuetz. A spacious three story brick building with accommodations for thirty-four nuns was completed in June 1924 at a cost of $76,000 including furnishings. Meanwhile, parishioners began the “Mlodziankowianin,” a monthly newsletter of announcements, news from Poland, and feature articles on American life, which debuted March 27, 1927.
The Crash of 1929 and the economic collapse with the Depression did not escape parishioners. Plans for a 25th Anniversary Silver Jubilee banquet were cancelled. A Solemn Mass of Thanksgiving and Gratitude was sufficient. Despite unemployment and low wages, the parishioners continued their support. In 1930, the parish was able to lower the debt of $88,000 to $72,000, in addition to the $14,500 they donated for painting the church interior. Parishioners also met the needs of their neighbors and came to their aid. Charity was not widely institutionalized as it is today, which gave rise to Catholic charities such as the St. Vincent de Paul Society. On February 16, 1938, Fr. Zwierzchowski founded the St. Elizabeth's Welfare Circle, which continues to be vibrant. It expanded its goals by providing tuition, purchasing school equipment and serving as a bridge between school and home. It is now better known as St. Elizabeth's Welfare Circle and the Mother's Club.
The years of World War II ushered in more changes. On February 23, 1941, parishioners received the first issue of the “Kalendarzyk Tygodniowy,” a two-page Sunday bulletin with Mass schedule and announcements, while March 23 marked the formation of the Teen Club. Clergy also visited homes to conduct a parish census which revealed 2,800 registered families and 1,125 enrolled in the school. As the parish grew, so did the number of clergy, which resulted in an addition to the rectory built in 1941 for $18,200. The same year was one of reflection as young men were leaving for service in the U.S. Armed Forces.
We must mention the heroic efforts of parishioners during and after the war. As sons and daughters left for the military, those left behind conducted drives for U.S.War Bonds and entered the work force to support the war effort. The Holy Name Society, for one, wrote to servicemen and sent packages. As early as 1939, a Polish Civilian War Relief Unit of the American Red Cross-Chicago Chapter was formed at Holy Innocents. In addition to supplies, the unit provided financial support by conducting bingos, two annual tag days, etc., for over eight years. Their efforts were so distinguished they received a special citation “to acknowledge the faithful and meritorious service of the Unit.” As parishioners gave whole-hearted support to America, they also responded to the needs of their Polish brethren. Holy Innocents was among the first to join The Catholic League founded to assist the Church in Poland and displaced Poles. On June 6, 1944, a local chapter was formed and local units of the Rada Polonii of the Catholic League were established. The Center for parish units of Rada Polonii was located at 1851 W. Huron and headquarters of the Alliance of Polish Clubs at 1401 W. Superior. During the war, the headquarters became a warehouse for clothing with parishioners packing and shipping provisions. The war efforts brought a renewed sense of solidarity and community. It was a sad day when the Parish received news of the first casualty of war, Alexander Gondela, who died in June 1943 on Attu in the Aleutian Islands off Alaska.
The 1950’s ushered in further socio-economic changes in the surrounding community. A new expressway uprooted residents who then relocated as the end of the war ushered in an era of prosperity and mobility. Parishioners who could afford new spacious residences for their growing families moved to the Northwest side or to the suburbs. This left the Holy Innocents congregation with a greater proportion of older families. The decade also brought in a change of the area’s ethnic blend. Latinos, predominately Puerto-Rican and displaced by urban renewal in Lincoln Park, were attracted to the area by the reasonable rents, transportation, and business infrastructure. Red-lining by the banks, spurred the exodus and added to the number of absentee-landlords. In the annual reports for the years 1952-1953, Fr. Zwierzchowski mentions the changes but is hopeful of continued parish life. The generosity and loyalty of parishioners continued with enthusiastic support for the 1952 church renovation in preparation for the Golden Jubilee of the Parish. The church was filled to capacity at the Solemn Mass of Thanksgiving with Cardinal Stritch presiding. A Golden Jubilee Banquet was held in the Morrison hotel on Oct. 23, 1955. Two years later, in August 1957, Fr. Zwierzchowski was named a Domestic Prelate with the title of Right Reverend Monsignor. Msgr. Zwerzchowski, founding pastor of Holy Innocents, is fondly remembered. On April 23, 1960, after celebrating his 60th year in the priesthood and 55th year of pastorate at Holy Innocents, Msgr. John Zwerzchowski died.
In May of 1960, Fr. Claude E. Klarkowski was named Pastor of Holy Innocents. Fr. Klarkowski, former Dean of the Latin Department at Quigley Preparatory Seminary, gave himself to preparing students for the priesthood for 27 years. In his words: “I always considered seminary work as one of the greatest privileges, honors, and blessings of my priestly life.” Father Klarkowski became familiar with the needs of the parish, having lived in residence for twenty-six years. On October 9, 1960, at his welcome banquet he announced plans for remodeling the original school built in1890. The school was renovated for $256,000 and ready for use in September of 1961. At the opening of the remodeled school, Msgr. McManus, Superintendent of the Catholic Schools, made a surprise visit and complimented the new pastor by saying that “it was the finest remodeled school he had seen.
The decades of the 1960’s highlighted additional changes in the neighborhood and parish. On May 11, 1962, at about 11:00 p.m., a fire of undetermined origin caused extensive damage to the interior of the church. Services were held in the school hall for nearly a year. Fr. Klarkowski commissioned architect George S. Smith to supervise the restoration. As a result, new mural paintings, electrical wiring, light fixtures, and marble altars were installed. The year of improvements to the edifice cost $240,000. On Palm Sunday April 7, 1963, parishioners returned to worship in their restored “cathedral” with joy.
As the exodus of Poles continued, more Spanish speakers settled in the area. In 1962 the churches and residents of the area united and formed the Northwest Community Organization (NCO) to assure that they and not outside developers, would determine the future of the community. It was also the time that Project-Renewal began with some resistance and divergence of opinion among residents. The decade also ushered in the reforms of Vatican II. On November 29, 1964, a Mass in English and on March 7, 1965, a Mass in Polish were celebrated. These brought a new understanding to the meaning of the Mass and personal devotion. In 1966 parishioners joined in celebrating the Millennium of Christianity in Poland. In the latter part of the decade a third pastor was appointed. On May 31, 1968, Fr. Klarkowski, at his own request, was named Pastor Emeritus. Shortly thereafter, Fr. Edward F. Pajak was appointed Pastor by John Cardinal Cody. Fr. Pajak was born on January 6, 1923, and began as Pastor of Holy Innocents on June 17, 1968. In the first weeks of his pastorate, he assessed the spiritual and material needs of the parish. By August 4, 1968, Fr. Pajak created a six-page parish bulletin, “H.I. Notes,” a parish census was conducted, a new registration file was compiled, and a monthly mailing of Sunday envelopes was initiated by the first Sunday of October.
In December, Fr. Pajak announced that a $70,000 loan for essential repairs was not necessary because parishioner generosity would enable completion on a cash basis. Plans for improvements were scheduled over ten years for an estimated cost of $300,000 which included: further beautification of the church, scheduled tuck pointing and roofing repairs, renovation of the convent, rectory and school, and modernization of the parish hall. Improvements began with painting the windows and installation of padded kneelers by Easter of 1969. In October of 1971, the Parish Mission began with the blessing of the New Mission Cross Shrine. On Sunday, Oct. 21, 1973, Bishop Abramowicz blessed and dedicated the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa, a 13 by 12 ft. mosaic designed by Prof. Virgilio Cassio Sudios of Rome. In 1974, painting of the church was completed before Christmas and the temporary wooden altar was replaced with marble and consecrated on May 11, 1975. This last phase was completed in time for the Diamond Jubilee. The church was painted at a cost of $65,000, and re-leading the stain glass windows and installation of protective Lexan cost an additional $15,000. Further maintenance of the roofs and tuck-pointing for the church dome and towers cost $30,000. New windows were installed in the school while a two-room library was made possible by the generosity of the Mothers' Club. Painting of the schools, convent, rectory, and modernization of parish offices were phased in over the years. The Down the Middle Club of the Holy Name Society provided for the air conditioning of the convent while new lighting was installed in the parish hall in the first phase of modernization with a total cost of $39,000.
The decade of the '70s was eventful. The Down the Middle Club donated $9,000 annually to the school and funded a scholarship fund for graduates. In June 30, 1975, Holy Innocents, founded as a National Parish to serve the needs of Polish immigrants, was granted Territorial Parish status following its consolidation with St. Columbille. On September 10, 1975, a senior citizen club “Happy Hearts” was formed with a membership of over 175. In August 1976, Chicago welcomed a delegation of bishops from Poland and Holy Innocents was host to Bishop Jerzy Ablewicz of Tarnow. The generosity of the parishioners was evident in May 1977 when $33,764 was collected to save the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Doylestown, PA.
The Jubilee Year was highlighted with celebrations in May of a Parish Mission and a School Jubilee Play. An appeal for our Jubilee Year renovation fund generated $82,000 with painting of the church in June-September. A school Jubilee Mass was celebrated on September 28.; Memorial Masses celebrated every Sunday of October; and the Parish Jubilee Mass on October 26 with Bishop Abramowicz as celebrant and Cardinal Cody presiding. After the Mass, a reception for the clergy and sisters was held in the parish hall. In the evening, 1,400 attended the Jubilee Banquet at the regal Grand Ballroom of the Chicago Marriott. A Papal Blessing by Pope John Paul II highlighted the evening.
The history of the Parish would be incomplete without recognition to the inspiring example of our Felician Sisters. We entrusted the education and formation of our youth to them for 74 years and we thank God for their labors. Among them, Sisters Fidelia, Eustella, Patricia, and Maura taught our youth and instilled a reverence of God, a love of parents, and respect for neighbor. In addition, we are indebted for their labors, including sacristy work, care of linens, altar decorations, supervision of processions, conducting of the children’s choirs and training of altar boys. Their example and encouraging words inspired many a vocation to the priesthood and religious life.
Societies active in the parish at this time included: The Mothers' Club, Holy Name Society, Rosary Women's Sodality, Ushers Club, School Board, Down the Middle Club, Happy Hearts, Knights of the Altar, Children of Mary, Cub & Boy Scouts, Brownies and Girl Scouts, and a number of smaller Societies like St. Joseph, St. Ann's Apostleship of Prayer, Our Lady of Good Counsel and the Third Order of St. Francis.
In its 75th year, Holy Innocents remained a predominately Polish parish. Since the 1960’s a number of Spanish speaking families were welcomed and constituted 8% of the registered families and represented 37% of the school enrollment of 280 students. The parishioners faced the reality of deterioration in the area, empty lots, and homes in need of rehabilitation, but there was a new hope for the future and parish life continued to be vibrant. It was founded in a deep faith in God's continued blessing and a firm trust in Mary's intercession, a devotion to Mary that dates to the founding days of the Parish and remains strong.
The church in which we worship is a “Cathedral” compared to the original wooden church of 1905. None can compare, however, with the simple inspiring treasure inherited from our founders, the statute of the Blessed Mother. Everything from the original church had been sold or discarded except for the statute. The parishioners couldn't part with it. It is our treasure and Mary will continue to intercede for us.
Seventy-five years ago, a community of Poles built a church for worship and a school for their youth. In addition, they have bequeathed a heritage of … a love of God...a loyalty to the faith... and a generosity to the Parish. What we've inherited and hopefully enriched, is passed on to the future with firm confidence that the challenges of the future would be met with God's grace and Mary's intercession.
Seventy- Five years ago, a community of Poles built a church and a school for their youth. In addition, they have bequeathed a heritage of … a love of God...a loyalty to the faith... and a generosity to the Parish. What we've inherited and hopefully enriched, is passed on to the future with firm confidence that the challenges of the future would be met with God's grace and Mary's intercession.
The above are the last words of the history of the parish for 75th anniversary, 25 years ago. Following the conclusion of those celebrations in October 1980, life at Holy Innocents returned to the patterns set by the leadership of the third pastor, Fr. Edward F. Pajak and his staff. The years of rapid growth had peaked while Mass attendance and school enrollment declined. The years of Parish growth and development were accompanied by an era of community change, including deterioration of housing stock and declining property values. Fr. Pajak and his active participation in the Northwest Community Organization helped to stabilize changes around church property. Streets immediately surrounding Holy Innocents witnessed less change than others blocks in the area. Parish staff and parishioners worked to keep long-time parishioners. During the ten years between the 75th anniversary and the death of Fr. Pajak in 1990, Holy Innocents remained stable, while the neighborhood changed rapidly. The stability and relative success of the parish did not hide the need for continued service to the parish. The Down-The-Middle Club raised funds for the continued activities of the school. Dedicated parishioners like Casey and Dolores Jarmoc, Stanley and Roberta Czerski, Chester Bach, Walter Taraska, Bennett Trungale, Casimir Mikolajczyk, and Paul Knapp continued to ensure the stability of parish and provided large sums to ensure the existence of the school. The Holy Name Society, Users Club and Mothers Club continued to sponsor the Turkey and Ham Bazaars. The Rosary Ladies, St. Anne Society, Apostolstwo Modlitwy and Bractwo sw. maintained the Polish heritage of the parish. From 1980 through 1990 the parish welcomed priests from Poland, including Fr. Paul Baszak and Fr. Stanley Staniszewski. Mr. Stanley Dudzinski served as organist and the parish continued to celebrate English and Polish language Masses each day. Fr. Pajak continued his work with the Catholic League for Religious Assistance to Poland.
In 1983, a second fire set by an arsonist did significant damage to the interior of the church. By the grace of God, most damage was cosmetic rather than structural. Smoke and water damaged the murals and left stains on the altar, visible to this day. While the sacristy was gutted, destroying vestments and objects from the parish’s history, the real treasure of the church was spared. The statute of the Blessed Mother which graces the north side of the sanctuary is the only object remaining from the original 1905 wooden structure.
Despite the best efforts of the pastor and parish leadership, the decade of the 1980’s was a difficult one for the parish and the archdiocese. The number of resident parishioners continued to decline, although many people commuted for Sunday Mass. At the beginning of the 1989 school year, attendance declined to 183 students, prompting Cardinal Joseph Bernardin to call for a feasibility study. This study was part of a larger, long-term planning process for the Archdiocese of Chicago. At the end, the Archdiocese decided to close 33 parishes and schools. While Holy Innocents School was not affected, other institutions did not escape, including the 126 year-old neighboring parish of St. Boniface.
Fr. Pajak welcomed the community from St. Boniface and began plans for a Spanish language ministry at Holy Innocents. Unknown to the majority of parishioners, Fr. Pajak had also been suffering from leukemia and succumbed to the disease on April 4, 1990. Thousands of parishioners joined hundreds of clergy in bidding farewell. Fr. Pajak was buried at Maryhill Cemetery in Niles, Illinois, a cemetery he had helped to develop as a young priest. Fr. Marion Gienko, CR, served as temporary administrator until the appointment of a permanent pastor. Fr. Pajak had been pastor of Holy Innocents since June 17, 1968. He was ordained on May 7, 1949, and served as priest for 41 years, including 22 years as pastor of Holy Innocents. Father Ed built a following and left a legacy that continues to this day. He led the parish through difficulties and liturgical change while leaving a community with a strong sense of identity and ownership.
In the final years of Fr. Pajak’s pastorate, Sr. Francelle Szatkowski, CSSF, led the school and just prior to his death Fr. Pajak approved the appointment of Sr. Mary Lucinia Szpak, CSSF, as principal. Sr. Lucinia immediately began preparing the feasibility study that Cardinal Bernardin gladly accepted the recommendation of Fr. Klajbor and Sr. Lucinia and kept Holy Innocents School open. Over the next 12 years, the Archdiocese supported the school with grants of more than $400,000. In addition, the parish used funds raised by the Down-The-Middle Club over the years. From 1990 through 2002, Holy Innocents School continued to provide quality Catholic education, though it began an accumulation of operating debt which continued to grow. In response, Sr. Lucinia installed a computer lab and began an accredited Pre-School program. These improvements raised the enrollment to 280 students in 1998. Building on the fine Felician tradition of the past and assisted by a dedicated school board, Mrs. Michelle Mirecki became the first lay principal. Mrs. Mirecki continued the excellent level of education that Holy Innocents had always provided, and improved both the physical and academic programs. In spite of these efforts, the gentrification of the neighborhood and the decreasing number of students, coupled with increased costs, led to the 2002 decision to close the school. Enrollment at the time of the closing had dropped to 160 students in pre-school through eighth grade.
With plans for expansion in place to welcome the Spanish language ministry of St. Boniface as well as maintaining the Polish and English communities, Cardinal Bernardin appointed Fr. Richard J. Klajbor as fourth pastor of Holy Innocents. Fr. Klajbor was born on February 14, 1953, the first son of Richard A. and Dolores Wood Klajbor, was baptized at St. Casimir and ordained on May 9, 1979. At the time of his appointment to Holy Innocents, he was serving as Director of the Office of Ministry to Polonia for the Archdiocese. With experience in tri-lingual ministry, Fr. Klajbor was given the task of uniting the ethnic and language communities of Holy Innocents. On June 5, 1990, Fr. Klajbor joined with Bishop Placido Rodriguez and Fr. Richard Milek in carrying the Blessed Sacrament and Baptismal Water from the closing St. Boniface to Holy Innocents. As the Blessed Sacrament was received and the Baptismal Waters of the two parishes were mingled, Fr. Klajbor spoke to his new parish, first in Polish and then in Spanish and finally in English. Fr. Klajbor set out the scripture passage that began as our goal and has become our identity—“My House is a House of Prayer for all Peoples.” Fr. Klajbor and Fr. Milek worked together for seven years before Fr. Milek returned two years later to be the first rector of the Bishop Abramowicz Seminary, housed in the former convent building.
As the Hispanic community grew, it also grew in needs and talents to offer. A Spanish language choir and music group formed to provide music under Jose Guadalupe Rios, a folkloric dance class was taught by Sra. Judy Benitez and a Spanish Saturday School was opened under Eva Gutierrez. Although the Saturday school did not continue, it provided impetus for other Hispanic centered activities. A Charismatic Renewal Group continues to meet each Saturday evening, Luis Garcia began training lectors, and preparation of numerous catechists, teachers, and ministers emerged to provide the educational needs of the community. In time, the Hispanic community was served by two native Spanish speakers, Fr. Marco Antonio Alvarado from Guatemala: 1992-1995, and Fr. Jose Luis Castillo from San Luis Potosi: 2002-present. Our community was also served from 1995-2001 in its three languages by Fr. Antoni Bradlo, CSsR, a Redemptorist priest from Poland with experience in his community’s Argentine province.
Known for welcoming Polish priests, our parish has been their home for many years. During the past twenty-five years, in addition to those already mentioned, Holy Innocents has been served by and has welcomed Fr. Wojciech Kwiecien, Fr. Marek Jarmoz, Fr. Bartosz Barczysyn, as well as Fr. Hector Colunga-Rodriguez from Mexico. In 2003, Fr. Stanislaw Kuca joined our team from the Archdiocese of Wroclaw. He continued the Polish language ministry while learning English to serve all parishioners.
After the school closing, the parish looked to reorganize its educational efforts within the School of Religion under Leandra Ruiz, who assumed the position of Director of Religious Education and Pastoral Associate for Hispanic Affairs. The new program joined the already existing Saturday School of Polish Language and Culture and while providing for religious education in English and Spanish. It continues with the assistance of parents and volunteers. As the need continues, the parish is committed to offering religious education in English, Polish and Spanish.
After the retirement of a long-time parish secretary Dolores Jarmoc, the administrative office was placed in the care of Judy Roszak. Judy became parish receptionist, secretary to the pastor, administrative associate and bulletin editor, while seeing to the day-to-day operation of the rectory and offices. In order to continue to serve the language needs of all our parishioners, Judy was joined in the 100th year of the parish by Tomasz Pels, who served as Business Manager and Seminary Development Officer. In order to honor the dedicated service of Dolores Jarmoc, the parish instituted an annual Dolores Jarmoc Service Award given each year at the parish anniversary to a current dedicated volunteer.
Over the course of the years between the 75th and 100th Anniversaries, our church and parish buildings have been maintained by a number of dedicated men and women. For many years the members of the Mother’s Club cleaned the church for Christmas and Easter while the Holy Name Society prepared the lighting. Casey Jarmoc served as maintenance man for years, as well as Stanislaw Polak. In the years preceding the Anniversary, Allen Lis and Wojciech Budzyn among other part time men, have maintained the property. Maria Boksa lovingly cared for the priests and rectory from 1990 until her death. Each year, Helena Kieta organized ladies to maintain church environs. It is due to the service of these men and women that Holy Innocents remains one of Chicago’s most beautiful churches.
Liturgy, as in all parishes, is the heart of our life together. While maintaining Polish customs like May and October devotions and Gorzkie Zale, new celebrations have emerged. Corpus Christi processions were revived by Fr. Milek and expanded with Fr. Marco into the Hispanic community. The Polish language St. Ann Novena continues each year with English and Spanish prepared commentaries. Connected to our liturgical life are a Wigilia (Christmas Dinner) and Swieconka (Easter Breakfast). The newly declared Feast of Divine Mercy is also celebrated each year in Polish.
The parish celebrates its multi-ethnic heritage with tri-lingual liturgies for Christmas, Holy Saturday, the Parish Anniversary and the Feast of the Holy Innocents. A tri-lingual Litany of the Holy Innocents and Holy Hour were composed by Felician Sr. Carole Mary Capoun, and made available by the Archdiocese. In addition to continuing or reviving devotions, the parish began to celebrate the Feasts of Our Lady of Guadalupe and Our Lady of Providence, along with the Feast of St. Boniface. Hispanic customs like The Day of the Dead Altar and the Novena of Masses in honor of our Lady of Guadalupe have taken place alongside Polish customs like the blessing of Easter Baskets and the Blessing of Flowers for the Assumption. Secular celebrations like Thanksgiving Day, Memorial Day, American Independence Day, Polish Constitution Day, Cinco de Mayo and Mexican Independence Day have found liturgical voices. For many years music was provided by Mr. Stanley Dudzinski in English and Polish. In 1990, John Tierney joined the staff as organist for the Spanish Masses. In 1992 John assumed the organist position for English and Polish Masses. He has volunteered his services with devotion and love for the Parish. The Parish has been blessed in the past by the outstanding and dedicated organists and choir directors, F. Banaszewski, E. Walkiewicz, B. Rybowiak, A. Karczynski, and S. Hinz. In addition, a Spanish language music group under Jose Guadalupe Rios began in the mid-1990’s. Polish language music has been directed and enhanced by Ana Danowska-Kieta, who is often joined by family members and has also prepared children for singing in Polish.
Our recent history would not be complete without mention of the Bishop Abramowicz Seminary, opened in 1999 and housed in the former convent. Under the direction of Fr. Richard Milek, the Seminary prepares Polish men to serve as clergy in the U. S. with classes in English and U.S. culture. As a result, Holy Innocents has been instrumental in the ordination of thirteen (as of May 2006) priests. The Seminary program continued at Holy Innocents through the Centennial year.
It is impossible to tell the story of Holy Innocents over the past twenty-five years, let alone the past 100 years, in so few pages. We have not been able to tell the complete stories behind the Unity Carnivals, “Saints of March,” Polish–Mexican Christmas and Independence Concerts by the Lira Singers with Cuerdas Clasicas, the Teen Club, H.E.A.R.T., Cursillistas, Gudalupanos, and Caramaticos, visits of children from Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos, and the construction of the Holy Innocents Shrine. We can mention the contributions made by organizations as the Fr. Pajak Charitable Association, Bingo Committee among others, and the stewardship of W.L. Sojka, Edwin Cruz, the Jarmocs, Roszaks, Mazureks, Wojkowskis, Robles’s, Manganos, Pierpaolis, Kietas, Czerskis, Ruiz’s, Garcias, Rios’s, Rodriguez’s, and Felician and Victory Noll Sisters. To all whose names and stories are absent, we want you to know that your contributions have been appreciated. We ask that you continue to tell the story of Holy Innocents which is still being written. Anniversaries, by their nature, review the past for the future. As we celebrate our past, we prepare for the future. May that future be filled with faith, hope and love! May Holy Innocents always be “A House of Prayer for All Peoples”!• The vibrant life in a Parish is the result of the cooperative effort of many a person: priests, nuns and parishioners. In these 75 years, many were the Associates who served Holy Innocents: Fathers F. Feldheim, W. Kukulski, F. Prange, F. Marcinek, F. Szydzik, J. Grembowicz, B. Kasprzycki, L. Wyrzykowski, A. Gorski, J. Strzycki, I. Mazurowski, W. Belinski, J. Drzymala, B. Nawrocki, J. Kendziora, W. Rzoska, F. Kachnowski, S. Rutkowski, S. Sychowski, S. Kowalski, V. Nowakowski, P. Chodniewicz, F. Dampts, I. Andrysiak, E. Krakowski, B. Stangwilo, E. Skupien, J. Urbanski, W. Kozlowski, V. Sekulski, C. Gryzik, W. Szczypula, B. Szczawinski, A. Wojitecki, A. Janiak, M. Bednarz, E. Postelanczyk, B. Kalisz, H. Swinder, E, Guz, A. Baranowski, W. Lisowski, R. Nowsicki and Fr. Anthony Nowakowski. . It was not until the period from 1776 to 1853 that political refugees from the Napoleonic Wars, the partitions of Poland, and the Polish Revolution of 1830 influenced immigration to Texas. Early in 1818 a group of Polish veterans who had served under Napoleon were among the roughly 400 men of various nationalities who sailed up the Trinity River and founded the military camp of Champ d'Asile north of Galveston (near what is now Liberty). This short-lived colony soon dispersed because of famine and the threat of Spanish military opposition. A few Polish veterans fought in the Texas Revolution at Goliad and San Jacinto. The greatest wave of immigration began in 1854 and lasted until the outbreak of World War I in 1914. Partition of Poland by its neighbors had led to deteriorating socioeconomic conditions in the homeland, and Texas offered encouragement to immigrants. Some came as early as 1830, as individuals rather than in groups, and these for the most part were absorbed into the communities where they settled. Simon Wiess was one of the Poles in Texas during the 1830s; he was living in Galveston by 1833, and served as a collector of customs under the governments of both Mexico and the Republic of Texas. Father Leopold Moczygemba, a Polish Franciscan missionary, had been working in the areas of San Antonio, New Braunfels, and Castroville since September 1852, and it was through his influence that a group of some 100 Polish families (accounts vary as to the exact number), from Pluznica and other villages of the Upper Silesian area of Poland, arrived in south central Texas. They sailed on the Weser, out of Bremen, and landed in Galveston on December 3, 1854; traveling inland, they founded the town of Panna Maria ("Virgin Mary") in Karnes County on December 24, 1854 (having the first Mass said there on Christmas Day following). Their new town was located on 300 acres at the junction of the San Antonio and Cibolo rivers; the land was purchased from John Twohig. This was the first permanent Polish colony in the United States, and ruins of the first stone buildings remain today.