Two parishes celebrate historic anniversaries

By Michelle Martin | Catholic New World
Sunday, May 14, 2017

One hundred altar boys were joined by 100 girls in white dresses to lead the procession for the 1945 Mass at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church celebrating the 75th anniversary of the arrival of the Resurrectionist Fathers in Chicago. (Chicago Catholic file photo)

It might be difficult to find two more dissimilar parishes in the Archdiocese of Chicago than St. Stanislaus Kostka, on Noble Street at Evergreen Avenue, and Immaculate Conception in Highland Park.

Both parishes — one the mother church of the Polish people in Chicago, the other a suburban parish that grew out of a farming community — celebrated significant anniversaries in April. Both have survived and served their people for generations by reinventing themselves and meeting new challenges as they came.

St. Stanislaus Kostka

Resurrectionist Father Anthony Bus, pastor of St. Stanislaus Kostka, said his parish has lived through three crises that threatened its survival.

The first, the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, happened when the parish was still in its infancy. The fire actually turned out to be a boon to the parish, which grew exponentially as Polish workers arrived to help rebuild the city.

By 1897, the parish was considered to be the largest in the world, with 40,000 members. Four thousand students were taught in the parish school by 70 School Sisters of Notre Dame.

The next big challenge came in the 1950s, with the construction of the Kennedy Expressway. Original plans called for expressway, the busiest in Illinois, to go straight over the site of the church, which would have forced its demolition.

Some claim it was Polish political clout, but the church credits alderman and civil engineer Bernard Prusinski for coming up with the plan to move the route of the highway around the church — and save $3 million in the process.

Now, for many Chicagoans, the view of the parish that is most familiar is actually the back end of the rectory, which abuts the Kennedy Expressway.

That’s OK with Bus, the pastor.

"The expressway is our parish," he said.

That’s why the wall of the rectory facing drivers as they come into downtown Chicago hosts a variety of signs, the most recent a smiling image of Pope Francis promoting the archdiocese’s Annual Catholic Appeal. Just past the rectory, in the space between the church and the school, drivers see an image of Jesus as the Divine Mercy.

The church was designated as the Sanctuary of the Divine Mercy in 2007, with the creation of the iconic Ark of Mercy, a large monstrance in the form of Our Lady of the Sign. The Blessed Sacrament is exposed for adoration 24 hours a day, seven days a week, unless Mass is being celebrated, Bus said.

The third challenge came much more recently, in 2011, when the parish learned that the historic church, designed by architect Patrick Keely, was suffering from a structural defect that also affected the Keely-designed Holy Name Cathedral and St. James Church on Wabash.

The problem is caused by wooden trusses that can’t support the church roof once they are about 100 years old. St. James was demolished; the structural support systems at Holy Name and St. Stanislaus Kostka were repaired and reinforced.

"There was a fear that the roof was going to cave in," Bus said.

At St. Stan’s, the renovation project ran to about $4.4 million, with about half going to the roof and ceiling structure.

The ethnic makeup of the parish also has changed, from almost completely Polish to largely Latino. The weekend Mass schedule now includes one Mass in Polish and two in Spanish along with two in English.

Cardinal Cupich celebrated the parish’s 150th anniversary with a Mass on April 23.

Immaculate Conception

Immaculate Conception Parish in Highland Park celebrated its 170th anniversary last year, but that doesn’t mean there’s been an Immaculate Conception there that long.

For the first 70 years or so, the parish was known as St. Mary of the Woods or simply St. Mary’s Church. It started five years after the first settlers purchased land in the Highland Park area and over 20 years before the city of Highland Park was incorporated.

The small church suffered from natural disasters, including having the second frame church building destroyed by a tornado in 1890, according to parishioner Kristin Muntean, and having the brick church that replaced it destroyed by fire in 1903.

The first use of the name Immaculate Conception came with the dedication of a parish school 1912. The parish name was officially changed in 1916, according to a history provided by Muntean.

Over the decades, the parish has had a church in four different locations. Cardinal Cupich celebrated the 50th anniversary of the current church building in a Mass April 30.

The parish had a school from 1912 to 1978, and from 1976-1980, the school basement was the home of the Steppenwolf Theater Company.

The community around the parish had also changed. When the parish was founded, it served about half the inhabitants of the Highland Park area. Now, only about 15 percent of Highland Park residents consider themselves to be Catholic; the city has a large Jewish population, and eight synagogues.

It remains a vibrant parish. More than half its 867 families give regularly to the parish, and some trace their roots to the families who founded the parish 170 years ago.

"The parish is small but mighty," Muntean said in an email. "While having less than 1,000 families, yet the parish has strong committed families, who give generously of their time, talents and treasures. … The parish is on a growth trajectory as represented by the establishment of numerous new groups, new service and social events and ever-increasing parishioner involvement and engagement."


  • catholic schools
  • anniversary
  • st stanislaus kostka
  • immaculate conception
  • parish

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