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In the early 1900s, a group of immigrants from northwestern Poland settled
on the west side of Evanston, not far from the industrial district
where they found jobs. Because they were too few in numbers to have
a church of their own, they joined St. Nicholas Church at Washington
st. and Ridge Ave. in Evanston. Rev. P. L. Biermann, pastor of the
German parish of St. Nicholas, arranged with the Fathers of the Divine
Word from Techny, IL. to conduct special services for the Poles in
their own language.
In June 1911, this small group of Polish Catholics became a mission
of the national parish of Transfiguration in the Bowmanville distict
Chicago. Rev. Francis Wojciechowski, pastor of Transfiguration Church,
journeyed every other Sunday to Evanston to minister to the needs
of this small Polish community. During the following year, the Polish
increased appreciably, so much so that a committee was formed and
an appeal was made to the Archbishop of Chicago for a new parish.
James E. Quigley acceded to this request and on June 12, 1912, the
Polish mission in Evanston was established as a national parish,
it retains today.
Rev. Felix Feidheim was named first pastor of Ascension of Our Lord
Church. He came to Evanston in June 1912 from Kankakee, IL, where
he had been
pastor of St. Stanislaus Church (now in the Joliet diocese). According
to The New World of Mar. 19, 1971, Father Feldheim came to the United
States as a political refuge, a Polish youth leader hunted by the German
government of Kaiser Wilhelm because of his
role in the movement for Polish independence. He continued his support
Polish independence in this country, and through that activity developed
a strong friendship with the famous Polish pianist-statesman, Ignace
Paderewski. He studied for the priesthood at St. Francis Seminary,
Milwaukee, and was ordained by Archbishop James E. Quigley in 1907.
Father Feidheim set to work raising money for a Polish Catholic Church
in Evanston. Through the generosity of his congregation, a site on
Wilder St. between Florence and Ashland ave. was acquired and construction
on a combination church-school building. Mass was celebrated in the
new church quarters for the first time on Feb. 9, 1913. Auxiliary
Paul P. Rhode dedicated Ascension Church on June 8, 1913. The new
brick combination building of Ascension parish was located in close
to St. Mary Church at Oak St. and Lake ave.; this territorial parish
had been formed by English speaking Catholics in the 1860s.
Under Father Feldheim's leadership, a rectory was built at 1534 Wilder
St. Following the completion of this structure, the value of the
parish properties was estimated at $52,500. The Felician Sisters
school in September 1913 with an enrollment of 100 children. For
nearly 60 years, members of this religious order provided a high
for the Polish-American children of Ascension parish.
As the Polish population of Evanston increased, so did the religious,
fraternal, and cultural organizations. These include the Holy Name
Society, the St. Joseph Society, the Rosary Women's Sodality, St.
Anne Club, the
Young Ladies Rosary Sodality, Choirs, and Dramatic Circle. Ascension
parish also supported chapters of the Polish National Alliance, the
Polish Roman Catholic Union, the Polish Women's Alliance, and a civic
known as the Polish American Club. With the passage of time, Polish
immigrants and their American-born children became an integral part
of the Evanston
community. Father Feldheim helped Polish immigrants obtain United
States citizenship and he was instrumental in the organization of
a parish Savings
and Loan Association in the 1920s. Through its services, many parishioners
were able to buy their own homes.
Enrollment in Ascension school remained fairly small, reaching its
peak of 385 students in 1928-29.
After serving the people of Ascension of Our Lord parish for 24 years,
Father Feldheim resigned his post in February 1936. He later served
as associate pastor of Immaculate Conception Church in South Chicago
St. Isidore Church in Blue Island, Ill. Following his retirement
in 1961, he lived at St. Andrew Home for the Aged in Niles, Ill.
died on Mar. 10, 1971 at the age of 91.
Rev. Peter P. Witmanski, former assistant at the Polish parish of
St. Joseph in Chicago, was named pastor of Ascension Church in April
He immediately began an extensive renovation program which included
enlarging the rectory. According to a history of the parish published
in The New
World of Nov. 22, 1940, the parish debt had been reduced from $47,857
to $29,500 in the period between 1936 and 1940. Through the generosity
of Polish families, the parish debt was liquidated by 1945.
Father Witmanski made plans to build a new church, but before he
could carry them out, he was appointed pastor of St. Mary Magdalene
in Chicago in April 1947. His successor in Evanston was Rev. Thomas
M. Sampolinski former pastor of St. Wenceslaus Church on DeKoven
Chicago. Father Sampolinski, and his parishioners continued to save
for a new church.
In 1952, a kindergarten was established in Ascension school; this
program continued to operate until 1961.
Following Father Sampolinski's death on Dec. 20, 1952 at the age
of 67, Rev. Francis Krakowski was named pastor of Ascension Church.
was the last priest assigned as pastor of St. Stephen Church at Ohio
and Sangamon St. in Chicago; this parish was suppressed in 1952 and
its buildings were torn down to make way for the Northwest (now John
At the time Father Krakowski began his work in Evanston in January
1953, the parish treasury included more than $82,000 and parish membership
families. Following World War II, many of the young parishioners who had
married in the 1940s moved into the swiftly developing northern and
Because of the decreasing parish membership and sky-rocketing building costs,
Father Krakowski decided to put aside the plans for a new church. Instead,
he began a program of renovation which included the modernization
of the interior
of Ascension of Our Lord Church.
On Jan. 13, 1956, Father Krakowski was named pastor of St. Roman Church in
Chicago. Rev. Vincent Nowakowski served as administrator of Ascension Church
13, 1956 until Apr. 18, 1958 when he was named pastor. Under Father Nowakowski's
leadership, the renovation program was completed. The Sisters' living quarters
in the school building were remodelled, the parish hail was renovated, a
fire detection system was installed in the combination church-school building,
its electrical system was overhauled.
Albert Cardinal Meyer presided at the golden jubilee of Ascension of Our
Lord parish, which was celebrated on June 24, 1962. At the time, 350 families
to the parish and 120 children were enrolled in the school. According to
The New World.
In preparation for the golden jubilee the church building had been tuckpointed,
cleaned and painted. The interior of the church and the hail have been newly
decorated. The children's playground has been extended and newly black topped.
This spring Father Nowakowski completed the remodeling of the parish rectory.
Named pastor emeritus on Mar. 4, 1966,
Father Nowakowski celebrated the 50th anniversary of his ordination on
1968. He died on Feb. 27, 1975
at the age of 82.
Rev. Edward Mika, a former assistant at St. Thecla Church in Chicago, served
as pastor of Ascension Church from Mar. 4, 1966 until his death on May
15, 1969 at the age of 55. Rev. Edward J. Brzozowski succeeded Father Mika
May 1969. He came to Evanston from St. Florian Church in Chicago where
he had served as an assistant.
As a result of declining enrollment, Ascension school was closed in June
1971. At that time, the projected enrollment for the fall was only 40 students.
children were accepted at nearby Catholic schools
On July 18, 1972, Father Brzozowski was named pastor of St. Nicholas of
Tolentine Church in Chicago. In addition to his work in that parish, he
as Urban Vicar of Region IX of the Archdiocese of Chicago.
Rev. Francis L. Lefkowicz was appointed pastor of Ascension Church effective
Aug. 16, 1972. He came to Evanston from Calumet City, Ill., where he had
been associate pastor of St. Andrew the Apostle Church.
Sixty-seven years have wrought quite a change in Ascension of Our Lord
parish. Most of the original Polish immigrants have died and the Polish
now occupies a secondary place in the lives of the remaining parishioners.
it is still spoken-so much so that at least one Mass in the Polish language
is still required. In recent years a small number of black families have
the parish. Today, Ascension parish serves about 220 families, 99% of whom
are of Polish extraction. The parish includes many Widows, widowers, senior
and a handful of young people.
Although the number of parish organizations has dwindled, Ascension of
Our Lord parish still supports the Rosary Ladies Society, the St. Anne
a Lay Advisory
Board, and a few fraternal organizations. Under Father Lefkowicz's leadership,
the Holy Name society has been revived. In the early 1970s, the parish
Dramatic Club was revived.
From "A History of
the Parishes of the Archdiocese of Chicago" - 1980
Reprinted with the permission
of the Chicago Archdiocese.