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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 of 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 population increased appreciably, so much so that a committee was formed and an appeal was made to the Archbishop of Chicago for a new parish. Archbishop James E. Quigley acceded to this request and on June 12, 1912, the Polish mission in Evanston was established as a national parish, the status 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 for 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 began on a combination church-school building. Mass was celebrated in the new church quarters for the first time on Feb. 9, 1913. Auxiliary Bishop Paul P. Rhode dedicated Ascension Church on June 8, 1913. The new brick combination building of Ascension parish was located in close proximity 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 opened Ascension school in September 1913 with an enrollment of 100 children. For nearly 60 years, members of this religious order provided a high quality education 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 group 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 and St. Isidore Church in Blue Island, Ill. Following his retirement in 1961, he lived at St. Andrew Home for the Aged in Niles, Ill. Father Feldheim 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 1936. 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 Church in Chicago in April 1947. His successor in Evanston was Rev. Thomas M. Sampolinski former pastor of St. Wenceslaus Church on DeKoven St. in 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. Father Krakowski 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 F. Kennedy) Expressway.

At the time Father Krakowski began his work in Evanston in January 1953, the parish treasury included more than $82,000 and parish membership numbered 500 families. Following World War II, many of the young parishioners who had married in the 1940s moved into the swiftly developing northern and western suburbs. 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 from Jan. 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, and 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 belonged 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 Sept. 21, 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 as pastor in 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. These 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 also serves 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 language now occupies a secondary place in the lives of the remaining parishioners. However 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 joined the parish. Today, Ascension parish serves about 220 families, 99% of whom are of Polish extraction. The parish includes many Widows, widowers, senior citizens, 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 Club, 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.

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