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St. Boniface Church at Chestnut and Noble St. on the northwest side
of Chicago was organized in 1864 from territory which had belonged to
the German parish of St. Joseph. The trip to St. Joseph Church, then
located at Superior and Cass St. (Wabash Ave.), was a difficult one for
German families who lived west of the North Branch of the Chicago River.
On Dec. 16, 1862, Rev. Ludwig Fink, OSB, pastor of St. Joseph Church,
directed the construction of a mission church at the corner of Chicago
Ave. and Carpenter St.
According to the diamond jubilee history of St. Boniface parish, this
onestory frame structure was called "The Little White School House" and
it was said to have been the only school in the area. By 1864, enrollment
numbered 120 children.
A committee of nine German men met with Bishop James Duggan in 1864 to
discuss the possibility of forming a parish. Subsequently, an investigation
was made by Rev. Ferdinand Kalvelage, pastor of the German parish of
St. Francis of Assisi. Convinced of the need for a new German parish
on the northwest side of Chicago, Father Kalvelage-with the assistance
of the committee-selected a site at Cornell (Chestnut) and Noble St.
Construction was begun in 1864 on a small frame church and "The
Little White School House" was moved to the new parish site. Among
the items donated for the new German Catholic Church was a bell, reputed
to be from historic Fort Dearborn.
Rev. Philip Albrecht was appointed pastor of the new German parish and
he celebrated Mass in the frame church on Mar. 5, 1865. St. Boniface
Church was located within the boundaries of the territorial parish of
St. Columbkille which had been organized at Grand Ave. and Paulina St.
in 1859 by Irish Catholics.
During Father Albrecht's pastorate, many parish picnics were held in
nearby groves and these outings traditionally continued from 9 a.m. until
midnight. Father Albrecht was instrumental in the organization of the
St. Boniface Unterstuetzungs-Verein, a benevolent society which cared
for widows and orphans. Between March 1865 and January 1866, 72 infant
baptisms were recorded on the parish register-a sure sign of growth in
the new parish. In the
following year, 119 babies were baptized.
In 1867, Father Albrecht resigned his post in order to organize a parish
in Platteville, Wis. (now in the Madison diocese). Until a new pastor
was appointed, Rev. J. Niederkorn, SJ of Holy Family Church, ministered
to the needs of the members of St. Boniface Church.
At the time Rev. James Marshall began his work in St. Boniface parish,
the congregation numbered approximately 100 families with 180 children
in the school. In 1867, the pastor secured the services of the Sisters
of St. Francis of Mary Immaculate from Joliet, Ill, to staff St. Boniface
school, a commitment which has endured for more than 110 years.
In 1867, St. Stanislaus Kostka Church was erected at Bradley St.(Potomac
Ave.) and Noble St. This was the first Polish parish organized in the
city of Chicago. In 1869, the territorial parish of St. Stephen was organized
at Ohio and Sangamon St.; its members were predominantly Irish.
Father Marshall spoke English, German, and Polish and on occasion, he
conducted devotions in Polish for the many newcomers who had settled
in the area around St. Boniface Church. His concern for Polish immigrants
was not shared by a number of the German parishioners who wanted St.
Boniface to remain a strictly German parish. At one point, members of
this faction brought the police with them to the rectory to force a confrontation
with Father Marshall. Wishing to avoid scandal, the pastor resigned,
much to the dismay of the majority of his congregation.
Rev. Clement Venn was appointed pastor of St. Boniface Church in 1869.
According to a history of the parish written in 1979 by Pamela Zawila.
Fr. Venn organized the St. Boniface Liebesbund to counteract the unruliness
of the Unterstuetzungs-Verein. This group had been the source of difficulty
for Fr. Marshall. At one point, Fr. Venn refused to allow the organization
to receive Holy Communion as a group .... Fr. Venn and his followers
faced the others in a clash which took place right in the middle aisle
of the church. In the battle that followed the UnterstuetzungsVerein
were routed. They were never to assert themselves after that incident
and all organized opposition to the pastor ceased.
German-born Father Venn quickly mastered English. Apparently, he insisted
that all subjects in St. Boniface school-with the exception of Christian
taught in English. This was exactly the policy Archbishop George W. Mundelein
adopted in 1916 following his appointment as head of the Chicago diocese.
St. Boniface, St. Stanislaus Kostka, and St. Columbkille Churches survived the
Chicago Fire of Oct. 8, 1871 and their doors were opened to those who had lost
their homes. The neighborhood around St. Boniface Church escaped destruction
during the fire, and it was rapidly built up in the 1870s. In 1873, Polish Catholics
financed the construction of Holy Trinity Church on Noble St. to relieve overcrowding
at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church. When the Poles demanded that Holy Trinity become
a separate parish, they touched off a controversy which continued for nearly
20 years. During the years prior to 1893, Holy Trinity Church was closed for
long periods of time and a number of Polish families joined St. Boniface Church
rather than attend St. Stanislaus Kostka Church.
In 1874, St. Boniface school was expanded to six rooms. The frame church was
enlarged and new bells (still in use today) were installed in the belfry in 1883.
In 1885, Father Venn directed the construction of a three story brick rectory
at what is now 1342 W. Chestnut St.
Following the Chicago Fire, a number of Kashubes, German-speaking Poles, moved
further north and west. They supported St. Josaphat Church on Wayne Ave. near
Belden Ave. which was dedicated on May 22, 1884. The German population of the
northwest side was also growing and in 1884, St. Aloysius parish was formed at
Le Moyne St. and Claremont Ave. from territory which had belonged to St. Boniface
Church. The Polish population of the northwest side continued to increase and
in 1893, St. John Cantius Church was erected at 823 N. Carpenter St. to relieve
overcrowding at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church, which by then had become the largest
Polish parish in the world.
On June 1, 1895 The New World reported that: "There does not exist one cent
of debt on the St. Boniface parish buildings." According to the diocesan
paper, when Father Venn began his work in St. Boniface parish the congregation
was predominantly German. In 1895, the majority of the parishioners were said
to be Kashubes. Unlike earlier members of the parish who hailed from Bavaria
and the Rhineland, these immigrants came from the Prussian-dominated Poland.
In July 1895, Father Venn resigned his post and returned to Germany where he
died on Nov. 15, 1911 at the age of 77. He bequeathed $4,000 to St. Boniface
Rev. Albert Evers, a former assistant at St. Boniface Church, was appointed pastor
to succeed Father Venn. Born in Westphalia, he had been ordained in Chicago on
June 24, 1887. Father Evers returned to St. Boniface parish from Kankakee, IL,
where he had been pastor of Immaculate Conception Church (now in the Joliet diocese).
He directed the construction of the present parish complex.
The old school was moved and work began on a spacious brick structure, the cornerstone
of which was laid on June 7, 1896. The new school, located at what is now 1346
W. Chestnut St., contained 12 classrooms, club rooms, and a large entertainment
hall. Archbishop Patrick A. Feehan dedicated St. Boniface school on Sept. 20,
1896. It had been completed according to plans drawn up by the architectural
firm of Schlacks and Ottenheimer. Between 1896 and 1901, enrollment in St. Boniface
school increased from 701 to 1,200 children.
On Dec. 28, 1901, The New World reported that construction was underway on a
large church and rectory for St. Boniface parish. On Sept. 7, 1902, Auxiliary
Bishop Peter J. Muldoon laid the cornerstone of the new church. Early in 1903,
Father Evers and his assistants moved into the new rectory at 921 N. No-ble St.
The Sisters then took up residence in the old parish rectory at 1342 W. Chestnut
Mass was celebrated in St. Boniface Church on Christmas Day 1903. On June 5,
1904, Archbishop James E. Quigley dedicated the stately Romanesque edifice which
had been completed at the northeast corner of Cornell (Chestnut) and Noble St.
according to the plans of architect Henry J. Schlacks. The cost of constructing
St. Boniface Church and rectory was estimated at $110,000. In its account of
the ceremony, the Chicage Record Herald commented that St. Boniface parish was
made up of "Germans and other Europeans."
Italians had settled in the district south of St. Boniface Church in such great
numbers that in 1903, Santa Maria Addolorata Church was established at Grand
Ave. and Peoria St. The Polish population of the area continued to grow to such
an extent that in 1905, Holy Innocents Church was organized at Superior and Bishop
Work continued on the interior of St. Boniface Church over the next few years.
On June 8, 1907, The New World reported that Pittsburgh manufacturer and philanthropist
Andrew Carnegie had agreed to defray half the cost of a new organ for St. Boniface
Father Evers was very much aware of conditions in the neighborhood around St.
Boniface Church and he worked for better sewer and sanitation facilities, better
street lighting, and paved streets. According to The New World , he was active "in
the movement for small parks, social settlements and ward improvement clubs." To
provide the children of the neighborhood with place in which to play, the city
of Chicago levelled the block of homes across the street from St. Boniface Church.
Father Evers was asked to deliver an address at the dedication of Eckert Park
on Aug. 4, 1908. The New World commented that he "has worked for many years
to secure this breathing spot in the neighborhood."
Despite improvements in the neighborhood, "the [German] families of better
financial means kept moving to the newer parts of the rapidly expanding City." Although
Polish families were taking the place of older residents, pastors of the neighboring
Polish parishes (Holy Trinity, St. Stanislaus Kostka, St. John Cantius, and Holy
Innocents) did not want them to join St. Boniface Church. German families who
remained in the parish were also reluctant to welcome the Poles, fearing that
the distinctive German character of their parish would vanish. Father Evers arrived
at a partial solution which involved offering sermons in English. This attracted
American-born Poles as well as Catholics of other nationalities who spoke English
as their main language. Among the newcomers to settle around St. Boniface Church
were Jewish immigrants. At one point, it was claimed that "almost 80% of
the public school attendance tin the area] was Jewish."
By 1916, enrollment in St. Boniface school had declined to 200 children and it
was said that half of the student body actually belonged to the Slovak parish
of Sacred Heart. The school of this parish was then under construction at the
corner of Huron St. and Oakley blvd. The diamond jubilee history of St. Boniface
Church contains the information that
As a distinctly German parish, St. Boniface was doomed to extinction
and no man could prevent it. The strain finally broke the health
of Father Evers and he
resigned his charge in June 1916.
Father Evers was later appointed pastor of
St. Peter Church in Niles Center (Skokie), IL.
Instead of closing St. Boniface parish or placing it in charge of a religious
order, Archbishop Mundelein appointed Rev. Christian A. Rempe as pastor in
July 1916. This American-born priest of German descent had been a professor
College, the nucleus of Quigley Preparatory Seminary. Faced with
a parish debt of $144,594.06, the new pastor immediately took a census.
of the parish written in 1979 contains the information that
Fr. Rempe sought
to bridge the gap between the Polish people of the area and the
priests. Evers had no friendly feeling toward them, feeling they were responsible
for the exodus of German parishioners. In like manner, the Poles returned
ill feeling. Fr. Rempe decided to break the hostility. He studied the Polish
language and spoke to the people when he met them on the street. Slowly the
people began to reciprocate with kindness. The real breakthrough came on
the First Holy
Communion day of the public school children in 1917. Most of these children
were Polish and many of their parents were not well versed in English so
conducted the sermon in the Polish language for their benefit. This thoughtful
gesture resulted in conflict. The Germans felt the parish was going Polish
and the Polish priests felt Fr. Rempe was trying to lure their parishioners
By 1925, the average adult attendance at Sunday Mass was 1,400 and enrollment
in St. Boniface school numbered 529 children. Whereas the average Sunday
income in 1916 was $80, the weekly collection in 1925 averaged $338. Polish
who graduated from St. Boniface school or who attended the Instruction Classes
formed the backbone of the parish in the 1930s and 1940s, a testament to
Father Rempe's missionary efforts.
The revitalization of St. Boniface parish was the work of the parish priests
and the Sisters of St. Francis of Mary Immaculate who aided the large numbers
of Polish families in the neighborhood. Although individual contributions
were generally small, collectively, the new members of St. Boniface Church
able to pay off much of the parish debt.
Father Rempe died on May 17, 1932 at the age of 56. His successor, Rev. A.
J. Milcheski was of Polish descent; he came to St. Boniface parish from Bensenville,
IL, where he had been pastor of St. Alexis Church (now in the Joliet diocese).
During the Depression, much of the substandard housing in the neighborhood
around St. Boniface Church was torn down and the number of families living
in the area
declined. Father Milcheski concentrated his efforts on the young people in
In preparation for thediamond jubilee of St. Boniface parish, the church
was redecorated. On Dec. 1, 1940, Archbishop Samuel A. Stritch presided at
special anniversary Mass. At the time of the 75th jubilee, 30 young men had
priests. Of the young women from St. Boniface Church who had entered religious
orders, 60 had joined the Sisters of St. Francis of Mary Immaculate.
On Oct. 11, 1949, Auxiliary Bishop Bernard J. Sheil dedicated a teen-age
center which had been established in St. Boniface parish. Following World
many Polish families who could afford to do so moved away from the neighborhood
newer sections of the city where they purchased single family dwellings.
Although incapacitated as the result of a car accident in the late 1940s,
Father Milcheski continued to direct the parish. For the last six years of
he was bedridden and in constant pain. Following Father Milcheski's death
on June 17, 1957, Rev. Stanley J. Rokicinski, an assistant at St. Boniface
served as administrator for 10 months. He was named pastor in April 1958.
The construction of the Northwest (now Kennedy) Expressway displaced many
families in the community. On Nov. 5, 1960, that segment of the expressway
from Lake St. to Foster Ave. was opened to traffic. Because rents in the
area around St. Boniface Church remained reasonable throughout the
1950s, a new group -Puerto Ricans-moved into the neighborhood. St. Boniface
first parish in the area to become tn-lingual, serving English-speaking,
Polishspeaking, and Spanish-speaking Catholics.
In preparation for the centennial of St. Boniface Church, new altars were
installed at cost of $27,000. Constructed by the Emil Greco Company in Italy,
altars were shipped to Chicago via the St. Lawrence Seaway. Cardinal Meyer
presided at the 100th anniversary of the founding of St. Boniface parish
which was celebrated
on Apr. 5, 1964. The New World noted that
Within the last 15 years, the entire church has been tuckpointed, the
organ rebuilt at a cost of $20,000, the church decorated, and the sanc-tuary
cost in excess of $28,000 . . . . The school has been redecorated, new floors
put in the school, the convent renovated and a chapel built for the
sisters who had had no chapel since founding of the parish
. . . . All this work was subsidized not by huge donations but by the pennies
and dollars of poor people.
In June 1968, Father Rokicinski was named pastor of Our Lady of Grace
Church and in July, Rev. George B. Roth was appointed pastor of St.
Prior to this assignment, Father Roth had pursued post-graduate study at
Guadalajara Institute, Mexico.
During Father Roth's pastorate, the guitar Mass became an important part
of the Sunday liturgy. As the number of Spanish-speaking families in the
increased, there was some fear among old members of St. Boniface Church that
the parish would become entirely Spanish. A testament to the spirit of St.
parish is the fact that many groups have been able to work together while
maintaining their own individuality. Father Roth introduced themes into the
and he encouraged celebrations which brought together members of different
When Father Roth was reassigned, a team ministry was established through
the efforts of Rev. John T. Hillenbrand, an associate pastor at the parish.
team included Rev. Donald A. Stalzer, Father Hillenbrand, and Rev. Eugene
One result of the team ministry was that more parishioners became involved
in the parish. This was accomplished by the use of committees such as Worship,
Formation, and Social Activities.
Father Stalzer had been appointed administrator of St. Boniface Church on
June 14, 1972 and he retained this post until he resigned in 1978. In that
Father Hillenbrand was appointed associate pastor of St. Philomena Church.
Rev. Eugene W. Gratkowski was named pastor of St. Boniface Church effective
Jan. 1, 1979. Associate pastors include Rev. Robert L. Kealy, an advocate
of the Metropolitan
Tribunal, and Rev. Philip C. Cleary, who was ordained on May 9, 1979. Carlos
Pineiro is the first permanent deacon to be ordained from the parish.
In recent years, St. Boniface parish has been involved with the Community
21-East Humbolt Park organization which maintains offices at 1400 W. Chestnut
across the street from the church. Efforts at upgrading the neighborhood
have been detailed
by Edward Marciniak, president of Loyola University's Institute of Urban
Life, in his study, "Reviving an Inner City Community".
Today St. Boniface parish serves families who live in the area bounded by
Blackhawk St. on the north; Huron St. on the south; Damen Ave. on the west;
Ave. on the eaSt. The parish membership of 2,000 families is approximately
4OWo "Anglo" and
60% Latino. St. Boniface parish is very much a multi-ethnic community of
Poles, Slovaks, French, Creoles, Blacks, Irish, Mexicans, and Puerto Ricans.
In 1978, 234 children were enrolled in the parish school under the direction
of three Sisters of St. Francis of Mary Immaculate and eight lay teachers.
Active parish groups include the School Board, Christian Mothers, Ministry
the Golden Pioneers (Senior Citizens), Ladies' Auxiliary, Headstart, Cursillo,
Guadalupe Dancers, CCD, and a Religious Education Program for Teenagers.
The 115th anniversary of the founding of St. Boniface parish was celebrated
on May 6, 1979 and Auxiliary Bishop Alfred L. Abramowicz presided at the
special anniversary Mass. A detailed history of the parish, written by Pamela
was published in connection with the jubilee.
From "A History of
the Parishes of the Archdiocese of Chicago" - 1980
Reprinted with the permission
of the Chicago Archdiocese.