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St. Constance Church at Strong St. and Marmora Ave. on the northwest
side of Chicago was organized in 1916 at the request of 90 Polish families
who belonged to Our Lady of Victory Church. Members of the Polonia Club
of Our Lady of Victory parish asked Auxiliary Bishop Paul P. Rhode to
help them in their efforts to obtain a parish of their own. Although
he was not in favor of establishing parishes for specific ethnic groups,
Archbishop George W. Mundelein acceded to the request. On July 16, 1916,
he appointed Rev. Alex Knitter, a former assistant at St. Adalbert Church,
to organize the new national parish in the district known as Colonial
Gardens, part of the larger Jefferson Park community.
Father Knitter celebrated Mass in the home of Valentine Wachowski at
Lawrence and Long Ave. On Aug. 20, 1916, a frame church at Lawrence and
Central Ave. was rededicated as St. Constance Church.
Late in 1916, property bounded by Strong St., Ainslie St., Marmora Ave.,
and Menard Ave. was selected as the site of the new Polish parish. Work
began at 5809 W. Strong St. on a three story combination church and school
building, which was dedicated on Oct. 7, 1917 by Archbishop Mundelein.
The School Sisters of Notre Dame accepted Father Knitter's invitation
to staff the parish school.
The 10th anniversary of the founding of St. Constance parish was celebrated
on Oct. 17, 1926. In its account of the jubilee, The New World noted
that: "An addition built to the school, containing four classrooms,
a spacious hall, with two smaller halls, was opened at 2:30 in the
afternoon to mark the celebration of the parish."
Father Knitter lived in a building at 5803 W. Strong St. until 1929,
when the present rectory was completed at 5843 W. Strong St. The Sisters
then moved into the former priests' residence.
The Catholic population of the northwest side of Chicago was growing
so rapidly that between 1925 and 1930, two territorial parishes-St. Cornelius
and St. Robert Bellarmine - were organized in close proximity to St.
Constance Church. The first church of St. Cornelius parish, located at
5252 N. Long Ave.,was dedicated on May 15, 1927. St. Robert Bellarmine
church-school building at 6036 W. Slocum St. (now Eastwood Ave.) was completed
In 1932, the School Sisters of Notre Dame established a two year commercial high
school on the second floor of the school building; by 1937, a four year academic
program was in effect.
The silver jubilee of St. Constance parish was celebrated in 1941. In 1942, 343
children were enrolled in the grammar school and 230 boys and girls were enrolled
in the high school.
Father Knitter died on Apr. 15, 1945 at the age of 61. His successor, Rev.
Stanislaus A. Derwinski, came to this parish from St. Ann Church at 18th Pl.
St. where he had served as administrator since July 1, 1935.
Following the elevation of Archbishop Samuel A. Stritch to the College of Cardinals,
St. Constance high school was renamed Cardinal Stritch high school in 1947. It
became a central high school for boys and girls from northwest side parishes.
In 1948, ill health forced Father Derwinski to retire. He died on Nov. 22, 1954
at the age of 57.
In July 1948, Rev. Joseph 0. Karabasz was named pastor. He came to the northwest
side of Chicago from Joliet, IL, where he had been pastor of St. Thaddeus Church
(now in the Joliet diocese). Due to poor health, Father Karabasz resigned his
post at St. Constance parish in June 1954. He subsequently served as chaplain
of the Joseph P. Kennedy School for Exceptional Children in Palos Park, IL.
Rev. Sylvester F. Wronka, a former professor at Quigley Preparatory Seminary,
succeeded Father Karabasz as pastor. He directed the construction of a new convent
at 4910 N. Menard Ave., which was opened on Dec. 16, 1956.
In January 1960, Father Wronka was named a member of the Archdiocesan School
Board. He died suddenly on Feb. 1, 1960 at the age of 54.
Rev. Louis W. Handzel, former pastor of St. Stanislaus B. & M. Church in
Posen, IL, began his work in St. Constance parish in March 1960. He supervised
the construction of a modern school building at 5841 W. Strong St. This 13 classroom
structure, designed by architect A. J. Del Bianco, was completed in 1962. At
the time, approximately 1,750 families belonged to the parish and 550 children
were enrolled in the grammar school. In 1962, the first "all girls" class
was graduated from Cardinal Stritch high school.
On Oct. 16, 1966, Archbishop John P. Cody officiated at the golden jubilee anniversary
of the founding of this parish. At the time, the parish numbered 2,200 registered
families. A jubilee history contained the information that:
With no boundaries, it is still classified as a national parish, and
includes Polish families from a very wide area extending into the
Northwest suburbs. Caught
up in the sociological revolution of Chicago which has brought about the
dissolution of most strictly national groupings, our parish now enjoys
of people of every national heritage. Thus the history of Saint Constance
is a testimonial to the Polish people and their tenacious embrace
That our jubilee year coincides with the Millennium of Polish Christianity
is a further reason for rejoicing. And in the latter phases of our
Constance Parish is representative of an American society into which all
have pooled their heritage and traditions to form a new culture,
a new way of life.
Still in existence in 1966 was the Polonia Club, the oldest parish organization.
Under Father Handzel's leadership, ground for a new church and a social
center was broken in June 1968. Unfortunately, the pastor did not
live long enough
to see the buildings completed. He died on Nov. 4, 1969.
Rev. Martin R. Borowczyk has been pastor since Nov. 10, 1969. He came to
the parish from St. Symphorosa Church, where he had been an associate pastor.
On May 17, 1970, Cardinal Cody dedicated the new St. Constance Church and
the Handzel Center. The simple but elegant church edifice, located at the
corner of Strong St. and Marmora Ave., was designed by architects A. J.
Del Bianco and Richard Donatoni.
In 1970, the decision was made to close Cardinal Stritch high school because
it was no longer feasible to operate such a small secondary school. Enrollment
in the parish grammar school then numbered 443 children.
Under Father Borowczyk's leadership, parish life has been renewed and strengthened.
The Handzel activities center, located just east of the church, is now
the scene of an annual fund raising event in October, proceeds of which
the parish school. In 1974, a small meeting hall, a science clsasroom,
and a library for the grade school were dedicated, thus ending a 17 year
St. Constance remains a national parish and as such, it has no boundaries.
The parish membership, which numbers more than 2,000 families, is predominantly
Confessions are still heard in Polish and one liturgy each Sunday is celebrated
in the Polish language. A small portion of the parish is composed of families
of Italian, Irish, and German descent.
In its striving to develop a spirit of community and Christian conviction,
the parish is reaching out into the community. Active parish societies
Parish Council, School Board, Credit Union, Holy Name Society, St. Constance
Woman's Club, Rosary Sodality, Young at Heart (Senior Citizens) Club, Polonia
Club, Handmaids of the Lord, St. Cecilia Choir, Ushers Club, Polish Roman
Catholic Union, Third Order of St. Francis (Polish and English), scouting
an evening gym program.
In 1978, 398 students were enrolled in St. Constance school under the direction
of six School Sisters of Notre Dame and 11 lay teachers. In addition to
regular classroom teachers, the school faculty includes a librarian, gym
small group teacher, and part time religion instructor. Mini courses are
offered in journalism, ceramics, drama, model building, and crocheting.
Rev. Marion J. Snieg and Rev. Robert J. Roll are associate pastors.
From "A History of
the Parishes of the Archdiocese of Chicago" - 1980
Reprinted with the permission
of the Chicago Archdiocese.