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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 1931.

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. and Leavitt 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 widespread representation of people of every national heritage. Thus the history of Saint Constance is a testimonial to the Polish people and their tenacious embrace of Christianity. That our jubilee year coincides with the Millennium of Polish Christianity is a further reason for rejoicing. And in the latter phases of our history, Saint 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 northwest 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 are used to subsidize 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 building program.

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 Polish. 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 include the 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 program, and 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 instructor, 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.


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