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St. Fidelis Church at 1405 N. Washtenaw Ave. on the northwest side of
Chicago was founded in 1926 by George Cardinal Mundelein to serve Polish
Catholics who had settled just east of Humboldt Park. Although the national
parish of St. Helen had been established nearby at Augusta and Oakley
Blvd. in 1913, the Polish population of the area soon necessitated the
organization of another national parish.
Cardinal Mundelein appointed Rev. John F. Zelezinski, a former assistant
at St. Mary of Perpetual Help Church, to organize St. Fidelis parish
in the territory bounded by Bloomingdale Ave. on the north; Division
St. on the south; Kedzie Ave. on the west; and Western Ave. on the eaSt.
To provide for the needs of the new parish, the Archdiocese had acquired
the former St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church at the northwest corner
of Hirsch St. and Washtenaw Ave. The $77,000 purchase price included
the Gothic church and a parsonage at 1406 N. Washtenaw Ave. which became
the parish rectory. Father Zelezinski celebrated Mass in the former Lutheran
church for the first time on Sept. 26, 1926. With the generous support
of his parishioners, he was able to enlarge the church and to install
three marble altars. Cardinal Mundelein blessed St. Fidelis Church on
Apr. 24, 1927 and in its account of the ceremony The New World noted
that: "The neighborhood, which was practically all Jewish and people
of the Lithuanian religion [sic], is rapidly growing into a Catholic
community, ninety per cent Polish."
Because the neighborhood had already been built up with brick apartment
buildings, no vacant lots existed on which to construct a new parish
plant. For nearly 30 years after its organization, St. Fidelis parish
was housed exclusively
in turn-of-the-century buildings.
In September 1927, the Polish Sisters of St. Joseph of the Third Order of St.
Francis from Stevens Point, Wis. opened St. Fidelis school in a building which
was located one half block south of the church. The Sisters resided in part of
this building for many years. In 1928, 10 classrooms were provided after Father
Zelezinski acquired three apartment buildings across the street from the church,
along with a soda factory which housed the heating plant for the school. The
last piece of property acquired by the pastor was an apartment building on Washtenaw
Ave. which was remodeled as a social center in 1936.
Within a decade, the membership of St. Fidelis parish grew from 150 to 1,000
families and the Sunday schedule of Masses increased from two to eight. By the
time of the parish's 10th anniversary which was celebrated on Sept. 27, 1936,
two of the Sunday Masses had been set aside for English-speaking members of the
On June 4, 1939, Father Zelezinski was invested as a Papal Chamberlain with the
title Very Reverend Monsignor. The day marked the 25th anniversary of his ordination.
Throughout the 1940s, St. Fidelis remained a tightly knit Polish parish. While
the original members of this parish were predominantly blue collar workers, their
children became businessmen and professionals. The effects of the post-war population
boom, coupled with the resettlement of Polish refugees, was keenly felt in the
parish and the increasing membership, as recorded in the baptismal and marriage
registers, taxed parish facilities.
In 1946, Msgr. Zelezinski was named a Domestic Prelate with the title Right Reverend
Monsignor. Although he saw the need to improve and expand the parish plant he
died before he could carry out this task. At the time of Msgr. Zelezinski's death
on Sept. 26, 1957, the parish membership numbered 2,200 families.
Rev. Francis E. Ploszek, former pastor of Transfiguration Church, was named pastor
on Nov. 7, 1957. Under his leadership, the present parish complex took shape.
On Mar. 25, 1958, ground was broken at 1405 N. Washtenaw Ave. for a new school
building with accommodations for 1,000 students in 21 classrooms. The church
was refurbished, and an apartment building at 2650 W. Hirsch St. was remodeled
into a convent. As part of the renovation program, the rectory at 1406 N. Washtenaw
Ave. was refurbished and a former classroom building was converted into a parish
office. Albert Cardinal Meyer dedicated the new school and blessed the convent
and rectory on Apr. 24, 1960.
Over the years, English remained the second language spoken by the Bohemians,
Germans, Hungarians, Jews, and Poles who had made their home in the Humboldt
Park neighborhood. However the latest newcomers to the area-Spanish-speaking
families from Puerto Rico, Mexico, and South America-were not welcome into the
community. In the 1960s, many members of St. Fidelis parish moved away from Humboldt
Park and the congregation then became predominantly Spanish-speaking with a number
of elderly Polish parishioners who either could not afford to move or who did
not wish to leave the parish. Absentee landlords and the accompanying decline
in property values threatened the future of the neighborhood. As workers relocated
with their businesses and factories, the parish membership was further diminished-and
with it parish revenues.
When St. Fidelis Church had to be demolished in 1968 for reasons of safety, the
congregation could not afford to build a new structure. Since then, Mass has
been celebrated in the school cafeteria which now serves as the parish church.
Named pastor emeritus in 1968, Father Ploszek now resides in Antioch, IL On Nov.
15, 1968, Rev. Marion A. Matlak, former assistant at Our Lady of Victory Church,
was named pastor of St. Fidelis Church. In order to meet the needs of the newest
members of the parish he secured the services of Rev. Luis Flores, OSM and his
associates at El Centro Priory at Division St. and Washtenaw Ave. who were fluent
in Spanish. Father Matlak organized a Parish Council and when the number of religious
teachers declined, he requested a subsidy from the Archdiocese of Chicago to
hire lay teachers.
Following Father Matlak's appointment as pastor of St. Cornelius Church in January
1974, Rev. Joseph L. Fitzharris served as administrator until Mar. 6, 1974 when
Rev. Joseph P. Grembla was named pastor. Father Grembla, who came to the parish
from nearby St. Helen Church, is fluent in English, Polish, and Spanish and under
his leadership, the many factions in St. Fidelis parish have begun to work with
and for each other.
In the summer of 1976, many parishioners suffered enormous losses when their
homes were destroyed by fires which had been set by arsonists. With the cooperation
of homeowners and apartment dwellers in the Humboldt Park neighborhood, the parish
staff of St. Fidelis continues to combat housing decay and to discourage the
work of arsonists in the area. As subsequent arson investigations have shown,
the problem continues because absentee landlords can actually make money when
their buildings go "up in smoke."
A number of former parishioners returned to St. Fidelis Church on Sept. 26, 1976
to participate in the golden jubilee anniversary. Following the Mass, a reception
was held in the parish hail. The 50th anniversary celebration concluded with
a parish dinner on Oct. 3, 1976 at the Regency Inn, 5319 W. Diversey Ave.
From 1973 to 1977, Sister Lucila and Sister Maria, Missionary Sisters of St.
Therese from Mexico City, worked among the Spanish-speaking families of St. Fidelis
parish. In June 1974, Sister Edna Kazek and Sister Virgiose Ozog, Sisters of
St. Joseph of the Third Order of St. Francis, became members of the parish team
and they have been joined in recent years by Sister Christine Ryan, OP. Like
other members of the pastoral team who can speak at least two languages, associate
pastor, Rev. John W. Hurley is fluent in Spanish. Rev. Anthony Stefaniak, a Polish-born
priest, is in residence at St. Fidelis Church. He served as associate pastor
from 1956 until May 29, 1974 when he was named associate pastor emeritus, Rev.
Luis Flores, OSM has assisted at the parish on a part time basis since January
1971. Three permanent deacons-Juan Lopez, Julio Martinez, and Jose Viruet-have
been ordained from St. Fidelis Church. Members of the pastoral team also serve
the spiritual needs of patients at Norwegian American hospital at Cortez St.
and Francisco Ave.
Active parish organizations include the Parish Council, School Board, Block Clubs,
Golden Age Club, Hermanos and Damas, Zwiazek Dusz, the Apostleship of the Sacred
Heart, the Holy Name Society, Ushers Club, Rosary Ladies, Third Order of St.
Francis, and a group which makes home visits.
In 1978, 260 children were enrolled in St. Fidelis school under the direction
of three Sisters of St. Joseph of the Third Order of St. Francis and seven lay
From "A History of
the Parishes of the Archdiocese of Chicago" - 1980
Reprinted with the permission
of the Chicago Archdiocese.