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St. Helen Church at Augusta and Oakley Blvd. on the northwest side of Chicago was founded in 1913 to serve Catholics of Polish birth and descent who had moved west of the Polish parishes of St. Stanislaus Kostka, Holy Trinity, St. John Cantius, and Holy Innocents. This new national parish was established in close proximity to St. Mark Church (now located at Thomas St. and Campbell Ave.). The English-speaking parish of St. Mark had been organized in 1894 by Irish Catholics. 

On June 6, 1913, Archbishop James E. Quigley appointed Rev. Peter H. Pyterek to organize the Polish Catholics who lived in the territory bounded by North Ave. on the north; Kinzie St. on the south; Kedzie Ave. on the west; and Wolcott Ave. on the east. Father Pyterek came to the Humboldt Park neighborhood from Blue Island, IL, where he had served as first resident pastor of the Polish parish of St. Isidore. The new pastor celebrated Mass for the first time on July 13, 1913 in the assembly hail of the Columbus school located on Augusta Blvd. between Hoyne Ave. and Leavitt St.

Father Pyterek commissioned the architectural firm of Worthmann & Steinbach to draw up plans for a combination church and school building, the cornerstone of which was laid on Nov. 2, 1913. The brick structure, which was built on the south side of Augusta Blvd. near Western Ave., contained a church on the first floor and eight classrooms on the second floor. In order to complete the parish plant, the pastor converted an apartment building at 2315 W. Augusta Blvd. into a rectory and remodeled a building at 2319 W. Augusta Blvd. into a convent. Archbishop Quigley dedicated St. Helen Church on Sept. 6, 1914. On the following day, four Felician Sisters opened the parish school with an enrollment of 312 children.

Enrollment grew so rapidly that a second school building (now the youth center), located just west of the rectory, was constructed and this structure was dedicated on Aug. 23, 1925. Within five years, 1,532 children were enrolled in the parish school.

In 1926, St. Fidelis parish was established at Hirsch St. and Washtenaw Ave. to relieve overcrowding at St. Helen parish.

Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, St. Helen remained a tightly-knit Polish parish. The last improvement in the parish complex made by the founding pastor was the renovation of the convent. This project was completed in 1945 at a cost of $75,000.

Father Pyterek died on Oct. 25, 1955 after serving as pastor for 42 years. His successor was Very Rev. Msgr. Stanislaus J. Piwowar, S.T.D. Prior to his appointment on Jan. 13, 1956, Msgr. Piwowar had served as executive director of the Catholic League for Religious Assistance to Poland.

Msgr. Piwowar initiated a $2 million expansion program and under his leadership, the present parish complex took shape. The first phase of this program involved the construction of an eight classroom school addition which was dedicated on Dec. 2, 1956. At the time, 1,332 children were enrolled in St. Helen school under the direction of 17 Felician Sisters.

On July 20, 1957, Msgr. Piwowar was named a Domestic Prelate with the title Right Reverend Monsignor. In January 1958, he announced that Samuel Cardinal Stritch had granted permission for the construction of a new church. In order to increase the amount of parish land on Oakley Blvd., the alley was closed and an adjoining building was purchased at a cost of $44,000. The old rectory was demolished and the architectural firm of Pirola and Erbach drew up plans for a new church and parish residence.

Ground at the southwest corner of Augusta and Oakley Blvd. was broken for the new church and work began on the rectory at 2315 W. Augusta Blvd. Msgr. Piwowar laid the cornerstone of the church on Aug. 16, 1964. Designed in the form of a fish, a symbol of Christ, the new church was constructed of Wisconsin Lannon Stone and it combines mass and vigor with harmony of design. The oval shape of the interior provides seating for 1,100 persons in eight rows of solid walnut pews. The Stations of the Cross, designed by Armando Santini in nickel and silver, rank among the finest examples of sacred art-they are original in design, meticulous in detail, and vibrant in appearance. The four stained glass bay windows of 16 panels each were designed and executed by Erhard Stoetner of Milwaukee, WI.

Dec. 20, 1965 was a red-letter day for parishioners: Archbishop John Cody dedicated St. Helen Church and presided at the parish's 50th jubilee celebration, which had been delayed until the new church was completed.

The cost of building the church and rectory was $1,250,000. The next phase of the expansion program involved the renovation of the second combination building at a cost of $125,000. This structure, which had been built in 1925, was rededicated on Sept. 21, 1969 as St. Helen Youth Center. The opening of the center, with its gymnasium, auditorium, library, and meeting rooms, marked the 40th anniversary of Msgr. Piwowar's ordination.

In November 1970, the convent on Augusta Blvd. was remodeled once again, this time at a cost of $35,000. The final project in the renovtion program begun by Msgr. Piwowar was the creation of parking and playground facilities on Western Ave. at a cost of $65,000.

Named pastor emeritus on Jan. 9, 1974, Msgr. Piwowar continues to reside in the parish rectory.

Rev. Norbert A. Wachowiak, former assistant at Five Holy Martyrs Church, served as pastor of St. Helen Church from January 1974 until June 10, 1976 when he was appointed associate pastor of St. Camillus Church.

Rev. William 5. Lisowski was named pastor on Apr. 7, 1976. Prior to his appointment at St. Helen parish he had served as an associate pastor of St. Salomea Church.

At its peak, more than 2,500 families of Polish descent-approximately 7,500 individuals-belonged to the parish. Of the 1,200 families who now belong to St. Helen parish nearly half have emigrated from Poland since the end of World War II. An increasing number of families from the Philippines and India have joined the parish in recent years. The majority of Spanish-speaking families who live in the neighborhood belong to nearby St. Mark parish.

Active parish organizations include the Holy Name Society, Ladies Rosary Sodality, Queen Wanda Club, the parish unit of the Council of Catholic Women, St. Helen School Mothers' Club, Golden Age Club, Social Center Charter Member Club, Apostleship of Prayer, Third Order of St. Francis, Ushers Club, Choir, and societies of the Polish Roman Catholic Union, Polish Women's Alliance, Polish National Alliance, and United Polish Women of America.

In 1978, 350 children were enrolled in St. Helen school under the direction of four Felician Sisters and seven lay teachers.

Associate pastors include Rev. Richard M. Jung and Rev. Joseph R. Szabelski. Edward W. Biedrzycki served as a permanent deacon from 1972 until his death on Jan. 1, 1976.

From "A History of the Parishes of the Archdiocese of Chicago" - 1980

Reprinted with the permission of the Chicago Archdiocese.

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