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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
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.
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.