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Five Holy Martyrs Church at 43rd and Richmond St. on the southwest side of Chicago was founded as a national parish in November 1908 to serve Polish families in Brighton Park. As early as 1878, St. Agnes parish had been founded by Irish Catholics of Brighton Park and in 1887, French Catholics established St. Joseph (now St. Joseph and St. Anne) parish.

In addition to organizing Five Holy Martyrs parish, Rev. Joseph H. Kruszka also cared for the Polish parish of St. Mary of Gostyn in Downers Grove, IL. until Mar. 21, 1913. This national parish is now located in the Joliet diocese.

For a time, Father Kruszka celebrated Mass on Sundays in the Davis public school, 3014 W. 39th Pl. In May 1909, the cornerstone of a combination churchschool building was laid and by the time this structure was completed at 3141 W. 41st St. in December 1909, 95 families belonged to Five Holy Martyrs parish. Lay teachers staffed the parish school until 1912 when the Franciscan Sisters of Blessed Kunegunda were given charge.

The growth of this parish was slow at first. However, many Polish families settled in the neighborhood after 1914, when the Crane Company relocated its manufacturing plant from 15th and Canal St. to 4100 S. Kedzie Ave., across the street from Five Holy Martyrs Church. By 1916, 308 children were enrolled in the parish school.

With the influx of new families into the neighborhood and the shift of the business district to Archer Ave., it soon became apparent that Five Holy Martyrs Church was not centrally located. Father Kruszka began a search for a parish site south of Archer Ave, and he purchased the city block bounded by 43rd St., 44th St., Richmond St., and Francisco Ave., which had been owned by the Jesuit Fathers of St. Ignatius College.

The cornerstone of a new church building was laid on Aug. 3, 1919 and the Spanish "mission style" structure was completed at the southeast corner of 43rd and Richmond St. according to plans drawn up by architect Arthur Foster. During the dedication ceremonies on Oct. 31, 1920, Archbishop George W. Mundelein "congratulated the pastor, the Rev. J. H. Kruszka, and his congregation on the beautiful but inexpensive buildings that they had erected and encouraged them to greater things." The parish school, which adjoined the church at 4317 S. Richmond St., contained 12 classrooms.

By 1920, 1,298 families belonged to Five Holy Martyrs parish. Named pastor of St. Ann Church at 18th Pl. and Leavitt St. in April 1921, Father Kruszka was succeeded by Rev. James J. Strzycki, former pastor of St. John the Baptist Church in Harvey, IL.

The new pastor directed the construction of the present rectory at 4327 S. Richmond St. as well as the present convent, which was completed at 2901 W. 43rd St. in 1922. After two years of commuting each day from their living quarters in the old church building on 41st St. near Kedzie ave., the Sisters finally had a conveniently located convent.

In 1924, St. Pancratius parish was established to serve 773 Polish families - many of whom were recent immigrants from Poland-who had settled in the area north of Archer Ave. The old Five Holy Martyrs church and school building at 3141 W. 41St. was given over to the new parish.

Enrollment in the parish school continued to increase so rapidly that by 1924, more classrooms were needed. To alleviate this situation, Father Strzycki financed the construction of an $85,000 building at 4328 S. Francisco Ave, with an adjoining wing which is now known as "Bungalow Hall." This school addition was completed according to plans drawn up by architect Leo Strelka and it was dedicated by Cardinal Mundelein on May 17, 1925. At the time, 1,235 children were enrolled under the direction of 22 Sisters of Blessed Kunegunda. By the end of the 1920s, parish membership numbered more than 2,000 families with more than 1,800 children enrolled in the school.

Throughout the Depression, Father Strzycki operated a free employment bureau for his parishioners who were in need of work. In addition to obtaining jobs for neighborhood men and women, he employed many parishioners to landscape the parish grounds at the rate of $.30 an hour.

Nov. 19, 1934 was a red-letter day for the parish: Cardinal Mundelein dedicated a new L-shaped addition to the church and he invested Father Strzycki as a Papal Chamberlain with the title Very Reverend Monsignor. To meet the needs of the many children of the parish, the pastor established a recreation center which was dedicated on July 17, 1938. The athletic field included baseball diamonds, a boxing ring, and playground space. One of the principal speakers at the dedication ceremony was Mayor Edward J. Kelly.

Hundreds of young men from the parish served in the armed forces during World War II and a monument was erected in front of the Richmond st. school building in honor of the 60 members of the parish who were killed in the war.

In 1946, Msgr. Strzycki was named a Domestic Prelate with the title Right Reverend Monsignor. In 1950, he erected a shrine in honor of Our Lady of Fatima on the rectory lawn and this shrine is now the site of the annual May crowning.

At the time of Msgr. Strzycki's death on July 28, 1956 at the age of 69, more than 2,500 families belonged to Five Holy Martyrs parish. His successor was Rev. Edward A. Maday, who had served as an assistant at the parish following his ordination in 1929. Father Maday returned to Brighton Park in January 1957 from St. Helen Church where he had been an assistant.

Throughout the 1950s, parish membership continued to increase steadily and Father Maday directed an extensive program of renovation during which most of the parish buildings were updated. The church was air conditioned and redecorated in preparation for the golden jubilee, which was celebrated on Nov. 8, 1959. At the time of this event, 3,800 families belonged to Five Holy Martyrs parish and 918 children were enrolled in the school.

Although the pastor was not able to fulfill his plans for a new church edifice, he did receive permission from the Chancery Office to remodel and enlarge the church. Work on this project began on May 1, 1963 and during the next 10 months, Masses were celebrated in the school buildings. The nave of the church was lengthened and a new sanctuary was constructed as part of the modernization program and Five Holy Martyrs Church was reopened for worship in March 1964.

In July 1968, Father Maday requested permission to resign his post because of poor health. He died two months later on Sept. 5, 1968.

Most Rev. Alfred L. Abramowicz, D.D., Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago, was appointed pastor on July 15, 1968. He had served as an Archdiocesan Consultor and as Vice Officialis of the Metropolitan Tribunal prior to his consecration as Auxiliary Bishop on June 13, 1968. Bishop Abramowicz was baptized in the original Five Holy Martyrs Church and his family remained as parishioners until St. Pancratius parish was organized in 1924.

Bishop Abamowicz continued the remodeling program begun by his predecessor. The school buildings were renovated to comply with current fire regulations and they took on the appearance of newly built structures. Both parish halls and kitchen facilities were updated and parishioners donated their labor to convert the old parish hall in the Fancisco ave. school building into a gymnasium. The convent was refurbished and a new chapel, dining room, kitchen, and laundry were constructed.

It was with great joy that Five Holy Martyrs parishioners learned that their parish had been selected as the site of an open-air Mass to be celebrated by Pope John Paul II on Oct. 5, 1979 during his three day visit to Chicago. In preparation for the Pope's visit to Brighton Park, homeowners decorated their bungalows and two-flats with papal banners and signs of welcome. More than 17,500 persons representing predominantly Polish parishes, organizations, and institutions of the Chicago Archdiocese participated in the special Mass which was held in the parking lot of Five Holy Martyrs parish. Speaking in his native tongue, the Pope told the assembled crowd that their offertory gifts represented "all the contributions that the sons and daughters of our first homeland, Poland, have made to the history and to the life of their second homeland across the ocean." On Jan. 16, 1980, the street in front of Five Holy Martyrs Church was renamed Pope John Paul II Dr. As a result of the action of the Chicago City Council, that portion of 43rd St. which extends from Kedzie to Western ave. now bears the name of the first Polish pope.

Because of a large influx of Polish immigrants to Brighton Park within the last 15 years, Bishop Abramowicz has stressed the ethnicity of Five Holy Martyrs parish. The Polish language is taught as a regular subject in the parish school and traditional Polish customs are observed. The Eucharist is celebrated in Polish at one Mass each day and at two Masses on Sunday and the parish bulletin is published in both English and Polish. In keeping with the precepts of the Second Vatican Council, missions, penitential services, novenas, and various liturgies have been inaugurated at the parish.

More than 2,500 Polish and Polish-American families now belong to Five Holy Martyrs Church and 500 children are enrolled in the school under the direction of seven Franciscan Sisters and 10 lay teachers.

Associate pastors include Rev. Stanley J. Shaw, founding pastor of St. Damian parish in Oak Forest, IL.; Rev. Walter J. Szczypula; Rev. John F. Brzegowy; and Rev. Norbert J. Waszak.

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

Reprinted with the permission of the Chicago Archdiocese.

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