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St. John Cantius Church on Carpenter St. between Fry St. and Chicago Ave. was founded in 1893 to relieve overcrowding at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church on Noble St., the oldest Polish parish in Chicago. Established in 1867, St. Stanislaus Kostka had become the largest Polish parish in the world by 1892 with a membership of 8,000 families. On Dec. 10, 1892, The New World announced that

Owing to the rapid growth of this parish and the large territory it covers, it was deemed advisable to divide it, as it is impossible for one church to accommodate this rapidly increasing congregation. A new parish will be made early next year and a church built in the neighborhood of Chicago avenue and Carpenter streets for the Polish residents in that vicinity.

According to The New World of Jan. 14, 1893, 20 houses in the immediate area of Chicago Ave. and Carpenter St. had to be demolished to make way for the new Catholic Church. Appointed pastor of the new parish in the thickly settled "Polish Patch" along the banks of the north branch of the Chicago River was Rev. John Kasprzycki, CR.

The cornerstone of St. John Cantius Church was laid on Sept. 4, 1893 by Archbishop Patrick A. Feehan. In November 1893, the School Sisters of Notre Dame opened the parish school in the church basement with an enrollment of 150 children. The present rectory at 825 N. Fry St. was blessed on Dec. 20, 1893 and Archbishop Feehan dedicated the lower church on the following day. Mass in the church basement was celebrated for the first time on Christmas 1893, which is considered to be the founding date of St. John Cantius parish. Due to the depression which followed the closing of the World's Fair, the upper church was not completed for five years. The Romanesque baroque structure, designed by Adolphus Druiding and completed at a cost of $130,000 was finally dedicated on Dec. 11, 1898 by Archbishop Feehan.

Following the appointment of Father Kasprzycki as pastor of St. Stanislaus Kostka Church, Rev. Eugene Sedlaczek, CR, former pastor of St. Hyacinth parish, was named pastor of St. John Cantius Church in May 1899. During his two year tenure as pastor, he supervised the completion of the church interior.

From 1901 to 1902, Rev. Stephen Dabkowski, CR served as pastor. His successor, Rev. Stanislaus Rogaiski, CR came to Chicago from Ontario, Canada, where he had been pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Kitchener since 1895. Father RogalskI turned his attention to the need for a separate school building. On Mar. 7, 1903, The New World reported that

At present the children are taught in the basement of the church, and as there are 1,400 pupils, more space is very much needed. Eighteen Sisters of Notre Dame have charge of the school.

Through the generosity of the parishioners, a new school building at the corner of Chicago Ave. and Carpenter St. was completed by November 1903. Under Father Rogaiski's leadership, a magnificent clock was installed in the right tower of the church; the interior of the edifice was painted for the first time; and an organ was acquired.

Appointed pastor of St. Stanislaus Kostka Church in 1909, Father Rogalski was succeeded by Rev. John Kosinski, CR, former head of St. Stanislaus College (now known as Weber high school). During his pastorate, new and sophisticated electrical and ventilating systems were installed in the church and stained glass windows were purchased.

Following Father Kosinski's death on May 1, 1914, Rev. Vincent Rapacz, CR served as administrator until Rev. Stanislaus Siatka, CR was named pastor in March 1915.

During Father Siatka's pastorate, concrete stairs were built at the main entrance of the church; the church basement was remodeled into an auditorium; a convent was constructed at 1025 W. Fry St.; and the brick fence which now surrounds the parish complex was completed.

In 1916, St. Stephen Church at Ohio and Sangamon St. was designated as a mixed parish to serve Polish families who had settled in the neighborhood. This parish had been established in 1869 by Irish Catholics.
The silver jubilee of St. John Cantius parish was celebrated on Dec. 25, 1918.

In its 25th year, the parish reached its peak membership of 23,000 souls with more than 2,000 children enrolled in the school.

Following Father Siatka's appointment as pastor of St. Hedwig Church in 1920, Rev. Stephen Kowalczyk, CR, former superior and rector of St. John Cantius Seminary in St. Louis, Mo., was named pastor.

In the 1920s, the Ogden Ave. extension was constructed through the heart of St. John Cantius parish. Not only did the project take many homes and displace parishioners, but it proved a hazard to the safety of children enrolled in the parish school. A decline in enrollment resulted as parents sent their children to nearby grammar schools.

In 1930, Father. Kowalczyk was appointed pastor of St. Hyacinth Church and Rev. Walter Bartylak, CR succeeded him as pastor of St. John Church. The Depression years found St. John Cantius Church to be a social as well as a spiritual hub for the youth of the parish. Under Father Bartylak's supervision, many social activities were sponsored to draw the parish youth together during these difficult years.

In 1934, Father Bartylak was attached to the Resurrectionist Missionary Band in Castleton-on-the-Hudson, New York. He was succeeded by Rev. Theodore Klopotowski, CR who served the people of St. John Cantius parish for five years until his appointment as pastor of St. Hyacinth Church.

Rev. Joseph Prusinski, CR served as pastor from 1939 to 1942 during which time he was appointed vice chaplain of the Polish Alma Mater.

For several months in 1942, Rev. Leonard Long, CR served as interim pastor. He was succeeded by Rev. John Grabowski, CR, a former teacher at Weber high school who had been active in mission and retreat work.

On Jan. 9, 1944, Archbishop Samuel A. Stritch presided at the golden jubilee of St. John Cantius parish. Parish membership and school enrollment had declined drastically since 1918. Whereas some 2,300 children were enrolled in 1918, at the time of the golden jubilee, enrollment numbered 376 children. This trend was accelerated during the post World War II years as young couples moved away from the old neighborhood to newer areas of the city and to the suburbs. Vacant homes and apartments were occupied by newer immigrants, many of them Puerto Ricans who found jobs in the neighborhood factories.

In 1951, Father Grabowski was appointed pastor of St. Mary of the Angels Church and Rev. Stanley Duda, CR was named pastor of St. John Cantius Church. Like his predecessors, he witnessed the profound changes in the parish which resulted when families moved to other residential districts. In the 1950s, thousands of homes were razed to make way for the Northwest (now the John F. Kennedy) expressway. This massive construction project deeply affected St. John and neighboring parishes.

For a period of time, parish membership seemed to stabilize. Although much discussion of urban renewal took place between 1954 to 1957 (during the pastorate of Rev. John Wojcik, CR), the dream of residential reconstruction proved to be just that-a dream. On Nov. 5, 1960, a segment of the Kennedy expressway just west of St. John Cantius Church was opened; it extended from Lake St. to Foster Ave.

In 1963, Rev. John S. Pawelczak, CR was named pastor. As the years went by, it became increasingly difficult to maintain the parish school. Most families with school age children were not staying in the area and enrollment continued to dwindle. The School Sisters of Notre Dame continued to staff the parish school until its closing in 1967.

The diamond jubilee of St. John Cantius parish was celebrated on Oct. 20, 1968. Polish hymns sung by 42 members of the choir under the direction of Albert Kasluga formed a special part of the ceremony.
In May 1972, Father Pawelczak was named associate pastor of St. Stanislaus B. & M. Church in Chicago. He now lives in the Nazarethville Retirement Home in Des Plaines, IL.

Rev. Peter A. Fiolek, CR was appointed pastor on May 25, 1972. A graduate of St. John Cantius grammar school, he had served on the faculty of Weber high school and with the Resurrectionist mission band in New York following his ordination in 1926. For 21 years, Father Fiolek was active in publishing work in Chicago as editor of the Banner and as editor and manager of Dziennik Chicagoski (The Polish Daily News). He returned to St. John Cantius parish from St. Stanislaus B. & M. parish where he had been serving as associate pastor since January 1972.

The parish now serves Catholics who live in the area bounded by Division St. on the north; Grand Ave. on the south; Ashland Ave. on the west; and Halsted St. on the eaSt. Although the surrounding neighborhood is primarily industrial, the parish thrives-to the amazement of many-mainly because there are nearly 1,000 families who continue to give generously of their love and financial support.

A good many of the faithful support St. John Cantius as their "second parish," contributing also to the parish in their own neighborhood. Ironically, the Kennedy expressway which took so many people away from the parish now carries them back to her today to worship and socialize.

The former parish school at 1010 W. Chicago Ave. now houses the Near North Montessori school and the former convent at 1025 W. Fry Ave. is now the headquarters of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine program in the Archdiocese of Chicago.

A number of religious societies and social organizations still flourish in the parish, among them: St. Anne's Altar Society and Auxiliary; Women's Rosary Sodality; St. Therese Society; Apostleship of Prayer; Third Order of St. Francis; Parish Club; Holy Name Society; St. Joseph Novitiate; Society of Our Lady of Lourdes; Project Club; and Ushers Club.

Associate pastors of St. John Cantius Church include Rev. Felix Miliszkiewicz, CR and Rev. John Wojcik, CR. Bro. Lucian Budzinski, CR, is the sacristan.

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

Reprinted with the permission of the Chicago Archdiocese.

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