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Efforts at organizing St. John the Baptist Church began on Apr. 6, 1913
when a group of Polish Catholics gathered in Dudek's hail and elected
trustees. This group subsequently purchased land in southeast Cook County
on Cary Ave. between 157th and 158th St. as the site of a future Catholic
Church. Originally located in the village of Phoenix, IL, this property
was later annexed to the suburb of Harvey, IL and the name of Cary Ave.
was changed to Emerald Ave.
Prior to the formation of the parish in 1914, Polish Catholics living
in Phoenix and Harvey had to travel to St. Stanislaus B. & M. Church
in Posen, IL in order to worship in their native tongue; the nearest
Catholic Church, Ascension at 153rd and Myrtle Ave. in Harvey, was
an English-speaking parish.
In July 1914, Archbishop James E. Quigley appointed Rev. Demetrius Zinc
to establish the new Polish parish and he celebrated Mass on July 5,
1914 in the Harvey Land Association Hall. Under his leadership, construction
began immediately on a frame church and an adjacent school which consisted
of two rooms. Dedicated and opened for worship on May 9, 1915, the wooden
church of St. John the Baptist continues in use today as the parish hail.
For a time, the Sisters of Nazareth who staffed the parish school lived
in an attic apartment above the original school building.
Following the death of Father Zinc on Oct. 16, 1918 at the age of 42,
Rev. James J. Strzycki, a former assistant at the Polish parish of St.
Ann in Chicago, was appointed pastor. He directed the completion of a
brick school building which was dedicated by Archbishop George W. Mundelein
Because it was established as a national parish without boundaries, St.
John the Baptist served a vast area and its members included agricultural
and bluecollar workers. According to a history of the parish written
The adult Catholic population of this parish runs above the seven hundred
mark, the majority of whom reside, in Phoenix. About one-third of the
live in Harvey. There are also a few families scattered throughout Harvey town
proper, and about a dozen living directly south of this place, in the village
of Hazel Crest, who acclaim themselves members of this parish . . . There are
at present over three hundred families enrolled in the parish books, with 309
children attending the parochial school. Five Sisters of the Holy Family of
Nazareth do the teaching.
In April 1921, Father Strzycki was appointed pastor of Five Holy Martyrs
Church in Chicago and Rev. John Grembowicz, a former assistant at St.
Ann Church in
the city, began his long tenure as pastor. During the economic boom of the
1920s, he directed the construction of a brick rectory at 15746 Belden (Union)
and a spacious brick convent at 15726 Belden (Union) Ave. These two structures
were dedicated on Dec. 8, 1925. In 1927, a grotto was erected in honor of the
Mother of Christ; modeled after the Grotto at Lourdes, France, it continues
to be the site of numerous devotions.
In December 1927, St. Susanna parish was organized to serve Polish families
living in West Harvey. This new national parish included a number of families
had worshiped at St. John the Baptist Church.
By the end of World War II, the old wooden church was no longer large enough
to accommodate the crowds at Sunday Mass. Father Grembowicz and his parishioners
made plans for a new church and finally, on Feb. 12, 1956, ground was broken.
The New World noted that: "The $400,000 church is under construction at
158th and Cary, at a point where the suburbs of Phoenix, Harvey and South Holland
join." While work was underway on St. John the Baptist Church, a new parish-St.
Jude the Apostle-was formed in 1957 to serve Catholic families living in South
Holland, a rapidly growing suburb located directly east of Harvey.
Completed at the corner of 158th and Emerald Ave., the Romanesque red brick
church of St. John the Baptist was dedicated on June 15, 1958. According to
the edifice is marked especially for its stained glass windows which
are the work of the renowned artist, Armilio Lazzaro and his daughter,
Leila. The altar
is from the Italian studios at Pietra Santa and a mural of St. Pius X is another
distinguishing feature of the interior.
On Dec. 16, 1959, Father Grembowicz was appointed a Domestic Prelate
with the title Right Reverend Monsignor. Parishioners feted him on
June 18, 1961 on
the occasion of his 50th anniversary as a priest and his 40th anniversary as
of St. John the Baptist Church. Named pastor emeritus in March 1966, Msgr.
Grembowicz now lives in retirement not far from St. John the Baptist Church.
Rev. Boleslaus J. Kantowicz, a former Army chaplain, was appointed pastor effective
Mar. 11, 1966. He came to Harvey from Chicago, where he had been an assistant
at St. Mary of Perpetual Help Church since 1960. Under his leadership, the
physical plant of the parish has undergone extensive renovation and expansion.
complex now occupies most of the block between Union and Emerald Ave. Father
Kantowicz has enriched and strengthened the faith of the people by his open-mindedness
and his ability in combining the traditions of the Polish people-who form one
quarter of the parish-with the reforms and liturgical changes authorized by
the Second Vatican Council. He is assisted by the Salvatorian Fathers of Merrillville,
Ind. and by dedicated members of the parish, among them Edward Bierovic, the
first permanent deacon ordained from St. John the Baptist Church.
The Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth have staffed the parish school since
its opening in 1915. Inscribed in stone above the entrance to the school is
the title, "Szkola Sw Jana Chrzciciela," a reminder of the dedication
and the faith of the Polish people who founded St. John the Baptist parish.
246 children were enrolled under the direction of six nuns and three lay teachers.
Approximately 75 children attend CCD classes on Sundays.
Two of the oldest and most active groups in the parish are the Holy Name Society,
established in 1932, and the Altar Guild, which celebrated its 25th year in
November 1975. Other groups include the St. Anne, St. Hedwig, St. Joseph, and
Societies. The interests of the school are cared for by the Parish School Board
and the Home and School Association. For the young, there is an active sports
program under the guidance of the Holy Name Society as well as scouting. The
parish also cooperates with the government in the operation of a Senior Citizens
Located within the boundaries of the territorial parish of Ascension, the national
parish of St. John the Baptist draws its 750 family membership from the area
bounded by 150th St. on the north; 171st St. on the south; Park Ave. on the
west; and Vincennes ave (also known as Indiana Ave. and State St.) on the east.
territory includes a large segment of Harvey located east of the Illinois Central
railroad yard, as well as Phoenix, a black suburb, and a small section of South
From "A History of
the Parishes of the Archdiocese of Chicago" - 1980
Reprinted with the permission
of the Chicago Archdiocese.