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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 in 1921.

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 in 1920

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 families, however, 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) Ave. 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 who previously 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 New World

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 pastor 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. The parish 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. In 1978, 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 St. Ladislaus 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 program.

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. This 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 Holland.

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

Reprinted with the permission of the Chicago Archdiocese.

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