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St. Josaphat Church at Belden and Southport Ave. was the third Polish parish to be organized on the north side of Chicago. According to early parish records, the first members of this parish were Kashubes-Poles who had lived under Prussian domination in their homeland. Because they spoke German, many of these Polish families preferred to attend Mass at the German parish of St. Michael at Eugenic St. and Cleveland Ave. rather than at the Polish parish of St. Stanislaus Kostka on Noble St. In 1882, a 13 member committee enlisted the aid of Rev. Vincent Barzynski, CR, pastor of St. Stanislaus Kostka Church, in organizing St. Josaphat Church. For the next six years, Father Barzynski was instrumental in obtaining pastors for the new national parish.

St. Josaphat Church was founded within the boundaries of the territorial parish of St. Vincent de Paul at Webster and Sheffield Ave., which had been organized in 1875 as an English-speaking parish.

Twelve lots were purchased which faced Southport and Ward (now Wayne) avenues, just north of Belden Ave. In 1883, ground was broken on Wayne Ave. for a combination church-school building and the imposing brick edifice was dedicated on May 22, 1884.

The first pastor of St. Josaphat Church was Rev. Felix Zwiardowski, CR; he had been the first Resurrectionist ordained in the United States. He served the people of St. Josaphat Church from Mar. 25, 1884 until May 1884, when he left Chicago for mission work in Texas. (Father Zwiardowski died on Aug. 31, 1895).

The next pastor, Rev. Francis Breitkopf, CR, had been the first Resurrectionist missionary in the United States. Father Breitkopf served the people of St. Josaphat Church until Aug. 8, 1885, when he was succeeded by Rev. Candid Kozlowski. The parish priests lived in the home of Charles Roeske until a two story brick rectory was completed on Southport Ave.

At Father Barzynski's request, five Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word from San Antonio, Tex. agreed to staff the parish school. They were succeeded in 1885 by the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth. Founded in Poland in 1875, this order of women religious established their first United States mission in St. Josaphat parish. Moreover, the first Polish orphanage in Chicago was founded in this parish in 1885 by the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth. In 1889, the orphans were relocated in a building on Division St., which later housed Gordon Technical high school.

On Aug. 1, 1889, Father Kozlowski was named pastor of SS. Cyril and Methodius Church in Lemont, IL His successor was Rev. Martinian Mozejewski, who had ministered to the Polish congregation in Lemont since Oct. 23, 1888. He served the people of St. Josaphat parish for only one week.

The next pastor was Rev. Francis X. Lange. Like his parishioners, Father Lange was a Kashube: he was born on Dec. 13, 1857 in Domatow, Poland, which was then under Prussian domination. He came to the United States in 1884 and attended St. Francis Seminary near Milwaukee, WI and St. Mary Seminary in Baltimore, Md. For ten months following his ordination on Sept. 28, 1888, Father Lange served as an assistant at St. Mary of Perpetual Help Church in Bridgeport.

In 1889, the Qerman parish of St. Teresa was organized at Armitage and Kenmore Ave. in close proximity to St. Josaphat Church. In 1896, the Alexian Brothers relocated their hospital from the 1500 block of N. North Park Ave. to a site at Belden and Racine Ave., two blocks from St. Josaphat Church. The Polish parish then numbered approximately 700 families with 524 children enrolled in the parish school.

In addition to his parish work, Father Lange also served as a member of the Diocesan Council. Through the generosity of his congregation, he was able to finance the construction of a magnificent church at the northeast corner of Belden and Southport Ave. The project was delayed when a cyclone completely destroyed the iron superstructure of the church on Aug. 11, 1899. So great was the damage done to the church quarters in the combination building that for some time, parishioners were forced to attend -Mass at the German parish of St. Alphonsus, located a mile north at the intersection of Wellington, Lincoln, and Southport Ave.

Auxiliary Bishop Peter J. Muldoon dedicated St. Josaphat Church on June 8, 1902. The edifice had been completed a cost of $125,000 from plans drawn up by architect William J. Brinkman. In its account of the ceremony, The New World commented that:

The new church is said to be the first Catholic church edifice in the United States to be erected according to modern American plans of ar-chitecture. It is absolutely fireproof, and is constructed with steel beams and columns, the walls being of stone and pressed brick.

In 1902, St. Josaphat parish numbered 5,000 persons with more that 780 children enrolled in the school.

On Oct. 10, 1907, Bishop Muldoon returned to the parish to dedicate the marble altars which had been built by the Hahn and Wagner Co. of Milwaukee, WI.

In 1912, Immaculate Heart of Mary Church at Byron St. and Spaulding Ave. was organized in the Irving Park district by former members of St. Josaphat parish who had moved away to a newer neighborhood.

In 1913, Father Lange directed construction of a new parish school and auditorium at the southeast corner of Belden and Southport Ave. at a cost of $75,000. He celebrated the 25th anniversary of his ordination on Sept. 28, 1913. Father Lange died nine months later on July 23, 1914 at the age of 56.

On Sept. 3, 1914, Rev. Francis G. Ostrowski, former pastor of Holy Rosary Church in North Chicago, IL, was appointed permanent rector of St. Josaphat Church. Born in Poland on Nov. 28, 1880, he had grown up in St. Stanislaus Kostka parish in Chicago.

In 1917, Father Ostrowski directed the construction of the present three story brick rectory at 2311 N. Southport Ave. The old parish residence was moved to the back lot where it was joined to the convent at 2320 N. Wayne Ave.

In 1925, 1,112 students were enrolled in the school under the direction of 15 Sisters of Nazareth.

Invested as a Domestic Prelate with the title Right Reverend Monsignor on June 12, 1924, Msgr. Ostrowski celebrated the 25th anniversary of his ordination on June 9, 1929.

On Sept. 7, 1932, a commercial high school course was established in the parish school. In May 1934, the people of St. Josaphat Church celebrated the 50th anniversary of the founding of their parish.

During Msgr. Ostrowski's pastorate, 21 parish societies were formed. For a time, he served as director of St. Adalbert and Resurrection cemeteries, and he was a member of the Archdiocesan Book Censor BoaRd. Msgr. Ostrowski died on Nov. 4, 1949 after serving as pastor for 35 years.

Rev. Dominic B. Zuchowski, former pastor of Transfiguration Church at Carmen Ave. and Rockwell St., was named pastor in January 1950. Under his leadership, plans were made for the 75th anniversary of St. Josaphat parish, which was celebrated on June 14, 1959.

Among the improvements made in the parish plant was the construction of a $300,000 school annex at 2445 N. Southport Ave. The three story brick structure, designed by C.I. and John Krajewski, contained classrooms as well as living quarters for the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth. The school annex was completed in October 1962 and it was dedicated on May 5, 1963 by Archbishop Bernard J. Sheil, Auxiliary of Chicago. At the time, school enrollment numbered 262 children.

Named pastor emeritus in 1965, Father Zuchowski celebrated the 50th anniversary of his ordination on June 4, 1967. He died on Aug. 28, 1977.

Rev. Anthony Wojtecki, former assistant at St. Josaphat Church from 1952 to 1955, returned to the parish as pastor in February 1965. Prior to this assignment, he had served as associate pastor of St. Fidelis Church in the Humboldt Park neighborhood.

On Apr. 17, 1966, the people of St. Josaphat parish honored Father Wojtecki on the 30th anniversary of his ordination. Named pastor emeritus on Dec. 31, 1975, he continued to reside in the parish rectory until his death on Jan. 10, 1977.

Rev. Jerome S. Siwek, former assistant at St. Constance Church, succeeded Father Wojtecki as pastor in December 1975. On May 14, 1976, two men entered the rectory and forced Father Siwek-at gunpoint-to open the rectory safe which contained receipts from the parish bingo game. The pastor sustained cuts and bruises during the robbery. Following his recovery, Father Siwek was appointed associate pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary parish.

Rev. Gerald E. Rogala was named administrator of St. Josaphat parish on June 10, 1976. A former professor at Niles College, he had served as associate pastor of St. John Berchmans Church from 1974-1976. Father Rogala was appointed pastor on Feb. 5, 1979.

For more than 90 years, the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth have staffed this parish school. In 1978, 205 children were enrolled under the direction of six nuns and five lay teachers.

Over the years, St. Josaphat parish has ministered to the needs of generations of Polish Catholics. Of the 450 families who now belong to the parish, approximately 50% are Polish-American; 30% are Mexican and Mexican-American; and 20% are of other ethnic backgrounds. The patron of the parish, St. Josaphat, was recognized as a martyr for unity and, inspired by his witness, the parishioners continue to live Christ's wish that all may be One. Although St. Josaphat is a national parish and has no boundaries, its members live in the immediate neighborhood.

Active parish organizations include the Mothers' Club, Altar Society, Holy Name Society, Ladies Auxiliary Society, Married Ladies Rosary Society, and girl scouts. Members of St. Josaphat parish work closely with Christopher House, a social service agency with offices at 2507 N. Greenview Ave. The parish also belongs to the Sheffield Neighbors Association. Rev. James V. Quinlan is associate pastor of St. Josaphat parish.

A new Center for Aging is now under construction at 1200 W. Belden Ave. in close proximity to St. Josaphat Church. The project is being funded by the Little Sisters of the Poor, who have operated St. Augustine's Home for the Aged at 2358 N. Sheffield Ave. since 1884. Following a ruling by the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare that the brick structure on Sheffield Ave. no longer met the Life Safety Code, the Sisters made plans to relocate. They purchased land at Belden and Racine Ave. from the Alexian Brothers, whose modern medical center is now located at 800 W. Biesterfield Rd. in Elk Grove Village, IL (From 1968 until 1976, the former Alexian Brothers hospital housed Belden Manor, a shelter home for mentally retarded adults operated by the Cenco Care Corporation.) In addition to caring for the elderly poor, the $6 million Center for Aging will "reach further into the community and offer continual counseling and services to the elderly who live at home but who can reach the Center."

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

Reprinted with the permission of the Chicago Archdiocese.

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