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On June 25, 1909, The New World announced that a new parish
was to be formed for Catholic families living in the territory bounded
St. on the north; 22nd St. on the south; the Des Plaines River on the
west; and 64th (Ridgeland) Ave. on the east. According to the diocesan
newspaper, "lively real estate speculations" had led to the
rapid growth of South Oak Park (now known as Berwyn). Established as
an independent village in 1901, Berwyn was incorporated as a city in
Its population grew rapidly, from 5,841 residents in 1910
to 14,150 persons by 1920.
From the beginning, St. Mary of Celle was a mixed parish. The New World noted
that inasmuch as the Most Rev. Archbishop consented that all Catholics, regardless
of nationality, may consider themselves as members of the new parish and as such,
may receive spiritual administrations from the Benedictine Fathers [from St.
Procopius Church in Chicago] who are to be in charge of the new parish. The same
contains at present 150 Bohemian and about 20 English-speaking and other families
of different nationalities.
The new parish was named after the ancient shrine of Our Lady of Mariazell which
had been established in 1157 by the Benedictines of St. Lambrecht Abbey in the
beautiful mountain country 50 miles southwest of Vienna.
On June 16, 1909, Catholics in Berwyn gathered at a club house at 1221 Clarence
Ave. where Very Rev. Prokop Neuzil, OSB, pastor of St. Procopius parish, read
Archbishop Quigley's letter regarding the new parish. The Benedictines of St.
Procopius Abbey assisted Father Neuzil and his people in purchasing the entire
block on the east of Euclid Ave. between 14th and 15th St. as a parish site.
Beginning on July 11, 1909, Mass was celebrated in the home of Judge T. D. Hurley
at 1232 S. Wesley Ave.
On May 26, 1910, Archbishop Quigley dedicated a two story frame structure which
had been completed on Euclid Ave. at a cost of $11,000. In its account of the
ceremony, The New World noted that 86 children were enrolled in the parish school
under the direction of the Sisters of St. Benedict. The nuns took up residence
in a house on Euclid Ave. According to a history of St. Mary of Celle parish,
Father Neuzil commuted to Berwyn each Sunday to celebrate Mass.
In 1911, Rev. Anthony Nouza, OSB succeeded Father Neuzil as pastor of St. Mary
of Celle Church. He lived in a rented flat at 13th and Wesley Ave. Between 1915
and 1923, the following priests served as pastor of St. Mary of Celle Church:
Rev. Alphonse Biskup, OSB (1915-1917); Rev. Raphael Kubat, OSB (1917-1918); and
Rev. Vitus Haman, OSB (1918-1923).
In May 1923, Rev. Bernard Haman, OSB was appointed pastor. He supervised the
construction of a school, the cornerstone of which was laid on Nov. 30, 1924.
Architect B. Rezny designed the "horse shoe" structure which contained
a space in the center for a permanent church.
In 1925, Father Vitus Haman, OSB returned as pastor of St. Mary of Celle Church,
a post he retained for the next 16 years. He directed the construction of a spacious
brick convent at 1431 S. Euclid Ave. in 1926.
Berwyn experienced its greatest growth in the 1920s. To serve the increasing
number of Catholic families, St. Leonard Church was established at 33rd and Clarence
Ave. in 1923; four years later, St. Odilo Church was organized at 23rd and Clarence
Ave. By 1930, the population of Berwyn numbered 47,027 persons.
On Dec. 18, 1931, The New World reported that The new chapel addition of St.
Mary of Celle church erected on the northeast corner of 15th Street and Euclid
avenue, in Berwyn, was completed on the feast of Our Lady, August 15th. St. Mary
of Celle Church, designed in a Spanish-Romanesque style, was completed according
to the plans of the architectural firm of Meyer & Cook. The estimated
cost was $50,000.
Father Haman resided at 1448 Euclid Ave. until the present rectory was erected
at 1428 S. Wesley Ave. The face brick structure, designed by Meyer & Cook,
was ready for occupancy in July 1939.
On Oct. 16, 1941, members of St. Mary of Celle parish learned that Father Haman
had been killed by a speeding automobile while he was attempting to cross 12th
St. (Roosevelt Rd.).
Rev. Robert F. Mastny, OSB an associate pastor since 1937, began his long tenure
as pastor in February 1942. The former football, basketball, and baseball coach
at St. Procopius (now Illinois Benedictine) College in Lisle, IL turned his attention
to improving the school and the parish plant. In September 1942, a kindergarten
was opened by the Benedictine Sisters who staffed the grade school.
Father Mastny directed a renovation program which included the installation of
a hand-carved main altar with side altars to match as well as a Communion rail,
pulpit, and sedilia. On Sept. 19, 1943, a special ceremony was held at St. Mary
of Celle Church to honor the 403 young men and women from the parish who were
then serving in the armed forces. Of the 513 parishioners who served their country
during World War II, 25 lost their lives.
In 1948, property north of the rectory was purchased for the future use of St.
Mary of Celle parish. On Oct. 12, 1949, ground at the southwest corner of 15th
and Wesley Ave. was broken for a new parish school and social center. The cornerstone
of this brick structure was laid on Feb. 10, 1950 and the $450,000 building,
designed by the architectural firm of Meyer & Cook, was dedicated on Sept.
2, 1951. Under Father Mastny's leadership, an extensive sports program was established.
In 1955, the old frame combination building was torn down to make way for an
addition to the convent. Excavation began on Sept. 10, 1957 and the structure
was dedicated on Nov. 23, 1958. As part of the expansion program, the old convent
was covered in Indiana limestone so that it matched the new addition.
In 1958, the children of St. Mary of Celle parish feted Sr. M. Lioba, OSB on
the occasion of her 50th jubilee. Sr. Lioba, who had served as the first superior
of the parish school in 1910, died on Dec. 12, 1959.
The golden jubilee of St. Mary of Celle Church was celebrated on May 15, 1960.
As part of the festivities, the school children presented "A Half Century
of Progress," a tribute to the Catholic pioneers of Berwyn.
On May 6, 1979, Father Mastny celebrated the 50th anniversary of his ordination
with a special Mass of Thanksgiving and an open house in the social center. Named
pastor emeritus in October 1979, he now lives in retirement at St. Procopius
Abbey in Lisle, IL The former pastor of this Berwyn parish was profiled in an
article in The Chicago Catholic (formerly The New World) on Jan. 18, 1980 entitled "The
Rockne of Lisle."
Because of a lack of available personnel, the Benedictine Fathers of Lisle requested
that the Chancery Office assign diocesan priests to staff St. Mary of Celle Church
following Father Mastny's retirement. Rev. M. Cyril Nenecek, former associate
pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Church on the west side of Chicago, was named pastor
effective Oct. 1, 1979.
Today, St. Mary of Celle parish serves approximately 1,600 families who live
in that part of Berwyn which is bounded by 12th St. (Roosevelt Rd.) on the north;
19th St. on the south; Harlem ave on the west; and Ridgeland Ave. on the eaSt.
The congregation includes families of Czech, Polish, German, Irish, French, Croatian,
Slovak, and Slovene descent. In recent years, there has been an influx of Italian
families in this suburb and many have become members of this parish.
St. Mary of Celle parish is an integral part of the Berwyn community. The parish
Little League Baseball and Basketball programs are open to every boy in the community,
irrespective of race or creed. The parish sponsors many youth programs, including
scouting and sports, and the parish facilities are opened for religious and civic
Enrollment in the parish school now numbers 300 children under the direction
of six Benedictine Sisters and eight lay teachers. St. Mary of Celle school was
profiled in an article in The Chicago Catholic of Dec. 2, 1977. An active School
Board assists in the operation of the parish school.
Rev. Raymond J. Tillrock is associate pastor.
From "A History of
the Parishes of the Archdiocese of Chicago" - 1980
Reprinted with the permission
of the Chicago Archdiocese.