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St. Mary of Czestochowa Church, named after the famous national shrine in southern Poland, was officially organized as a national parish in 1895. However, a Polish community existed in Hawthorne in the town of Cicero, IL, in the 1880s when the area was literally a prairie. The settlement in Hawthorne centered around the Dolese & Shepherd lime and stone quarry at 31st and Cicero Ave. Eighty-six families formed the nucleus of St. Mary of Czestochowa parish which became within a few decades, the largest parish in all Cicero. In time, the small hall in which these devout souls worshipped gave way to the largest and most beautiful Gothic edifice in Cicero.

In the 1880s, Polish Catholics in Hawthorne walked five and one-half miles to St. Adalbert Church at 16th and Ailport St. in Chicago in order to attend Mass and hear the word of God spoken to them in their native tongue. Following the formation of St. Casimir Church at 22nd and Whipple St. in 1890, their trip was shortened to three and one-half miles. Still, they longed for a parish of their own, a church in which they could worship more regularly, and a school in which their children could be educated in the faith of their fathers. The only Catholic parish in Cicero was then St. Dionysius at 4852 W. 29th St. Established as a mission of Holy Trinity Church in Chicago in 1889, St. Dionysius was a predominantly German parish.

On Mar. 27, 1892, Polish Catholics of Hawthorne held a meeting to discuss plans for a parish. By May of 1893, the group was able to purchase six lots at 30th St. and Linden (now 49th) Ave. at a cost of $2,250. Subsequently, a delegation was sent to Archbishop Patrick A. Feehan to petition for a parish. Archbishop Feehan granted the request and appointed Rev. Casimir A. Slominski as pastor. A former assistant at St. Adalbert Church, Father Slominski began his work in Cicero on May 30, 1895.

Stephen Bartoszek, one of the pioneer parishioners, transformed his hall at the northwest corner of Jessamine (now 48th Ct.) and 30th St. into a combination church-school and he offered the rear flat as living quarters for the pastor. In this temporary church, Father Slorninski celebrated Mass and administered the Sacraments until a frame church was built a few months later. In July 1898, Father Slominski directed the construction of a one-room frame building behind the church. This structure, known as the parish hail, also served as a school.

When Father Slominski resigned because of poor health in 1899, Rev. Leo Wyrzykowski was named pastor of St. Mary of Czestochowa Church. Father Slominski later organized St. Ann Church at 18th Pl. and Leavitt St. in Chicago where he served as pastor from 1903 to 1921.

In 1902, the mission of St. Attracta was established at 13thSt. and 48th Ct. for English-speaking Catholics who lived in the northeast section of Cicero, then known as the Grant Works area. In 1903, the Western Electric Company opened a plant in Hawthorne at 22nd St. (Cermak Rd.) and Cicero Ave. and it quickly became the largest employer in Cicero. Over the years, the Western Electric Company provided jobs for thousands of immigrants of many nationalities.

Following Father Wyrzykowski's appointment as pastor of St. Mary Church in Downers Grove, IL (now in the Joliet diocese) in July 1904, Rev. Bronislaus Czajkowski was named pastor of St. Mary of Czestochowa Church. Prior to this assignment, he had served as an assistant at the Polish parish of St. Mary of Perpetual Help in Chicago.

The new pastor found that the frame church and school had become inadequate and as a temporary measure, the parish hail behind the church was converted into two classrooms. In August 1904, the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Third Order of St. Francis began their work in the parish school which previously had been staffed by lay teachers.

With the generous support of his parishioners, Father Czajkowski was able to make plans for a new combination church-school building, the cornerstone of which was laid on July 2, 1905. This imposing brick structure was completed at the southeast corner of 30th St. and Linden (49th) Ave. In 1908, the Sisters moved from their living quarters in the school building into a new convent which had been constructed at 3009 S. 49th Ct.

The Polish population of the south Lawndaie area of Chicago, which adjoined Cicero on the east, increased to such an extent that in 1907, Good Shepherd parish was organized at 28th and Kolin Ave. from portions of St. Mary of Czestochowa and St. Casimir parishes. In 1911, the national parish of St. Valentine was organized at 13th St. and 50th Ave. by Polish families who formerly belonged to St. Mary of Czestochowa Church.

In June 1916, ground at the southwest corner of 48th ct. and 30th St. was broken for a magnificent Gothic structure. When the cornerstone of this edifice was laid on Oct. 29, 1917, work was nearing completion on the present rectory at 3010 S. 48th Ct. Archbishop George W. Mundelein dedicated St. Mary of Czestochowa Church on Mar. 10, 1918. The twin towers of this church, which rise 200 feet above the ground, are visible from many points in Cicero.

Hundreds of Poles gathered in the silver-bedecked church of St. Mary on May 31, 1920 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the founding of their parish. Membership then numbered 800 families with 900 children enrolled in the school. A history of St. Mary of Czestochowa parish written in 1920 contained the information that

At present this parish consists of the church with its contents worth $135,000.00; school, worth $85,000.00; rectory, which is worth $30,000.00; convent, worth $25,000.00; frame ex-church [the parish hall]... worth $3,000.00; and lots worth about $25,000.00. Total worth,$303,000.00

In 1927, beautiful Gothic altars, a pulpit, and a communion rail-all crafted in Italy of Carrara marble-were installed in the church. High atop the main altar, which was dedicated to Our Lady of Czestochowa, was placed a copy of the celebrated "Black Madonna," the miraculous painting ascribed to the evangelist St. Luke.

Father Czajkowski continued to serve as pastor throughout the Depression years, a hard time for his parishioners who keenly felt the effects of factory closings in Cicero. He died on Oct. 13, 1939 at the age of 65. Rev. Francis Nogajewski served as administrator of the parish until July 1940, when Rev. Theodore F. Langfort was named pastor. A former assistant at St. Mary of Czestochowa parish, Father Langfort had served as pastor of St. Valentine Church in Cicero and as pastor of the Polish parish of Assumption, BVM in Chicago.

The new pastor carried out a program of reconstruction and expansion. Under his direction all of the parish buildings were repaired and remodeled and the church was redecorated in preparation for the golden jubilee, which was celebrated on May 6, 1945. In its 50th year, St. Mary of Czestochowa parish numbered more than 1,600 families and the parish supported 43 societies.

Father Langfort continued to serve as pastor of this large Polish parish until his death on Nov. 27, 1956 at the age of 73. In January 1957, Rev. Ignatius S. Renklewski was named pastor. A former assistant at St. Mary parish, he returned to Cicero from Chicago where he had been serving as administrator of the Polish parish of St. Ann.

Father Renklewski made plans for an addition to the convent which was completed early in 1958 and he also purchased a statue of Our Lady of Czestochowa which was placed in front of the rectory. This outdoor shrine was dedicated on Sept. 16, 1959 in ceremonies which included a procession of religious groups singing Marian songs. On Feb. 7, 1960, Father Renklewski was invested as a Domestic Prelate with the title Right Reverend Monsignor.

On Nov. 13, 1960, the Chancery Office granted permission for a Youth Center to be constructed on the site of the old Hawthorne school at 5004 S. 31st St. A dream come true for the parish, this one-story building was financed in large part by the proceeds from carnivals held in the parish from 1946 to 1960. Albert Cardinal Meyer laid the cornerstone of the Youth Center on Feb. 19, 1961; while work was underway on this structure, a program of renovation was begun on May 28, 1961. The church was modernized and expanded and the school and rectory were also refurbished. Since the dedication of the $300,000 Youth Center on Sept. 17, 1961, this building hd provided the finest of facilities for the young people of the community.

Msgr. Renklewski died on Mar. 26, 1965 at the age of 76. In his obituary, The New World noted that:

He was a former member of the Archdiocesan school board completing his term in 1961; was chaplain of the Polish Roman Catholic Union [of America], a member of the board of the Polish Roman Catholic cemetery association, and a Fourth degree member of Garcia Moreno council, Knights of Columbus (Harvey).

Rev. Joseph C. Przybylowicz, former pastor of St. Isidore Church in Blue Island, IL, was appointed pastor of St. Mary parish on Mar. 4, 1966. Under his leadership, plans were made for the parish's 75th anniversary.

On Oct. 11, 1970, Bishop Aloysius J. Wycislo of Green Bay, WI. officiated at the special diamond jubilee Mass. A graduate of St. Mary of Czestochowa school, Bishop Wycislo had served as Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago prior to his appointment as Ordinary of the Green Bay Diocese in 1968. At the time of the 75th celebration, 16 young men from St. Mary parish had been ordained priests, and 28 young women had entered religious orders. A dinner catered and donated by Mrs. Frances Wilary was held in the parish hail following the jubilee Mass for all clergy, religious, choir members, Knights of Columbus, and special guests. A civic observance, a commemorative dinner-dance honoring the faithful members of the parish, was held on Oct. 25, 1970 at Richard's Banquet room, 3243 S. Harlem Ave. in Berwyn.

On Jan. 1, 1979, Father Przybylowicz was named pastor emeritus and Rev. Thaddeus J. Makuch was appointed pastor of St. Mary of Czestochowa Church. Prior to this appointment, Father Makuch had served as associate pastor of SS. Peter and Paul Church at 37th and Paulina St. in Chicago for five years.

The parish supports a School Board, Youth Council, Arete Teen Club, two Senior Citizens groups, CCD program, Ladies Rosary Confraternity, Concert Choir, Mothers Club, Holy Name Society, Ushers, Commentators, and Lectors, and a scouting program. In 1978, 1,451 families belonged to St. Mary of Czestochowa Church and 237 students were enrolled in the school under the direction of four Sisters of St. Joseph of the Third Order of St. Francis and seven lay teachers. As a national parish, St. Mary of Czestochowa was never assigned boundaries.

Rev. Thaddeus J. Perzanowski is associate pastor.

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

Reprinted with the permission of the Chicago Archdiocese.

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