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St. Mary Magdalene Church at 84th and Marquette Ave. on the southeast side of Chicago was organized in 1910 to relieve overcrowding at the Polish parish of Immaculate Conception at 88th and Commercial Ave. Rev. E. A. Kowalewski, a former pastor of St. Stanislaus B. & M. Church in Kankakee, IL (now in the Joliet diocese), was appointed to organize the new national parish in June 1910.

St. Mary Magdalene Church was established in close proximity to the Polish parish of St. Michael, located at 83rd and South Shore dr. On Sept. 3, 1910, The New World announced that plans had been drawn up for a three story combination church, school, and hail. On July 17, 1911, Auxiliary Bishop Paul P. Rhode dedicated St. Mary Magdalene Church, which had been completed on the north side of 84th St. between Saginaw and Marquette Ave. A two story brick rectory had been built at 8412 S. Marquette Ave.

Bishop Rhode returned to the parish on Sept. 1, 1913 to bless the new church bells. The New World noted that within two years, the parish had grown from 200 to 500 families.

By 1917, St. Mary Magdalene parish numbered 1,050 families with 632 children enrolled in the school under the direction of the Felician Sisters. In 1924, a convent was built at 8425 S. Saginaw Ave. and the Sisters' quarters in the school were converted into classrooms. The parish auditorium, located at the northeast corner of 84th and Saginaw Ave., was dedicated on Nov. 10, 1927.

In January 1928, St. Bronislava Church at 87th and Colfax Ave. was organized to serve Polish Catholics who lived in the territory south of 86th St. Since that time, St. Mary Magdalene parish has been bounded by 81st St. on the north; 86th St. on the south; Yates Ave. on the west; and Commercial Ave. on the east.

Because South Chicago was primarily dependent upon the steel industry, the Depression of 1929 and the subsequent closing of the mills created severe financial problems for the parish. Apparently Father Kowalewski's administration of the parish did not meet with the approval of the Archbishop and he was forced to resign his post.

In January 1931, Very Rev. Msgr. Anthony Halgas, pastor of St. Victor Church in Calumet City, IL, was named administrator of St. Mary Magdalene Church following the removal of Father Kowalewski as pastor. According to the Daily Calumet of Aug. 24, 1931: "When the order came removing him /Father Kowalewski/ his parishioners and friends in the parish caused demonstrations in his behalf which called for a police detail."

Although Father Kowalewski protested his removal, George Cardinal Mundelein's decision was upheld in Rome. Father Kowalewski continued to reside in Chicago until his death on Apr. 29, 1941.

Very Rev. Msgr. John G. Mielcarek, a former professor at Quigley Preparatory Seminary, was appointed pastor in August 1931.

The silver jubilee of the parish was celebrated on Feb. 9, 1936. In May 1936, Msgr. Mielcarek was named pastor of St. Casimir Church. His successor at St. Mary Magdalene Church was Rev. John J. Kozlowski, who had organized St. Roman parish in 1928.

In December 1938, Father Kozlowski was named a Papal Chamberlain with the title Very Reverend Monsignor. He celebrated the 25th anniversary of his ordination on May 7, 1939.

On June 14, 1939, fire broke out in St. Mary Magdalene school. The entire student body marched out to safety when the alarm was sounded. Damage to the building was estimated at $1,200.

In 1946, Msgr. Kozlowski was named a Domestic Prelate with the title Right Reverend Monsignor. He died on Jan. 27, 1947, on the day of his 60th birthday.

In April 1947, Rev. Peter Paul Witmanski, former pastor of Ascension Church in Evanston, IL, was named pastor. Under his leadership, the parish debt was paid off almost immediately, and plans were drawn up for larger parish facilities.

In 1948, the rectory was moved 150 feet to its present location at 8426 S. Marquette Ave. where it was enlarged and remodeled. In April 1952, ground was broken at the northwest corner of 84th and Marquette Ave. for a new church, the cornerstone of which was laid on Sept. 21, 1952. The new edifice was blessed on May 2, 1954 by Samuel Cardinal Stritch. By 1958, both the school and the convent had been remodeled.

On May 1, 1960, Albert Cardinal Meyer presided at the 50th anniversary of the founding of the parish. At the time, 703 children were enrolled in the parish school.

On Sept. 14, 1960, Most Rev. Henry T. Klonowski, Auxiliary Bishop of Scranton, Pa., consecrated St. Mary Magdalene Church. This ceremony has been performed only a few times in the history of the Archdiocese of Chicago. St. Mary Magdalene was the second Polish Catholic Church in Chicago to be consecrated: 57 years earlier, St. Mary of Perpetual Help Church in Bridgeport had been similarly blessed.

Named pastor emeritus in March 1966, Father Witmanski celebrated the 60th anniversary of his ordination on Sept. 23, 1979. He continued to reside in the parish rectory until his death on Feb. 22, 1980 at the age of 87.

Rev. Stanley J. Madej has been pastor since Mar. 9, 1966; he had served as an assistant at the parish from 1953 to 1961. Father Madej returned to South Chicago from Cicero, IL, where he had been an associate pastor at St. Mary of Czestochowa Church.

St. Mary Magdalene parish reached its peak membership in the years following World War II, when 1,500 families were registered. From 1910 until the mid 1950s, the neighborhood surrounding St. Mary Magdalene Church was 90% Polish and at least 95% Catholic. In recent years, Polish families have moved away from South Chicago and the neighborhood continues to undergo racial and ethnic change as Spanish speaking and black families establish homes in the area. Although many former parishioners return to the church for Sunday Mass, they do not attend on a regular basis.

In 1978, the school enrollment numbered 297 students under the direction of four Felician Sisters and six lay teachers.

Approximately 95% of the Polish immigrants who helped to build St. Mary Magdalene parish could not speak English, and as a result, they earned below average incomes. The achievements of their children-despite severe ethnic discrimination in the labor market-speaks highly of Polish courage, faith, and love. Many of the old societies such as the Mothers' Club, Ladies' Rosary Society, and Holy Name Society continue in existence although their membership has been reduced. Among the new parish groups are the School Board, Youth Center Committee, and Senior Citizens.

Three permanent deacons-Edward Cwalinski, Stanley Flens, and Herbert F. Drazba-have been ordained from St. Mary Magdalene Church. Mr. Cwalinski now serves at St. Andrew the Apostle Church in Calumet City, IL

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

Reprinted with the permission of the Chicago Archdiocese.

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