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St. Mary of Perpetual Help Church on 32nd St. between Aberdeen and Morgan St. on the south side of Chicago was organized in 1882 to serve Polish families who had settled in Bridgeport. At the time, the city's limits extended only to 39th St. The nearest Catholic Church was St. Bridget at Archer Ave. and Arch St. which had been founded by Irish immigrants in 1850.

In September 1882, Polish Catholics met to discuss the formation of a church of their own. With the proceeds of a raffle, the group made a downpayment on a frame building at the northeast corner of Lyman and Farrell St. in May 1883. Rev. Adolph Snigurski, pastor of the Polish parish of St. Adalbert, celebrated Mass in this building for the first time on July 15, 1883.

The Felician Sisters opened St. Mary of Perpetual Help school in part of the frame church. During the weekdays, a curtain was drawn across the altar to provide for classroom space. The Felician Sisters, who staffed the school until 1894, resided in quarters at the rear of the church.

From 1883 until 1886, St. Mary of Perpetual Help mission was cared for by the priests of St. Adalbert Church at 17th and Paulina St. and by the Resurrectionist Fathers who staffed St. Stanislaus Kostka Church on Noble St.

Father Snigurski ministered to the needs of the Poles of Bridgeport until 1884, when he was transferred to the East coaSt. His successor at St. Adalbert Church was Rev. John Radziejewski. He purchased property bounded by 32nd St., 32nd Pl.. Aberdeen St., and Morgan St. for the expansion of the Bridgeport mission.

Archbishop Patrick A. Feehan dedicated St. Mary of Perpetual Help Church on Aug. 16, 1885. In its account of the ceremony, the Chicago Inter Ocean noted: "The church is a one-story frame building, with a parsonage detached, and measures about 100 x 32 feet."

On Oct. 8, 1886, Archbishop Feehan appointed Rev. John Zylla as first resident pastor of this newly established Polish parish. He had been an assistant at St. Adalbert Church since his ordination on June 24, 1886.

With the support of his congregation, the young pastor was able to pay off a $1,500 debt on the church and a $5,000 debt on the parish property. In 1888, a spacious brick rectory was constructed at 1023 W. 32nd St. and in 1889, work began on the present parish church.

In the spring of 1891, Father Zylla was placed in charge of Polish families in South Chicago who were organizing St. Michael parish. From 1892 to 1916, he served as pastor of Immaculate Conception Church in Elmhurst, IL (now in the Joliet diocese). Father Zylla died on July 23, 1936.

Rev. Stanislaus Nawrocki, who had served as an assistant at St. Mary of Perpetual Help Church, was appointed pastor of the parish on May 3, 1891. Since 1889, he had been in charge of the Polish parish of St. Joseph at 48th and Hermitage Ave.

Under Father Nawrocki's leadership, St. Mary of Perpetual Help Church was completed according to plans drawn up by Joseph Artmaier. The magnificent brick structure with its large copper dome was dedicated on Feb. 28, 1892.

In 1894, Father Nawrocki established the mission of St. Stanislaus B. & M. in Posen, IL, to serve Polish families living in the vicinity of Blue Island, IL.

Father Nawrocki financed the construction of a three story brick school at 32nd Pl. and Carpenter St. which contained classrooms and a parish hail. On Sept. 8, 1895, Archbishop Feehan dedicated the school, which had been named after the Polish patriot, Thaddeus Kosciuszko. At the time, 850 students were enrolled under the direction of 10 Sisters of St. Joseph of the Third Order of St. Francis. This order of women religious has been in charge of the parish schools since 1894.

On Feb. 14, 1897, members of this parish gathered to protest the activities of a group of schismatics who were trying to organize a Polish church independent of the Pope. On May 29, 1897, Dziennik Chicagoski printed a letter from John Barszczewski, recording secretary of the St. Stanislaus Kostka Young Men's Society at St. Mary of Perpetual Help Church. The writer urged young men of the parish to organize so that "the 'Independents' who have started to agitate in this locality will not get a foothold."

It appears that attempts at keeping "Independents" out of Bridgeport failed: by 1900, Holy Cross Independent Church had been established at the corner of 32nd and Morgan St. According to Sister M. Consuella, SSJ, who grew up in St. Mary of Perpetual Help parish, an independent church was located for many years prior to 1946 at 31st Pl. and Lituanica Ave.

At the turn of the century, St. Mary of Perpetual Help was a flourishing Polish parish. Nearby were the national parishes of Immaculate Conception (German) at 31st and Aberdeen St. and St. George (Lithuanian) at 33rd and Lituanica Ave.

Through the continued support of his congregation, Father Nawrocki was able to pay off the entire parish debt. As a result, St. Mary of Perpetual Help Church became the first Polish Catholic Church in the United States to be consecrated. Archbishop James E. Quigley officiated at the consecration ceremony on Oct. 24, 1903.

In 1906, an addition was constructed at the rear of the rectory building at 1023 W. 32nd St. to provide accommodations for the Sisters who staffed the parish school.

In 1910, Father Nawrocki contributed $55,000 toward the building of St. Barbara Church on Throop St. near 28th St. This parish was organized to serve Polish families who had settled along Archer Ave. in the territory just north of St. Mary of Perpetual Help Church. Father Nawrocki's brother, Rev. Anthony Nawrocki, was appointed first pastor of St. Barbara Church.

In 1917, parishioners feted their pastor on his investiture as a Domestic Prelate with the title Right Reverend Monsignor. After serving the people of St. Mary parish for 30 years, Msgr.Nawrocki died on Mar. 7, 1921 at the age of 60.

Rev. Thomas P. Bona, former pastor of St. Joseph Church in Summit, IL, was appointed pastor of this parish in April 1921. In May 1922, he was named a Domestic Prelate with the title Right Reverend Monsignor.

Under Msgr. Bona's leadership, the present rectory at 1039 W. 32nd St. was built in 1922 and construction began on a new school building on 32nd Pl.; it adjoined the main school structure on the west. Following the completion of the new rectory, the Sisters of St. Joseph occupied the entire building at 1023 W. 32nd St.

In 1922, a commercial program was organized for graduates of the parish school. After the new 18 room grade school was opened in 1923, the high school students attended classes in the 1895 school building. By 1925, 1,730 children were enrolled in the parish grade school.

On Oct. 10, 1926, Msgr. Bona dedicated Copernicus Day Nursery at 3217 S. Morgan St. which had been organized with the assistance of the Daughters of Isabella. By 1930, nearly 8,000 persons belonged to this parish and nearly 2,000 children attended the school.

George Cardinal Mundelein officiated at the golden jubilee of St. Mary of Perpetual Help parish, which was observed on Oct. 11, 1936. Msgr. Bona's brother, Bishop Stanislaus V. Bona of Grand Island, NE, celebrated the Mass.

With the generous support of his parishioners, Msgr. Bona financed the construction of a social center at 32nd Pl.. and Aberdeen St. This structure, which was the last building erected in the parish plant, was blessed on Feb. 9, 1941. In that year, a four year high school program was established.

During his tenure in Bridgeport, Msgr. Bona also served as chairman of the Archdiocesan School Board and as a Diocesan Consulter. He was active with the Big Brothers organization of the Holy Name Society and he served on the Catholic Cemetery Board.

Apr. 7, 1946 marked the 25th anniversary of Msgr. Bona's appointment as pastor. He died on June 28, 1950 at the age of 67.

Rev. Msgr. Edward J. Smaza has been pastor of St. Mary of Perpetual Help Church since Oct. 8, 1950. Following his ordination in 1934, Father Smaza obtained his doctorate in canon law from the Gregorian University in Rome and from 1937 to 1950, he served as secretary of the Matrimonial Court of the Archdiocese of Chicago. In 1949, he was named a Papal Chamberlain with the title Very Reverend Monsignor.

Invested as a Domestic Prelate with the title Right Reverend Monsignor on Dec. 16, 1953, Msgr. Smaza celebrated the 25th anniversary of his ordination on Apr. 12, 1959.

Albert Cardinal Meyer presided at the 75th anniversary of the founding of St. Mary of Perpetual Help parish which was observed on Oct. 22, 1961. Bishop Bona, who had been appointed to head the Green Bay, WI diocese in 1945, returned to Bridgeport for the occasion.

Under Msgr. Smaza's direction, an extensive remodeling program has been carried out in the parish. The convent, grammar school, and church have been painted and a sprinkler system has been installed in the high school building. The parish church, with its Romanesque exterior and its Byzantine-style interior, is considered to be one of the most beautiful churches in the city of Chicago.

Since its founding, St. Mary of Perpetual Help parish has served Polish families in Bridgeport. As a national parish, its boundaries extend from 31st St. on the north to Pershing Rd. (39th St.) on the south between the Chicago River on the west and Lake Michigan on the east.

The Sisters of St. Joseph continue to staff the parish schools along with dedicated lay teachers. In 1978, 216 students were enrolled in the grammar school and 362 boys and girls attended St. Mary of Perpetual Help high school.

The parish supports a Mothers' Guild, Confraternity of Christian Mothers, Holy Name Society, Young Ladies Rosary Sodality, Ladies Rosary Sodality, and a full scouting program. Associate pastors of St. Mary of Perpetual Help Church include Rev. Louis J. Zake and Rev. Richard J. Klajbor.

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

Reprinted with the permission of the Chicago Archdiocese.

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