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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 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,
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
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
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.
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
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
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.