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St. Michael Church at 83rd and South Shore dr. was organized in 1892 as a national parish to serve Polish families who lived in the "Bush"-that portion of South Chicago bounded by 83rd St., 86th St., the tracks of the South Chicago branch of the Illinois Central railroad, and Lake Michigan. This territory had been part of the Polish parish of Immaculate Conception at 88th and Commercial Ave.

In 1888, a group of Poles from Immaculate Conception parish formed the St. Michael the Archangel Society and with the encouragement of their pastor, Rev. Michael Pyplacz, they began the work of organizing a new Polish parish. The group purchased land on the north side of 83rd St. between Bond Ave. (South Shore Dr.) and Ontario (Brandon) ave. In the summer of 1891, Rev. John Zylla, former pastor of St. Mary of Perpetual Help Church in Bridgeport, was assigned on a temporary basis to care for Polish Catholics in the Bush.

On Feb. 2, 1892, Rev. Adolph Nowicki, a former assistant at Immaculate Conception parish, was named pastor of this new parish. Under his leadership, a temporary frame building was erected and ground was broken on 83rd St. near Brandon ave. for a combination brick church and school.

On May 8, 1892, Polish families gathered in the new church to celebrate the 101St anniversary of the Polish Constitution. Dziennik Chicagoski (The Polish Daily News) reported that: "The newly built St. Michael Church, located at 83rd St., where the prairies reign, was gaily decorated."

On May 15, 1892, the cornerstone of a combination church-school was laid by Rev. Vincent Barzynski, CR, pastor of St. Stanislaus Kostka Church. This Gothic structure, located at 3160 E. 83rd St., was dedicated by Archbishop Patrick A. Feehan on Sept. 11, 1892. The present rectory at 8237 S. South Shore Dr. was completed in 1892. In 1893, the parish school was opened under the direction of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth.

Apparently, in 1897 Archbishop Feehan placed St. Michael Church under the care of the Resurrectionist Fathers from St. Stanislaus Kostka Church. A 1966 history of the Congregation contains the information that:

Father Francis Gordon, CR, was placed in charge of the parish by Father Barzynski, CR. However due to the dearth of priests in the Congregation, Father Vincent was compelled to relinquish the administration of the parish within a few months.

On Oct. 31, 1897, Rev. Paul Peter Rhode, a diocesan priest, was appointed pastor. This 28-year-old Polish priest had established the national parish of SS Peter and Paul in 1895. Under his leadership St. Michael parish flourished. Between 1897 and 1907, the parish membership grew from 500 to 1,200 families.

In March 1907, Father Rhode announced plans to build a large church and in August, ground was broken at the northeast corner of 83rd and Bond Ave. (South Shore Dr.). While construction was underway, Father Rhode was appointed the first Polish Bishop in the United States. The New World noted that: "The hundreds of thousands of Polish people in the United States are intensely grateful at his promotion and are deeply grateful to the archbishop [James E. QuigleyJ of Chicago who was chiefly instrumental in bringing this honor upon them."

Following his consecration in Holy Name Cathederal on Wed. July 29, 1908, Bishop Rhode returned to South Chicago. According to The New World "the bands blared out a quickstep, the people cheered, the church bells pealed, and even the mighty whistles of the nearby steel mills shrieked out a welcome and congratulations."

On May 23, 1909, Archbishop Quigley dedicated St. Michael Church. Architect William J. Brinkman designed this magnificent Gothic structure. Shortly afterwards, the church quarters in the former combination building were remodelled into classrooms.

In 1910, the national parish of St. Mary Magdalene at 84th and Marquette Ave. was established to serve the growing number of Polish families who had settled in South Chicago.

On July 5, 1915, Auxiliary Bishop Rhode was appointed to head the diocese of Green Bay, WI. His successor at St. Michael Church was Rev. John M. Lange, who had been pastor of St. Salomea Church since 1912.

The silver jubilee of this parish was celebrated on Feb. 25, 1917; Bishop Rhode returned to South Chicago to preside at the special anniversary Mass. In 1925, 1,912 students were enrolled in St. Michael school under the direction of 29 Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth. In August 1926, plans were drawn up for a new school building which was completed at 8229 S. South Shore Dr.

In 1928, the national parish of St. Bronislava was established at 87th and Colfax. Ave.; it was the last Polish parish organized in South Chicago.

Father Lange celebrated the 25th anniversary of his ordination on Oct. 28, 1928. During the Depression, he organized the St. Michael's Boys Club and was instrumental in the establishment of a summer camp for boys at New Buffalo, MI.

In September 1937, a two year commercial high school course was organized. After the curriculum was expanded to include a four year academic program, St. Michael became a girls' high school.

In 1946, Father Lange was named a Domestic Prelate with the title Right Reverend Monsignor. In 1955, he directed the construction of a school addition at 8215 S. South Shore Dr. At the time of Msgr. Lange's death on Sept. 26, 1960, St. Michael parish numbered more than 2,000 families with 811 children enrolled in the grammar school and 261 girls enrolled in the high school.

Rev. John 0. Peterson, former pastor of St. Joseph Church in Chicago Heights, Ill., was named pastor in 1961. Under his leadership, a new convent was built at 8235 S. South Shore Dr. The Sisters who staffed the grammar school moved into their new quarters from the old convent at 8236 5. Brandon ave. The Sisters' new residence, designed by the architectural firm of Fox & Fox, was blessed on May 26, 1963. On May 25, 1966, a shrine in honor of Our Lady of Czestochowa was dedicated in the church.

The diamond jubilee of the founding of St. Michael parish was celebrated on Nov. 26, 1967. At the time, 1,900 families belonged to the parish and 706 children were enrolled in the grammar school. Due to declining enrollments in the high school, the program was ended in 1968. The brick building at 3160 E. 83rd St., which housed the high school, subsequently was razed.

In March 1968, Father Peterson was named pastor emeritus and Rev. Joseph 0. Nowak was appointed pastor of St. Michael Church. Father Nowak came to South Chicago from St. Ladislaus Church where he had been an associate pastor.

On Sept. 14, 1969, parishioners feted Father Peterson on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of his ordination. He died on Oct. 18, 1972.

In the past 10 to 15 years, the ethnic composition of this national parish has expanded to include Spanish-speaking families. More that 250 Mexican families are registered at the parish and approximately 60% of the 400 children enrolled in the parish school are Mexican. Spanish Masses have been added to the parish schedule.

On Oct. 9, 1975, 600 men and women attended a special mass in St. Michael Church which marked the fifth anniversary of the founding of the Senior Citizens Group. Active parish organizations include the Parish School Board, Student Council, Cursillos, Senior Citizens, Holy Name Society, St. Vincent de Paul Society, Mothers' Club, Our Lady's Guild, Rosary Society, Apostleship of Prayer, St. Bronislava Society, Auxiliary of the Holy Family of Nazareth, Society of Mt. Carmel, and a scouting program. The Senior Citizen Group includes men and women from five neighboring parishes.

St. Michael parish sponsors a Polish language school as well as English classes for Spanish-speaking members of the community. The parish is deeply involved in the Bush Improvement Association, a community organization.

Today, St. Michael is the largest parish in the South Chicago community, serving families who live in the area bounded by 79th St. on the north; 86th St. on the south; the old Baltimore & Ohio railroad tracks on the west; and Lake Michigan on the east. Rev. James T. Kaczorowski and Rev. Thomas J. Paprocki are associate pastors.

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

Reprinted with the permission of the Chicago Archdiocese.

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