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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
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,
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
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
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
From "A History of
the Parishes of the Archdiocese of Chicago" - 1980
Reprinted with the permission
of the Chicago Archdiocese.