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St. Roman Church at 23rd and Washtenaw Ave. was established in 1928 to relieve overcrowding at the older Polish parish of St. Casimir which had been founded in 1890 at 22nd St. (Cermak Rd.) and Whipple St. On Sept. 9, 1928, George Cardinal Mundelein appointed Rev. John Kozlowski, former Superintendent of schools in the Archdiocese since 1918, to organize Polish Catholics who lived in the area bounded by 12th St. (Roosevelt Rd.) on the north; the Sanitary and Ship Canal on the south; Marshall blvd. on the west; and Western Ave. on the eaSt. Father Kozlowski was familiar with neighborhood, having lived in residence at St. Casimir rectory.

He celebrated Mass for the first time on Sept. 19, 1928 in the parish hail of St. Casimir. The Marshall Square neighborhood south of Douglas Park had become so densely populated that not a single tract of vacant land was available for the new parish. Before construction could begin on a church, homes would have to be purchased and demolished. With an $84,000 loan from the Archdiocese, Father Kozlowski bought 11 pieces of property at the southeast corner of 23rd St. and Washtenaw Ave. The homes located on this site were rented for the time being and this swelled the parish treasury by $366. The intense interest and generosity of the early parishioners is evident in the bottom line of the financial report for the last four months of 1928: "Income, $14,694.35." A tremendous boost was given the efforts of the pastor and his parishioners by Rev. Stanislaus V. Bona, pastor of St. Casimir Church, in the form of a gift of $40,000.

With this kind of encouragement, the contract on a new combination church school building was let to John F. Schrambeck & Sons and work was begun in April 1929. The cornerstone of the new building was laid on June 23, 1929 And in September, the Sisters of St. Joseph from Stevens Point, WI, opened the parish school.

Not long after construction began on the new church, the stock market crash of "Black Tuesday," Oct. 29, 1929 triggered the worst economic depression in United States history. With men and women out of work, the times were not propitious for a fledgling parish. Yet throughout the Depression years, parish membership steadily increased.

Completed according to the plans of the architectural firm of Sandel & Strong, St. Roman Church was dedicated on Oct. 19, 1930 by Auxiliary Bishop Bernard J. Sheil. The L-shaped building, located at the southeast corner of 23rd and Washtenaw Ave., contained 16 classrooms, an assembly hall, and a church with a seating capacity of 700 persons. The interior of the church was decorated to reflect the distinct traditions of its Polish parishioners.

By 1935, 900 families belonged to St. Roman parish and school enrollment numbered 900 students. Named pastor of St. Mary Magdalene Church in May 1936, Father Kozlowski was succeeded by Rev. Valentine A. Belinski, former pastor of St. Blase Church in Argo, IL. Father Belinski was well acquainted with the neighborhood as he had grown up in nearby St. Casimir parish. His first concern was to retire the parish debt and to maintain the buildings in good repair. With a great deal of hard work and cooperation on the part of parishioners, St. Roman parish was out of debt by 1951.

On Oct. 5, 1953, Father Belinski was named a Domestic Prelate with the title Right Reverend Monsignor. He directed the construction of a modern three story convent at 2635 W. 23rd St. which contained accommodations for 27 nuns. In addition, he financed the remodeling of the school and rectory.

Samuel Cardinal Stritch presided at the 25th anniversary of St. Roman Church which was celebrated on Nov. 21, 1954. As part of the jubilee festivities, he dedicated the new convent.

Following Msgr. Belinski's death on Dec. 29, 1955, Rev. Francis Krakowski was named pastor of St. Roman Church in January 1956. He brought to his new task a wealth of experience, first as professor for many years at Quigley Preparatory Seminary and later as pastor of Old St. Stephen Church in Chicago and Ascension of Our Lord Church in Evanston, IL.

By 1950, 1,650 families belonged to the parish and 700 children were enrolled in the school. As language ceased to be a barrier among the many different ethnic groups who had settled in Chicago, Catholics moved about from parish to parish. This movement also affected St. Roman Church. Once a thoroughly Polish parish, it became a veritable "League of Nations." Father Krakowski managed to keep the parish plant in good repair and he left the parish debt-free when he was named pastor emeritus in March 1968.

In the 1960s, thousands of Mexicans moved into the Marshall Square neighborhood. Rev. Anthony J. Janiak, who succeeded Father Krakowski as pastor, set about to meet the special needs of the many Spanish-speaking families in the neighborhood, Beginning on July 7, 1968, Mass was celebrated for the first time in Spanish at St. Roman Church. Under Father Janiak's leadership, St. Roman has become trilingual in character. In an interview published in The Chicago Catholic on Nov. 2, 1979, the pastor noted that

Like many parishes in Chicago, we are ministering to our people in three languages /English, Polish, and Spanish] and trying to serve as a source of unity and stability in a quickly changing neighborhood. There is a great deal of hope for this parish in the long term as a Spanish parish,but the transition period has been difficult.

One of the parish groups which has been reorganized is the Holy Name Society. An indication of the interest shown by the Hispanic men of the parish is that more than 100 parishioners attended the Holy Name picnic in the summer of 1979. A special concern of Father Janiak and associate pastor Rev. John Manz is work with the undocumented Hispanics of the neighborhood. At the time of the 50th anniversary of St. Roman parish which was celebrated on Oct. 21, 1979, more than half the parish membership was Hispanic.

One of the primary goals of the parish staff is to maintain a viable school for in the past, the school had been an integral part of the parish life. Among the alumni of St. Roman school are seven priests, 15 nuns, and many men and women in the professions. In 1978, 225 children were enrolled under the direction of three Sisters of St. Joseph of the Third Order of St. Francis and five lay teachers. The parish staff believes that if the parish is to survive many changes it wIL be due largely to the influence of St. Roman school, which offers an alternative to the public school system.

Rev. John R. Manz is associate pastor and Rev. Emil Seroka, OFM, has assisted at the parish on Sundays and Holy Days for more than 20 years. Jose Marrero is the first permanent deacon to be ordained from St. Roman parish.

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

Reprinted with the permission of the Chicago Archdiocese.

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