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To meet the needs of 125 Polish families living in West Harvey, IL, George Cardinal Mundelein appointed Rev. Thomas Smyk to organize St. Susanna parish on Dec. 2, 1927. The parish was founded through the efforts of the Citizen's Club under the direction of Joseph Pilsudski. A committee of eight men presented their petition for a parish to Rev. Msgr. Thomas P. Bona, the well-known Polish American diocesan consulter, and he in turn conferred with the Archbishop. Although he was reluctant to form national parishes, Cardinal Mundelein acceded to this request and to this day, St. Susanna retains its status as a national parish.

Father Smyk came to Harvey from Chicago, where he had begun the work of organizing St. Turibius parish. He celebrated Mass for his Polish congregation for the first time on Dec. 8, 1927 in Makarek's hall, 14901 Lincoln Ave. Before long, he purchased a house at 14935 Lincoln Ave. for use as a rectory.

Prior to the organization of St. Susanna parish, Polish Catholics attended Mass at either St. John the Baptist Church at 158th and Cary (now Emerald) Ave. in Harvey or at St. Stanislaus B.& M. Church in Posen, IL Although Ascension Church was located in central Harvey at 153rd and Myrtle Ave., it was an English-speaking parish in which the Poles did not feel comfortable.

To get the new parish off to a good start, members of the Citizen's Club bought nine lots and donated them to the Catholic Bishop of Chicago, Corporation Sole. The Archbishop purchased additional property and on Jan. 20, 1928, The New World reported that: "Already the parish has acquired property covering 22 city lots for a new combination church and school to be erected at Lincoln avenue and 150th boulevard."

Ground at 14931 Lincoln Ave. was broken on May 17, 1928 for a two story building, the cornerstone of which was laid on June 10, 1928. Completed according to the plans of the architectural firm of Sandel & Strong, St. Susanna Church was dedicated on Oct. 21, 1928 by Auxiliary Bishop Bernard J. Sheil. The Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth opened the parish school in September 1928 and they took up residence in a portion of the combination building.

Following Father Smyk's appointment as chaplain at St. Mary of Nazareth hospital in Chicago, Rev. Ignatius Renklewski, a former assistant at the Polish parish of Sacred Heart in Chicago, was named pastor on Sept. 5, 1932. He guided the parish during the Depression years which were trying times for families throughout Harvey. In 1935, parish membership numbered 168 families with 250 children enrolled in the school.

In June 1945, Father Renklewski was named administrator of the Polish parish of St. Ann in Chicago. His successor, Rev. Paul Sobota, had organized St. Thecla parish in the city. In December 1948, Father Sobota was appointed pastor of St. Salomea Church in Chicago and Rev. Stephen A. Kowalski, former assistant at the Polish parish of SS. Peter and Paul in Chicago, was named pastor. He served the people of St. Susanna parish until his death on Jan. 16, 1951 at the age of 58.

The next pastor, Rev. John Ostrowski, came to Harvey from Immaculate Conception Church in South Chicago where he had been an assistant. Under his leadership, the parish debt was liquidated, the parish buildings were improved, and the rectory was enlarged by the addition of four rooms.

Through the generosity of parishioners, ground for a modern convent was broken on Sept. 9, 1956. Following the completion of this brick structure at 14926 S. Honore St., the Sisters' living quarters in the school building were turned into classrooms. In 1958, the heating system in the parish plant was converted from coal to oil and the church and school were remodeled and redecorated.

Following Father Ostrowski's death on Nov. 24, 1961 at the age of 67, Rev. Thaddeus J. Walenga, a former assistant at St. Constance Church in Chicago, was appointed pastor. At the time Father Walenga was named pastor of Assumption, BVM Church in Chicago's West Pullman neighborhood on Mar. 4, 1966, 260 children were enrolled in St. Susanna school under the direction of six Sisters of Nazareth and two lay teachers.

Rev. Aloysius Zielinski, a former Army chaplain and assistant at St. Francis Assisi Church in Chicago, served as pastor from March 1966 until 1971. He is now associate pastor of St. Joseph Church at 48th and Hermitage Ave. in Chicago.

In July 1971, Rev. Edmund J. Siedlecki, chairman of the first Archdiocesan Liturgical Conference and an associate pastor at St. Eugene Church in Chicago, was named pastor. In addition to his work in Harvey, Father Siedlecki continued to serve as a lecturer at Niles College for two years and on Jan. 15, 1975, he was named chairman of the Archdiocesan Liturgical Commission.

Following Father Siedlecki's appointment as pastor of St. Wenceslaus Church in Chicago, Rev. Edward M. Mackowiak was named pastor effective Sept. 17, 1975. A former assistant at St. John the Baptist Church from 1966 to 1970, he returned to Harvey from Chicago where he had been an assistant at St. Mary Magdalene Church.

In September 1977, St. Susanna school was consolidated with Ascension school and since that time, the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth have conducted classes in the former Ascension building at 153rd and Vine Ave.

The golden jubilee of the dedication of St. Susanna Church was celebrated on Oct. 1, 1978. Among those attending the special Mass of Thanksgiving were Mamie Kostok and Mary Motkowicz who had been present at the dedication ceremony 50 years earlier.

St. Susanna parish has not been untouched by the racial change which has taken place in Harvey. Black families have been welcomed into the congregation as parishioners and as neighbors. Of the 200 families who belonged to the parish in 1979, 75°lo were Polish and 25% were black. The majority of the Polish families live outside Harvey but return to St. Susanna Church for Mass on Sundays and Holy Days. The student body of Ascension - St. Susanna school is now predominantly black and about half of the 268 children enrolled are not Catholic. The mission of St. Susanna parish is to reconcile all to become involved in community life, to become aware of social justice, and to draw all together in Christ.

Active parish groups include the Holy Name Society, Rosary Sodality, and Task Force. In addition to his work in St. Susanna parish, Father Mackowiak also serves as administrator of Ascension parish, where he now lives. Joshua Alves is the first permanent deacon to be ordained from the 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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