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St. Thecla Church at Devon and Oak Park Ave. on the northwest side of Chicago was established in 1925 to serve 120 families - nearly all of whom were Polish-who lived in the area bounded by Niles, IL, on the north; the Chicago and North Western railroad tracks on the south; Harlem Ave. on the west; and Austin Ave. on the east. The nearest Polish parish was that of St. Constance, then located at 5809 W. Strong St. The English-speaking parish of Immaculate Conception had been founded in 1904 at 5700 N. Harlem Ave.

As early as 1923, a group of Poles in Norwood Park petitioned Rev. Francis Rusch, superintendent of St. Hedwig Orphanage, for help in organizing a parish of their own. Many of the Poles worked in St. Adalbert Cemetery and they had been attending Mass at St. Hedwig Orphanage, then located at Touhy and Harlem Ave. (now the site of Niles College of Loyola University, the college branch of the Archdiocesan seminary system).

Although George Cardinal Mundelein consented to the formation of a new parish, he stipulated that it must serve all Catholics who lived in the area, regardless of ethnic background. Many Polish families resented the fact that Cardinal Mundelein did not establish St. Thecla as a national parish and for years, feelings ran high against Irish and German members of the congregation.

In the fall of 1924, land bounded by Devon Ave., Palatine Ave., Newcastle Ave., and Oak Park Ave. was purchased for the new parish. Volunteer workers erected a white frame church at the corner of Palatine and Oak Park Ave. and Mass was celebrated in this structure for the first time on Aug. 15, 1925.

Rev. Paul Sobota was appointed the founding pastor of this parish. He came to Norwood Park from Kankakee, IL, where had been pastor of St. Stanislaus B & M Church (now in the Joliet diocese). St. Thecla school was opened under the direction of the Sisters of the Resurrection, whose Novitiate was located at 7432 W. Talcott Ave. By 1926, 250 families belonged to the parish.

On June 26, 1927, the cornerstone of a combination church-school building was laid. In its account of the ceremony The New World commented that:

St. Thecla's parish... is being rapidly populated by the Polish people
of the northwest side. From every outlook it promises to be one of the many prominent Polish parishes in the city.

The two story brick combination church and school building was completed at 6323 N. Newcastle Ave. It included living quarters for the Resurrection Sisters. The frame church at 6708 W . Palatine Ave. was outfitted as a rectory.

In 1929, Father Sobota was named chaplain and instructor at Holy Family Academy. He later served as pastor of St. Susanna Church in Harvey, IL and as pastor of St. Salomea Church at 118th and Indiana Ave.

Rev. Charles Marcinkiewicz, a former professor at Quigley Preparatory Seminary, was appointed pastor of St. Thecla Church on Aug. 27, 1929. Under his direction, the front section of the church was converted into classrooms in order to accommodate the growing student population.

In 1935, Father Marcinkiewicz was appointed pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church. His successor, Rev. Francis E. Dampts, came to Norwood Park in September 1935 from Holy Innocents Church, where he had been an assistant.

In the 1950s, enrollment in St. Thecla school increased rapidly. A new convent was built in 1957 at 6333 N. Newcastle Ave. and the Sisters' quarters in the school building were converted into classrooms. By 1959, 506 children were enrolled.

Through the generosity of the parishioners, funds were raised for a new church, the cornerstone of which was laid on June 29, 1962. The architectural firm of Meyer & Cook drew up plans for this modern brick edifice which was completed at the southwest corner of Devon and Oak Park Ave. Albert Cardinal Meyer dedicated St. Thecla Church on Mar. 31, 1963. At the time, 1,150 families belonged to the parish and 613 children were enrolled in the school. The church quarters in the old combination building on Newcastle Ave. were converted into four classrooms, a school office, and library.

In 1963, Father Dampts was named a Domestic Prelate with the title Right Reverend Monsignor. He continued to serve the people of St. Thecla parish until November 1968, when he was named pastor emeritus.

Rev. Matt A. Bednarz has been pastor of this parish since Nov. 15, 1968. He came to Norwood Park from Cicero, IL, where he had been serving as pastor of St. Valentine Church.

Father Bednarz directed the construction of the present rectory at 6725 W. Devon Ave. In February 1973 - shortly before the new rectory was completed-the old rectory at 6708 W. Palatine Ave. was destroyed by fire. This frame building had served as the first parish church and over the years it had been enlarged and remodeled. Fortunately, all parish records were saved.

In preparation for the golden jubilee of the parish, St. Thecla Church was redecorated and renovated to conform with the liturgical changes authorized by Vatican II. John Cardinal Cody presided at the special Mass of Thanksgiving on Nov. 2, 1975.

Today, St. Thecla parish numbers approximately 1,600 registered families who live in the area bounded by Milwaukee Ave. on the north; Northwest Hwy. on the south; Harlem Ave. on the west; and Nagle Ave. on the eaSt. A little more than half the parish membership is composed of second and third generation Poles. About one-fourth of the parish is Irish with the rest of the membership divided between Germans and Italians. Since the early 1970s, new parishioners have included the families of policemen and firemen who have moved into the neighborhood. In 1978, 428 children were enrolled in the school under the direction of six Sisters of the Resurrection and 11 lay teachers.

Active parish organizations include the School Board, Liturgy Committee, Leisure Club for Senior Citizens, Adult Education Committee, Pro-Life Committee, Theater Group, Guitar Group, CCD Committee, Parish Choir, and Boys' Choir. A scouting program, Junior Great Books, and a sports program involving football and wrestling have been established for the youth of the parish. The gym program at St. Thecla school is one of the best in the city. The parish is involved in interfaith projects such as the annual Church Unity Octave Service, World Day of Prayer, and the Good Friday Stations of the Cross service.

Rev. Ralph S. Strand is associate pastor. Four permanent deacons-James Belanger, Edmund Tryba, Eugene Bates, and Nicholas E. Kob, Sr .- have been ordained from St. Thecla parish. Members of the parish staff minister to the needs of residents of the Regency Nursing Centre, located directly across the street from St. Adalbert cemetery.

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

Reprinted with the permission of the Chicago Archdiocese.

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