BACK TO THE LIST
St. Wenceslaus Church at Roscoe St. and Lawndale Ave.
on the northwest side of Chicago was founded in June 1912 from the older
of St. Hyacinth at George St. and Lawndale Ave. The new parish was
established within the boundaries of St. Viator Church at Addison St.
and Kedvale Ave. This territorial parish had been organized in 1888
to serve English-speaking Catholics.
Rev. Ferdinand C. Scieszka, former pastor of SS. Cyril and Methodius
Church in Lemont IL, began organizing Polish families who lived north
of Belmont Ave. and west of the Chicago and North Western railroad tracks
in the Park View district. The first church of St. Wenceslaus was a frame
building which had been used as a school in St. Hyacinth parish. This
structure was moved five blocks north on Lawndale Ave. to Roscoe St.,
and Mass was celebrated for the first time that September for approximately
300 Polish families.
The Felician Sisters opened St. Wenceslaus school in the fall of 1912 with an
enrollment of 280 students. As the frame building was relatively small, students
in the upper grades attended classes in the morning, and students in the lower
grades came to school in the afternoon.
Within a few months of its organization, St. Wenceslaus parish boasted a men's
and women's branch of the Polish Roman Catholic Union of America (PRCUA) and
a women's branch of the Polish National Alliance (PNA).
On June 14, 1914, Auxiliary Bishop Paul P. Rhode dedicated a combination church
and school building which had been constructed at 3435 N. Lawndale Ave., north
of the frame church. The $85,000 brick structure contained a hall on the first
floor and a church on the second floor with a seating capacity of 800.
Under Father Scieszka's leadership, the Polish parish of St. Ladislaus was organized
in August 1914 at Lockwood Ave. and Roscoe St.
In 1916, a two flat brick building at 3425 N. Monticello Ave. was acquired for
use as a temporary rectory for St. Wenceslaus parish. Ill health forced Father
Scieszka to resign his post in 1923. He later was appointed an assistant at St.
Adalbert and St. John of God parishes. In 1943, Father Scieszka was named pastor
of St. Stanislaus Church in Kankakee, IL (now in the Joliet diocese), where he
served until his death on May 27, 1954.
The second pastor of St. Wenceslaus Church was Rev. Theodore Czastka, who had
served as pastor of the Polish parishes of St. Isidore in Blue Island, IL and
Holy Rosary in North Chicago, IL.
As the parish debt at St. Wenceslaus Church already amounted to $97,500, no new
loans could be taken out. Through the generosity of the parishioners, enough
cash was raised so that construction could begin on the present convent at 3439
N. Lawndale Ave. in 1924. Although the Sisters' living quarters in the combination
building were converted into classrooms, more space was needed to accommodate
the 713 pupils enrolled in St. Wenceslaus school. Again, enough money was raised
for the construction of an eight classroom addition. This structure, located
at 3424 N. Monticello Ave., was dedicated by Auxiliary Bishop Edward F. Hoban
on Nov. 15, 1925.
In 1924, the School Sisters of St. Francis opened Alvernia high school at 3901
N. Ridgeway Ave., just a few blocks north of St. Wenceslaus Church. Over the
years, the people of St. Wenceslaus parish also contributed generously to the
building of St. Patrick, Madonna, and Gordon Tech high schools.
The present rectory at the northwest corner of Roscoe St. and Monticello Ave.
was completed in 1927. By 1931, the people of St. Wenceslaus Church had liquidated
the parish debt. In 1935, the old frame church was completely renovated and it
became the Bell Tower Club House. Active parish organizations then included the
Holy Name Society, Rosary Woman's Sodality, Apostleship of Prayer, the Purgatorial
Association, CYO and Boy Scouts, and the Catholic Order of Foresters.
In April 1937, Father Czastka was named a member of the Board of Archdiocesan
Consultors. The silver jubilee of St. Wenceslaus Church was celebrated on Oct.
24, 1937. Auxiliary Bishop Bernard J. Sheil presided at the jubilee, which included
a Mass and a dinner at the Lake Shore Club.
On Ash Wednesday, Mar. 9, 1938, fire swept the sanctuary of the church causing
$36,000 damage. Until the main altar and sanctuary could be restored, Masses
were held in the Bell Tower Club House.
On June 26, 1938, Father Czastka was invested as a Domestic Prelate with the
title Right Reverend Monsignor. After years of planning and saving, the pastor
and his parishioners were able to finance the construction of a new church at
the northeast corner of Roscoe St. and Lawndale Ave. Ground was broken on Mar.
27, 1940 and the cornerstone was laid on July 21, 1940. Mass was celebrated in
the new structure for the first time on Christmas 1941 and the edifice was dedicated
on June 7, 1942 by Archbishop Samuel A. Stritch. St. Wenceslaus Church was designed
in a Byzantine-Romanesque style by the architectural firm of McCarthy, Smith & Eppig.
Msgr. Czastka was named a Protonotary Apostolic in May 1953. Five years later
he observed the 50th anniversary of his ordination. A highlight of the celebration was the blessing of new stained glass windows which had been installed
in St. Wenceslaus Church at a cost of more than $30,000.
In 1960, the former church quarters in the 1914 combination building were rebuilt.
A new front entrance was constructed on Lawndale Ave. and a fire sprinkler system
was installed in the school. New classrooms were constructed and the convent
was completely remodelled and redecorated in 1961.
On Oct. 14, 1962, the golden jubilee of St. Wenceslaus parish was celebrated.
Four priests ordained from St. Wenceslaus Church served as officers of the jubilee
Mass: Rev. Louis W. Handzel, Rev. Menceslaus J. Madaj, Rev. Frank J. Koziol,
and Rev. Thaddeus R. Cocot. Parish records indicated that between 1912 and 1962,
nearly 6,000 persons had been baptized in St. Wenceslaus Church. In that period,
21 priests had been ordained from the parish and 12 young women had joined the
Msgr. Czastka served the people of St. Wenceslaus Church for 42 years. He died
on Jan. 16, 1965 at the age of 88. In February 1965, Rev. Joseph J. Mackowiak,
pastor of St. Camilus Church on the south side of Chicago, was named pastor of
St. Wencelaus Church.
In the spring of 1970, a Mothers' Club was formed to raise funds for the school
and convent. As a result of the $5,000 annual contribution from this club, many
improvements were made in the school, among them an up-to-date library, an audio-visual
department, and a learning center.
In June 1975, Father Mackowiak was named pastor emeritus of St. Wenceslaus Church.
He died on Mar. 28, 1978 at the age of 73.
Rev. Edmund J. Siedlecki, former pastor of St. Susanna Church in Harvey, IL,
has been pastor of St. Wenceslaus Church since June 25, 1975. One of Father Siedlecki's
first projects was to set up Catholic Television Network equipment at St. Wenceslaus
school. Under his leadership, a Parish Council and School Board have been formed.
Since its founding, St. Wenceslaus parish has ministered to the needs of Polish
Catholics in the Park View and Avondale neighborhoods. The parish membership
of 1,400 families is still predominantly Polish-American, with a large number
of new immigrants.
Active parish organizations include the Mothers' Club, Queen Kinga Club, a women's
fund raising organization; the Holy Name Society, a Scout Mothers Auxiliary,
which raises funds for the scouting program; an Ushers Group; Liturgy Committee;
and a group of women who represent the Holy Rosary Ladies, Purgatorial Society,
Apostleship of Prayer, and Third Order of St. Francis. Enrollment in St. Wenceslaus
school numbers 366 students under the direction of six Felician Sisters and 10
Associate pastors include Rev. Eugene R. Winkowski and Rev. Timothy P. Kowaiski.