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St. Turibius Parish - Chicago IL

A short parish history from the 1977 Jubilee Book

Setting the Scene

The time was 1926. Thousands of World War I veterans had vitalized the work force and the economy was sizzling. Amos 'n Andy was the nation's No. 1 radio program and rumors flew that the movies would soon "talk." Jack Dempsey was boxing's heavyweight champ; two sluggers named Lou Gehrig and George "Babe" Ruth kept the Yankees kings of baseball. Richard Byrd made aviation history by flying over the North Pole and a young man named Charles Lindbergh was making plans to fly solo to Paris in the Spirit of St. Louis.

In Washington, "Silent Cal" Coolidge took over as President from the scandal-ridden Warren Harding. Congress limited immigration and America began to industrialize and urbanize. It was a raw, growing time, an age of women's rights, "bootleg" whiskey, easy credit, and installment buying. As Americans read H. L. Mencken and Sinclair Lewis and laughed with Will Rogers, they were excited over the prospect of a "new America."

On the local scene, "Big Bill" Thompson succeeded William Dever as Mayor. Thompson promised to clean up the gang wars that marred Chicago's streets, (during the years 1925-1929, there were 215 unsolved murders) and put an end to bootleg whiskey. On the religious scene, George Cardinal Mundelein was the Archbishop of Chicago. The city's churchmen were still buzzing over the magnificent Eucharistic Congress he had hosted north of the city in a town called Area, Illinois, since renamed Mundelein in honor of the Cardinal.

The city's planners were also buzzing. With memories of the successful Columbian Exposition inspiring them, they began to implement the "Chicago Plan." It called for new roads, new recreational parks, a new system of forest preserves, new railroad terminals, and a new Lake Michigan pier. Moreover, to celebrate Chicago's Centennial (1933) a new World's Fair was planned. It would present beautiful new buildings, exhibitions of daring new experiments in science and other arts, and create an architectural style for the lakefront: the event would give birth to the Field Museum, the Aquarium, the Planetarium and other educational and entertainment centers.

Stirrings on the Southwest Side

Despite 50 years of growth in Chicago following the Great Fire, the city's Southwest side was still somewhat a "wilderness." Houses were found in clusters along Archer, Kedzie, and east of Crawford (not yet called Pulaski) Avenue. Roads were mostly dirt or hardened clay, and transportation was slow. Ordinary means of movement was not by the newly burgeoning automobile, but by streetcar, double-deck buses, horse-drawn vehicles or by foot.

In the early 20's, a new immigration law slowed the vast inflow of foreign arrivals to a trickle. The people who moved into the "wilderness' ' of the Southwest side, therefore, were mostly returning war veterans, children of earlier immigrants, and those "new" people who found it difficult to break into the established communities of Northside Poles (like those at St. Stanislaus Kostka and Holy Trinity) and the area around St. Adalbert parish. They were full of adventure and prepared to meet the challenge of pushing the boundaries of the city westward toward Midway Airfield where there were only open fields and prairies.

The First 100 Families

The area west of Crawford and south of 55th Street was settled by about 100 Catholic families and came to be known as "Nowa Polska' (New Poland). Although Poles predominated, there were also Italian, Irish, and German families in the group. There was no Catholic church nearby. The pioneers found themselves about equidistant from the churches of St. Bruno, St. Camillus and St. Nicholas of Tolentine. Most chose to trudge down muddy Crawford Avenue to St. Bruno, where they were warmly received by Rev. Dr. Alexis Gorski, the pastor, who met their spiritual needs. Father Gorski brought communion to the sick, gave instructions to the young who attended Peck School, and welcomed as many youngsters as he could into his own school at St. Bruno.

A Church of Their Own

Toward the end of 1926 these settlers of ''Nowa Poiska'' asked Father Gorski to intercede to chancery officials as they petitioned for a church and school of their own. Their appeal was presented to Rt. Rev. Msgr. Thomas Bona, the diocesan consulter, who together with Father Gorski, investigated a possible parish location at 56th Place and Karlov Avenues. On June 23, 1927, the Archbishop, Cardinal Mundelein appointed the Rev. Thomas Smyk as the first pastor for this community which was to be known as St. Turibius. There seems to have been some controversy over the spelling in the early years, but from 1929, the Annual Financial Report Books carry the English name as St. Turihius Church, although on the front of the Church the spelling "St. Turebius'' appeared for many years.

This South American Bishop Saint was an appropriate choice for this ''wilderness parish'' of North America, since he had served the spiritual needs of his widely scattered parish traveling by mule back through the wilderness around Lima, Peru.

Father Smyk came to this area when there was a parish in name only, and he took up residence at the home of parishioner Julius Swinger, who lived at 3919 West 56th Place.

On July 3, 1927, the community of St. Tutibius met for the first time to celebrate the Eucharist. This first Mass was said in the Assembly Hall of Peck School on the Northeast corner of 58th Place and Springfield. It was the people themselves who had taken the initiative to begin this new community, yet the foundation of St. Turibius was destined to be a long and difficult enterprise.

Father Smyk Leaves St. Turibius

The happiness of the people turned to disappointment when Father Smyk left St. Tunhius alter a short time. His leaving is shrouded in mystery. Some of the people seem to recall that because Father Smyk used only English and Latin in his services the people, being mostly Polish, got angry about this, but others say that because he did not use Polish, the people did not understand his appeals for money to build a new Church and that he got discouraged and felt the area could not Support a parish. We do know that because of one or both reasons, or some other unknown reasons, Father Smyk left St. Turibius before there was a chance to get any building started. The people now had neither church nor pastor. Yet they remained faithful to the dream of establishing their own parish. They persisted and petitioned once again, but no answer came.

No Church! But We do have a Holy Name Society

A parish is more than buildings. A parish did exist in this area. The people knew it. They were a parish. To prove it to others and to keep the spirit active, the people, with the help of Father Gorski, organized the Holy Name Society, the Ladies Rosary and Altar Society and the Young Ladies Sodality. In fact, it was the Holy Name Society that brought St. Turibius to the chancery office's attention for a second time. In March of 1928 at the Archdiocesan Holy Name Rally, as representatives of each parish stood up to identify themselves, the representatives of St. Turibius rose to say, ''Although we have no church and no pastor, we have a fine Holy Name Society at St. Turibius.''

Father Kulinski Appointed Second Pastor, St.Turibius Finally “Becomes” 1928-1934

The waiting ended. At the end of April, 1928, Rev, Francis Kulinski was appointed second pastor of St. Turibius. He immediately took up residence at St. Bruno's rectory until he could move into the first rectory at 411 5 West 56th Street. Right from the start, the people of St. Turibius displayed true generosity, perseverance, and a deep love for God as they joined him in his appointed task of building a new church.

Word got around that a parish to the southeast was building a new brick church and they had a portable frame church for sale. Within a short time the men of the parish erected this first church of St. Turibius on 56th Place between Keeler and Karlov, on the site where the present convent is located. St. Turibius parish was now a visible reality. (The parish Financial Report of 1928 lists the Expenses: $10,165.50 for 'Building of Rectory and Lot, $6,020.00 for "Church", and $3,098.41 for "School".) The new church was blessed on May 28, 1928 by Msgr. A. Halgas.

There was no vacation that summer for the parish committee and Father Kulinski. They were busy making plans for a temporary school and hall combination to be built on 56th Place east of the church, According to school records, St. Turibius School began its existence in 1928, with two classrooms. There were 87 students enrolled, taught by a faculty of two Felician Sisters. For a time the sisters had to travel from St. Bruno each day, but Father Kulinski became concerned about this arduous trip and allowed them to use the rectory while he used the sacristy of the church for a sleeping room. The first classes were held in barracks type buildings which also served as the church and the social hall of the parish. During this time the number of sisters increased to five and work was begun on a new permanent brick school building sometime late in 1 928. In November of 1929 the sisters moved into this incomplete building and returned the rectory to Father Kulinski. If you will note the time in history, you will see that this new parish which had only just begun was hit with its second major problem: The Great Depression.

Excessive postwar spending, investing and buying, led almost overnight to the "bottoming out" of the stock market in October of 1929. Americans everywhere suffered, but especially this new fledgling parish.

Despite the financial problems plaguing Father Kulinski and his parishioners, they raised enough funds to run the parish and even enough to lower the debt on the small pre-fabricated frame building which seated some 300 people, the other prefab building which was now the social hall and the brick School-Convent which is the only part of the original building program that remains today.

This simple unpretentious Church building, heated by the pot-bellied stove and frequently drafty during the winter, has become the symbol of our people's struggle to at last be accepted as the community of St. Turibius. It was not elaborate, to be certain, but it was their place to worship God.

Father Kulinski was known as a tough administrator, but also as a gentle man who loved to visit his parishioners' homes during the Easter and Christmas seasons. During his pastorate, 1928-34, the number of families increased to 750, the number of school children reached 168 and four Felician sisters comprised the faculty. Father Kulinski left St. Turibius in August of 1934 when he was assigned to the pastorship of St. Florian's Parish in Hegewisch.

Father Mszaniwski Becomes Third Pastor: Time of Depression and War - 1934-1948

On September 11 , 1934, Cardinal Mundelein appointed Rev. Joseph Mszanowski third pastor of St. Turibius. The depression was in full swing and most people were poor, many without jobs. It was a despairing time. The parish area continued to bear its "wilderness'' look. Homes were few and far apart. The number of parishioners showed little increase. During the war period, growth in the parish continued to be meager. Deprivation was the norm as shortages and rationing were the influences determining economic development.

On the social side in those years, most of the activities for these hard working, pious people were provided by the parish. They enjoyed buncos, carnivals or bazaars, dramas and Christmas Pageants, religious celebrations such as the procession held each year for the Feast of Corpus Christi, movies for the school children, (some attended by the St. Bruno School children whose Felician sisters marched them down Crawford Avenue so they could contribute their 10 cents to help support St. Turibius School and its faculty) occasional parish dances, annual picnics, participation in parish organizations and the meeting and greeting of friends after Mass on Sunday.

In 1936, together with the women of the parish, Father Mszanowski founded the St. Ann's Society (originally St. Anne's Ladies Club), and in 1941 he founded the Mothers' Club to help provide for the welfare of the convent and the school. In July of 1942, the first assistant pastor, Rev. Martin Borowczyk, came to St Turihius Parish and he remained until 1945 when Rev. Raymond Pacholski was assigned to our parish in his stead.

Father Mszanowski worked to provide for the spiritual enrichment of his slowly-growing flock. Masses were said, sacraments administered, and children taught - all in the two pre-fab buildings and the brick school-convent that constituted our parish plant. A distinct feature of that plant was the parish bell. Many older parishioners remember it well. Set in a small tower and hanging a few feet from the ground, it sent forth its call to the parishioners year after year. Then, sometime around the end of the war it broke and fell into disuse. Its very silence seemed to toll the end of an era.

The War is Over! A New Era Begins

The year 1945 marked the end of World War II and it also hearlded the change that was to take place in the parish of St. Turibius. The sparsely populated area of West Elsdon became the site of a building boom as new homes were built at an alarming rate. The school became overcrowded and in 1945-46 the school was taught in sessions. In 1946 Rev. Francis Cabanski was added to the growing staff of St. Turibius clergy. Father Mszanowski purchased the family residence at 56 1 2 South Keeler, in 1947, to provide a convent for the sisters, freeing the space they occupied in the school building, and thereby relieving the overcrowding to some degree. The nuns were to remain at this location until the building of the present convent in 1956. The bungalow was blessed on September 7, 1947. There were now nine Felician sisters teaching at St. Turibius, as all facets of the parish continued to grow.

Whether he realized the potential of the parishat this time is not known, but as fate would have it,it was not Father Mszanowski who would lead St. Turibius to its fulfillment as a parish. On April 14, 1948 the news was received that Father Mszanowski was being transfered to St. Blaise Parish in Argo.

The Great Builder Cometh: Father Lechert Appointed Fourth Pastor 1948-1966

To succeed Father Mszanowski, Samuel Cardinal Stritch appointed Rev. Joseph Lechert as pastor on April 24, 1948. A most outstanding personality, Father Lechert became the great builder of our present parish buildings, a task that must have seemed impossible in the beginning.

Father Lechert arrived at St. Turibius at an LM settled time. Land values were still ow, but parish coffers were nearly empty. With a suddenness, the boom came as hundreds of families moved into the community from parishes farther inward. Home building spurted dramatically. Lots became worth as much as $10,000 each. Just then the small church seemed even smaller than it was. Obviously, there was a need for new facilities. But where would the money come from?

In later years Father Lechert would joke about his lack of funds. ''In 1948,'' he would say, ''I could have bought all the lots in our block for $1 ,800 but I had no money.'' His early misgivings began to vanish as he soon came to feel the living community in action. Money was received in abundance and the parish began to move toward its original dream.

Pledge Drives and Other Fund Raising

The people went to work. Donation pledges in an initial drive raised thousands of dollars. More drives were held to help pay for each parish unit as it was built. A yearly Carnival/Car Raffle was also held; it yielded profits of some $20,000 a year.

Societies made donations of their own. The Altar and Rosary Society, for example, held "Swienconka" Festivals during which our ladies cooked and served hundreds of meals. The St. Ann's Society contributed earnings from a series of bingos. The Holy Name Society ran spaghetti dinners. The Drama Club presented its profits to the church. Others too, children, teen-agers, and individuals - all made contributions in their own way.

As the parish grew, Father Lechert kept building new facilities to handle the ever growing population. In 1961 for example, the school enrollment peaked with 1305 children and 2750 families were listed in parish records.

The building program of Father Lechert resulted in a complete parish facility. A summary of what it achieved includes:

The brick school building was remodeled and extended to hold 12 classrooms and the heating facility was relocated to a new basement boiler room. It was completed in March of 1951

A new church with seating capacity of about 800 was started in 1950, with a large parish hall equipped with a stage, kitchen and wardrobe facilities. It was dedicated by Cardinal Stritch on May 4, 1952.

A school addition. extending the school to 56th Place, increased the number of classrooms to 20 and added a basement social hall. The cornerstone was laid in 1955 and it was completed in 1956. For a time this social hall was used as a chapel.

A new rectory containing living quarters, an office and parish meeting rooms was completed in 1956.

A new convent, containing a chapel and faculty living quarters was completed in 1956.

A Junior High school addition increasing the total classrooms to 27 and adding another basement social hall was begun on September 2, 1958. It was dedicated on November 8, 1959.

A basement chapel was developed under the church to handle the ever increasing number of parishioners.

Spiritual and Social Sides

Under Father Lechert's leadership the parish experienced steady liturgical growth. The Mass schedule was expanded and Basement Chapel Masses introduced. Regular retreats and missions played an important part in the life of the parish. Of special note was the establishment of the Holy Hour of Reparation on Thursdays, sponsored by the Lay Altar Apostles of the Holy Name Society.

Even before the emphasis placed on lay participation by Vatican II, a core of lectors and commentators was established to lead the Christian community of St. Turibius in public worship.

In other areas, a Home and School Association was organized as a liaison between faculty and parents. A Drama Club was begun under the direction of Father Frank Lefkowicz, and an annual picnic was sponsored by the Holy Name Society.

In his earliest years at St. Turibius, Father Lechert was assisted by Father Raymond Pacholski and Father Edmund Cunia. Later came Rev. Edmund Szlanga, Rev. Frank Lefkowicz, and Rev. Frank Koziol. Still later were Rev. Father Leo Wincek, Rev. Henry Troy, Rev. Louis Zakrzewicz, Rev. Edward Mackowiak, Rev, Walter Zmija, and Rev. Stanley Limanowski.

In 1967, after 19 years of successful work with his parish, Father Lechert retired at age 70 to become Pastor Emeritus. In the next few months he contracted the illness that resulted in his death on May 21, 1968, the 47th Anniversary of his ordination. Another era had come to an end.

Msgr, Joseph Mroczkowski Appointed Fifth Pastor: Parish Developes in a New Way 1967 - Present

It was a time of Renewal for the Catholic Church in Chicago, both spiritually and materially. The Church all over the world was experiencing this change. In 1967 Father Limanowski, Interim Administrator, and Assistants Rev. Donald Bartoszek and Rev. Albin Ciciora, made plans to remodel the classrooms, connect the Junior High Building with the rest of the school and air condition the Church and Chapel. Classrooms had been torn apart to be modernized and construction materials and workers were everywhere. It was amidst this flurry of activity, in November of 1967, that Monsignor Joseph Mroczkowski arrived at St. Turibius as its new pastor.

He enthusiastically supported the work being done in the school and also the air conditioning of the Church and Chapel. This work was completed in 1968. In 1970 Monsignor began the renovation of the church, which included a new and inspiring altar and surrounding sculptures, new stations of the cross, paneling and carpeting. A reconstruction of the organ and remodeling of the choir loft were completed.

A parish census of 1968 provided a deep knowledge of the parish and its needs to Msgr. Mroczkowski and his Associates, Father Bartoszek and Father Ciciora, and later Rev. Walter Imbiorski, Rev. Eugene Winkowski and Rev. Norbert Zawistanowicz. The facts and figures of the census were then put to workMonsignor became director of the St. Turibius Senior Choir, and in a recruitment drive, personally called the people who had expressed an interest in the choir on their census form. The improvement was apparent and the "new and improved" choir sang at Resurrection Cemetery on Memorial Day for several years, proudly representing St. Turibius Parish.

The needs of Senior citizens were met, first by a series of parties sponsored by the organizations of the parish on a rotating basis, and then with Monsignor's help, the Jolly Seniors was organized and they had a group of their own.

A Lenten Adult Education series was held which helped inform the people of the whys of religion and its changes.

Athletic activities and competition were begun for the youth of the parish, sponsored by the new Sports Booster Organization. The School Band was given new life and a Band Booster Club was organized to support it. A School Board was founded to establish policies and to help govern the operation of the school. The Presidents Club establishes greater unity of action in the religious and social life of the parish.

The Youth Program was further expanded when Rev. Marcel Pasciak came to St. Turibius. He organized an active Teen Club and later a Junior Teen Club, and through personal contact has become a friend to many young men and women of the parish. A Vocations Committee, and a Bible Study Group were also formed by Father Marc to fulfill a need in these areas.

A Living Thing, Ever Growing

Under the present spiritual guidance of Msgr. Joseph Mroczkowski and his Associates, Rev. Marc Pasciak and Rev. Henry Olejniczak, the Community of St. Turibius continues to grow, The School still teaches our children to be good Christian citizens. Parish organizations continue to provide the cornerstone of our community. Social groups comprising various ages and interests are working in their own way to promote the physical, social, educational, cultural and spiritual growth of the People of God
at St. Turibius.

Teen Club, Junior-Teen Club, Band Boosters, Sports Boosters, Junior Chorus, and six levels of Scouting units involve the young people. Hundreds of our parish women work in Mothers Club, St. Ann's Society and Altar and Rosary, while the men participate in the Holy Name Society, as Scout Leaders, in Sports Booster coaching and fund raising, or in working for the liturgy as Ushers.

Generously contributing their time and talents to making our Eucharistic celebrations more meaningful and beautiful are our Commentators, Extraordinary Ministers, Acolytes, Choir and Junior Choir. The Felician Sisters who have served our school for 49 years are helped by the Ladies Auxiliary of the Mother of Good Counsel. The Jolly Seniors Club provides recreation and fellowship for our seniors. A Vocations Committee helps raise the awareness of potential religious vocations in our parish which has been so richly blessed over the past with many native priests, brothers and sisters. Bible Study Groups, Baptismal classes and special Adult Education programs, as well as special Days of Recollection and Retreats are sponsored by various groups, for the spiritual and intellectual development of our adults.

The Holy Spirit Working Through His People

As we look back, there are many factors that have made St. Turibius the large and active parish that it is. Many fine priests have given untiringly of their time and talents. Many good, holy sisters have staffed our school and educated our young. Our pastors have given unceasing love and leadership. But, most of all, it is our people. The people who worked and waited, who petitioned and insisted, who prayed and dreamed that ''this community truly be our own.'' These hard working and ''hard praying'' people created the rich spirituality and sense of community that is what St. Turihius is all about.

Truly, over the last half century, through many heartaches and struggles, the Lord has done great things for the people of St. Turibius. Our hearts are filled with joy and thanks.

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Last Updated on October 20, 2011