St. James Parish History
During the Pontificate of Pope Benedict XV, when Woodrow Wilson was President of the United States, and the Most Rev. James Quigley, Archbishop of the archdiocese of Chicago, and the Hon. Carter H. Harrison, Mayor of the great city of Chicago, fifty years ago in the midst of World War 1,a group of pioneers, immigrants of Polish ancestry set out to organize on the far northwest outskirts of Chicago, in the locality popularly known as Hanson Park what was later to be named St. James Apostle Parish.
The year 1914 will always be a most memorable one in the glorious annals of St. James Parish, inasmuch as it marked the propitious begining of an undertaking which proved to be an harbinger of a happy future, a foretaste of incalculable good in both spiritual and material, for all concerned the organizers, the founders and later, those who, were to be its members
But no one should labor under the illusion that starting a parish in those distant days was an easy and simple matter. On the contrary, the beginnings were really slow and difficult and at times even disheartening, but where there is a will, there will be a way.
The pioneers were just ordinary people, good and honest people, poor in earthly possessions, but rich in great love and deep devotion to the Faith of their fathers and forefathers in Catholic Poland, from which they come. Hardships, misfortunes of one type or other, could not discourage them. The determination was there, and so with their hearts aglow, with the love of God and a deep confidence in the Providence of God, they set out to start the work before them.
The neighborhood, now called Hanson Park, in which the future St. James Parish was to be established fifty years ago, was more or less a no man's land. It was far distant and isolated, rather inaccessible, with poor transportation. As far as one's eye could reach, there were extensive prairies, swamps, clusters of woods, here and there, with very few settlers in sight. There were no paved streets, sidewalks, lights or the usual sanitary conveniences for a long time. All of this came about much later on. On rainy days mud would abound, and in winter with snow on the ground, the picture presented rather a gloomy view.
The Parish was organized in the middle of 1914 but a movement to do so was afoot already two years earlier judging from the account of one of the organizers.
A day that will long be remembered is June 23, 1914, the day on which Archbishop James Quigley, yiel( i to the urgent pleas of a group of Polish pioneers, appoin Ced Rev.Ladislaus Kukulski, then curate at Holy Innocents Parish organize the new parish. However, it was not until July 5th, 1914, that Father Kukulski made his official appearance in his capacity as Pastor of the new parish.
The presence of a priest roused the entire neighborhood and filled with great enthusiasm, the then small flock of some 60 families. Without delay energetic work started. One group vied with the other, to help the cause along.
A store in a frame building, located at Parkside and Belden Avenues, served as the first temporary church. It had accommodations for about 150 people. In the rear of this building, there was a barn, which later was remodeled and converted into a school with two classrooms. The rectory was right next to the temporary church. The first Mass was celebrated in the latter part of the month of July, 1914.
Before long, however, the church proved to be entirely too small. It could not accommodate the ever increasing number of new parishioners. More spacious quarters become necessary. Finally, a year later, a new Iocale was found another store, more spacious than the previous one, located at 2333 N. Mango Avenue. Originally, this store was a bakery. The new rectory was located vis a vis from the new Church.
Father Kukulski's stay at St. James Parish was short it is true only 4 years, from 1914 to 1918 yet he accomplished as much as was possible under the trying circumstances of organizing a new Parish in those faraway days.
To him credit is due for his foresight in purchasing the plot of land five acres in all the block square, which constitutes the present Parish grounds, with Altgeld Street, to the North, Fullerton Avenue, to the South, Mango Avenue, to the East and Menard Avenue, to the West. The cost of this property at that time was $8,000.00.
Realizing, from the very start, the need and importance of Church societies in the Parish Father Kukulski, organized the Married Ladies Rosary Sodality, the Young Ladies Rosary Sodality, St. Cecilia Choir, and the Ladies Parish Civic Club under the patronage of Queen Hedwig. He also was instrumental in organizing the St. Anne's Society, P.R.C.U., and that was on August 31, 191A. Very helpful in the initial stages of St. James Parish, was a civic improvement club popularly known as Casimir Pulaski Civic Club.
Of great assistance to Father Kukulski, was a group of ladies, who devoted their time and energies in soliciting funds for the erection of a Parish school and church proper. These gallant ladies were: Sophia Dyba, Sophia Kubisztal, Magdalen Zientarski, Antoinette Strzyzewski, Frances Gorecki, Angeline Jaikowski and Mrs. Smarzewski. The Parish Committee also assisted the Pastor in his pastoral work to the best of their ability. This committee was composed of the following: Joseph Ratnow, Ignatius Kubczak, John Cieslinski, Joseph Janos and Ignatius Lis.
On March 8, 1918, Archbishop George Mundelein, appointed
Rev. Francis Marcinek, curate at Immaculate Conception Church, South Chicago,
to succeed Father Kukulski.
At that time there were 125 families in the Parish, but there were indications that more and more would come. The school and church facilities, unfortunately, were inadequate. Something had to be done and done soon. To make matters worse, parish funds were meager and the cost of building high. For a solution of this difficult problem, the new Pastor called a Parish meeting, to which all parishioners were invited. The response was gratifying. After the presentation of the matter, a unanimous decision was made to build a temporary structure that would take care of all parochial needs, for the time being, at least.
The contemplated structure, in brief, would consist of a combination church and school building, the church with a seating capacity of 650 in the middle and 2 classrooms on either side. Provisions were to be made for accommodations for Nuns, above the sacristy. The understanding was that after the war was over, a new church would be built and the provisional one would be converted into a parish hall.
May 11, 1919, will long be remembered by all of St. James Parish, inasmuch as it was on that auspicious day that the solemn blessing of the corner stone took place. The site chosen was 2434 N. Mango Avenue. Rt. Rev. Msgr. Stanislous Nawrocki, Pastor of St. Mary of Perpetual Help, was celebrant, Rev. Francis Karabasz, deacon and Rev. Anthony Halgas, subdeacon. Rev Raymond Appelt acted as Master of Ceremonies.
After the completion of the combination building, it did not take long for another problem to stare into the face; of the Pastor the rectory was too small and entirely inadequate. Larger quarters became a sheer necessity. By 1921 a new Rectory was built at 2418 N. Mango Avenue with accommodation for 3 priests at the cost of $20,000.00. At present the old rectory is used for assembly and chair-rehearsal purposes.
The increase of school children which necessitated the building of a larger school in turn, necessitated a larger staff of school teachers which in turn created the need of providing larger quarters for the Nuns. Accordingly a beautiful Sisters' Convent was built with spacious accommodations for 26 Nuns 41 N. Menard Avenue, near Altgeld Street, at the cost of $50,000.00. The solemn dedication took place July 12, 1925. The Very Rev. John Kasprzycki, C.R., Superior of the Resutrectionist Fathers Novitiate in Cragin, was celebrant, Stanislaus Pawlowski, O.F.M., Corlis, Wisconsin, deacon and Rev. Anthony Gowrych, sub?deacon. Father Marcinek delivered the sermon on that momentous occasion.
After the completion of the Sisters' Convent, there was a brief breathing spell, but not for long. Owing to the steady growth of the parish the four classrooms then available, even though used in double shifts, proved to be far from satisfactory or practical, and for obvious reasons, not to the liking of all concerned. All that could be done was to build to provide larger and proper accommodations for the school children.
Fortunately, World War I was over, economic conditions were good; the people were employed and earned well. In brief, the outlook appeared bright and promising. With this in mind, proper steps were taken to go ahead with the project in mind erection of another combination building, three stories high with a new church on the ground floor and two floors up above for school purposes. However, due to the high cost of building, the third floor was to remain unfinished for the time being. The new church would hove a seating capacity of 950 and the school up above, on the second floor would provide modern accommodations for 8 spacious classrooms. The site chosen was the corner of Altgeld Street and Mango Avenue. The construction cost was $ 220,000.00.