HISTORY OF ST. MARY OF CZESTOCHOWA PARISH
St. Mary of Czestochowa Parish takes it's name from the miraculous shrine dedicated to Our Lady in Czestochowa, Poland. It had its humble beginnings in 1895 in a little wooden church in a section of Cicero called Hawthorne, south of 30th street between 48th court and 49th avenue. Families from Poland and Germany settled the area to work in the nearby limestone quarry, but later as many factories provided employment Hawthorne and the Parish grew.
The immigrant Poles wished to hear the Mass in their own language, and some would travel five miles on Sunday to established Polish parishes in Chicago. In 1892 a meeting was held to formulate plans for a new parish, and after overcoming many difficulties the Rev. Casimir Slominski was appointed pastor to the fledgeling parish numbering about eighty-six families. The hall which served as a temporary church and living quarters for the pastor, and even the new wooden structure built at a cost of $5000 would not serve the parish for long.
The Rev. Bronislaus Czajkowski became the third pastor of St. Mary of Czestochowa Parish in 1904 and continued to serve the congregation for thirty-five years. This was a period of tremendous growth and expansion. In January, 1905 construction began on the brick church and school combination, and by December of the same year the building was blessed and two hundred and forty families had a new space for worship and education. The Sisters of St. Joseph of the Third Order of St. Francis were invited to teach in the parish school, and in 1908 a convent was built to provide living quarters for them. The rectory was completed in 1917 while work continued on a new gothic style church which was completed in 1918 and blessed by Archbishop Mundelein. These four structures, remodeled and renovated, remain in use today.
The history of a parish is also the story of a community and its people. Stefan and Pelagia Bartoszak owned a hall, and in 1895 transformed it into a church and school combination. "Old Timers" fondly call St. Mary's School "Mlyniec School" because Mr. Theodore Mlyniec was the second parish organist and also taught in the one room parish school. Andrew Chybiak and Elizabeth Chalupka were the first couple to be married in the new parish. It was a sad occasion for the community and parish when on July 24, 1915 800 employees of the Western Electric Company died as the Eastland excursion boat capsized in the Chicago River. Twenty-nine parishioners lost their lives in that tragedy and were remembered in a memorial Mass.
Anniversaries give us an opportunity to celebrate and to note change. In 1920 the parish celebrated its 25th anniversary with 800 families and 900 children in the school. The celebration of the parish's Golden Anniversary in 1945 could not take away the memory of World War II and the many men and women from the parish who served in the military. By 1970 with the celebration of the 75th Anniversary the Youth Center, although two blocks away, was part of the parish building complex. In 1995 the 100th Anniversary Mass was celebrated using the new altar made from part of the beautiful carrara marble altar rail.
Today St. Mary of Czestochowa Parish serves a diverse population. A number of parishioners, still actively involved, lay claim to having parents and grandparents who pioneered the parish. A young Polish immigrant population, although not living in the area, have strong ties to the Black Madonna and call St. Mary of Czestochowa their spiritual home. Just as great numbers of Poles and Germans settled in the Hawthorne neighborhood of Cicero over a hundred years ago, so today large numbers of people from Mexico have settled here, and the Hispanic presence is very much part of the parish.
On July 1, 2003 priests of the Redemptorist Congregation arrived to Cicero. The Polish Redemtorists began serving the spiritual need of this trilingual parish. Custom and language are part of celebrations, and St. Marys celebrates the Feast of Our Lady of Czestochowa in August with special Masses, procession through the neighborhood, ethnic food, and the final gathering for the ice cream social. On December 12, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe begins with Maņanitas at 5:00 A. M., a special Mass with the distribution of roses, and a social gathering enjoying hot chocolate. Many couples choose St. Marys for their wedding and a bouquet will be placed before the icon of Our Lady of Guadalupe or Our Lady of Czestochowa all honor our Blessed Mother, but each following custom and tradition.
The church and school combination built in 1905 is still used today for the parish school and religious education programs. The convent building today houses the chancery for the Syro Malabar Eastern Rite congregation for the Diocese of the United States and Canada. The Youth Center building now called The Social Center provides a place for the school's physical education classes, athletic program, an active senior group, and the public school preschool program.
A people of God form a parish to hear the gospel and to touch Christ through the sacraments. For over 100 years St. Mary of Czestochowa Parish has provided that basic spiritual need by offering daily Mass, Sunday Masses and special services in three languages, novenas, missions, a place for the adoration of Christ in the Holy Eucharist and a sacred and beautiful space to celebrate the reception of the sacraments.
A special treasure of the parish is the mosaic icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa enshrined in the high altar. Her left hand holds The Christ Child while her right hand points toward her Son inviting us to come to Him. St. Mary of Czestochowa church with its twin steeples towering high over all other buildings in the southeast corner of Cicero stands as a testament to the firm belief and courage of all who formed this parish. Today as we stand in the shadow of those twin towers we are reminded to hold on to our faith, express it with devotion, and accept the welcoming invitation of Our Lady of Czestochowa.