NOBLE SQUARE — A church whose community impact six decades ago was powerful enough for the Kennedy Expy. to get built around it — rather than force its demolition and the displacement of devout families — will be celebrating its 150th anniversary this month.
St. Stanislaus Kostka Church opened in 1867 to "cater to the growing number of Polish immigrants in the city" and by the end of the 19th century had grown to becoe the largest parish in the United States with 8,000 families, according to a news release issued by the Noble Square church.
On April 23, Cardinal Blase Cupich will lead a 2 p.m. Jubilee Mass to celebrate the founding of the parish, 1327 N. Noble St.
After the Mass, a statue will be unveiled to honor the venerable Mother Mary Theresa Dudzik, who emigrated with her family from Poland to Noble Square in 1881 and began her work with the poor and needy during Chicago's financial crisis of 1893, which resulted in greater economic stress and unemployment, according to a website honoring Dudzik.
Dudzik founded the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago in 1894.
Today, St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish, at the corner of Noble Street and Evergreen Avenue, serves people from the entire Chicago metropolitan area and holds Masses in English, Polish and Spanish.
The church is open 24 hours for prayer and provides a soup kitchen five days a week. Additionally, the parish continues to operate an elementary school a few doors south of the church and hosts an annual summer carnival.
Raymond Garcia, editor of the 150th Anniversary Book and a volunteer in the rectory who lives in Bridgeport, said he was baptized in the church 23 years ago.
"My father grew up in the neighborhood and he and my mother got married there. I attended the school attached to the parish so I have a long history with the church," Garcia said.
"It's pretty incredible that the church is celebrating 150 years in Chicago. That is a huge milestone, especially at a time where some churches are closing down," he said. "It shows that the community is still strong and far reaching even though many have moved out of the area."
Commuters and visitors coming inbound on the Kennedy will recognize the parish as the highway weaves around the church just before the Division Street exit.
According to an April 4, 1954 Tribune article, plans originally called for the expressway to be built to the west of the church, but that would have uprooted 400 families and left the church isolated. Other plans had the expressway going through the church, which would force the building to be demolished, WBEZ reported.
But the church and the parishioners' homes were saved by State Rep. Bernard Prusinski, a civil engineer who hatched a plan to move the adjacent railroad tracks to the east so the expressway also could be moved east of the church, according to the Tribune.
In 2014, former President Barack Obama mentioned the parish during his visit to Warsaw, Poland.
"The faithful come together at churches like St. Stanislaus Kostka," Obama said during a ceremony for the 25th Anniversary of Freedom Day where he commended the parish, White House archives show.
Later this year, on Oct. 22, the parish will commemorate its 150th milestone with a celebration at the Union League Club of Chicago that is expected to draw influential leaders of the Catholic Church as well as key members of the community across the Chicago area, organizers said.
Undated photo inside the church. [Provided].
Aerial view of St. Stanislaus Kostka.