History

Our Parish and Neighborhood

St. Anthony of Padua Church

Pius the Ninth occupied the Chair of Peter in Rome that year. All of North America was still considered by the Church to be a mission country, still governed by the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith. It was still the Old World which sent its priests, sisters, and brothers to minister to the millions of its emigrants who fled Europe to populate the New World.

Ulysses S. Grant sat in the White House, a reminder of the holocaust which had been the Civil War, and which had ended only a few years before. Attempting to bind the wounds which had sundered these United States, the country was intent on another course of expansion; beyond the Mississippi to the prairies and mountains of the West.

Already, that westward movement of the frontier had left the City of Chicago behind, not as a backwater, but amid the trappings of a burgeoning world metropolis. Sprawling outward from its original confines along the lakefront, it had only been recently that the city limits had been extended outward again – northward, west, and southward – until the southern boundaries stood at 39th Street, Western Avenue and the lakefront on the west and east.

With this latest expansion, the South Side then encompassed an area of marshes and prairies which had been sparsely populated by Irish and German immigrants since the days when Old Archer Road had been laid out as a service road to aid in the construction of the Illinois-Michigan Canal in the 1830’s.

When the Canal was completed in 1848 and boats stopped at a station near Ashland Avenue and the Canal, the Irish and Germans who had built the canal and still lived there naturally called the settlement “Bridgeport.” Although still a part of the Town of Lake, thus, still a “suburb” in comparison with other areas of Chicago, Bridgeport was growing and prospering in that year.  After the Canal was built, many of the Irish and German immigrants stayed on in the area to make their livings on Canal traffic. And the Union Stock Yards – then located along Archer Road, -- had opened in the 1840’s and were providing more and more jobs each year.

But like the city of which it had only recently become a part, Bridgeport had its growing pains – both physical and spiritual. Its residents were poor, working people who reclaimed what land they could from the surrounding fields and marshes with their bare hands, and housed themselves in what makeshift structures they could afford.

Similarly, they were predominantly Roman Catholic in their faith and yearned for the same spiritual sustenance which had comforted them in the old country – and, in many cases, which kept body and soul together in the new.

And as their numbers grew, so did their churches. By that time Bridgeport was already dotted with Catholic Parishes – St. Bridget's, St. James, Nativity of Our Lord – the last so-named because its first Church had once been a stable. Chicago itself, in fact, was already well on its way to becoming one of the largest concentrations of Roman Catholics in the New World. The Diocese was almost 50 years old that year, with its fourth Bishop, and its own Cathedral, although housed in a simple frame and clapboard structure.

But Chicago's Catholics needed even more Churches to house their faith, and more religious to minister, nurture, and guide it. It was in this setting that Bishop Thomas Foley was to be historically linked with the founding of two more Catholic Parishes in Bridgeport.

One was to be dedicated to a native Portuguese Saint and Doctor of the Church – a Franciscan priest who after his death was to be claimed by an Italian City as its Patron and whose relics are still preserved there – St. Anthony of Padua. The other Parish, in seeming pride of its Catholicity, was to be dedicated to All of the Saints in God's Heaven. Moreover, both Churches, and the Parishes they were to serve during the next I00 years, were to be bound to the histories of Chicago, Bridgeport – and the lives of four generations of Catholics – with ties forged, ironically enough, in fire itself.

The year was 1871; the day was the 8th of October.



Rev. Peter Fischer
Founding Pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Parish
1873-1903

Father Peter Fischer had been a carpenter's apprentice in his youth – so the legend goes. Therefore, he may have had some premonition of what could happen when he spotted a wisp of smoke on the horizon to the southwest of his rectory window at Old St. Peter's Church, Polk and Clark Streets in Chicago.

Just as a sailor has undying respect – if not mortal fear – of the sea, every carpenter since the days of St. Joseph himself has known the threat posed by fire to their creations. And Father Peter Fischer would have been no exception as he noted the wooden shanties which stood between his church and that faint black plume in the sky.

But little else in the background of the young German priest would have prepared him for what actually did happen within the 48 hours which began that hot, dry evening of October 8, 1871 –little else but faith itself.

The Reverend Peter Fischer had been born at Keuenkirken, Nieder­ Bayern, Bavaria, in I834. If there were any truth to the story of his early days as a carpenter, it would go a long way toward explaining why he, too, would become known as a "Church builder."

Actual records show that Father Fischer began his formal education at Straubinger in I847, and passing his examinations at Passau in 1856, left for America the following year, where the roots of his scholastic background were transplanted from the schools of Germany to St. Thomas College in Baltimore.

In 1858, the young Peter Fischer answered his call to the religious life by entering St. Mary's Seminary at Cincinnati and later St. Vincent's Seminary at Cape Girardeau, Mo. Although accounts are contradictory in saying that it was either in St. Louis or in Cincinnati, they are in agreement that he was ordained "by Archbishop Kendrick" in 1860. In any case, Father Fischer was immediately assigned as a curate at Freeport and Galena, Illinois, cities which were then still part of the Diocese of Chicago, at that time covering the entire northern portion of Illinois.

Two years later, he was transferred to St. Raphael – later rededicated to S.S. Peter and Paul –Church in Naperville, where he undertook the construction there of another church to replace the one which had served that Parish since its founding in 1847.

But before he could see the completion of his work, Father Peter Fischer was again transferred, in 1864, to St. Peter's Church in Chicago where – at the age of 30 – he became the seventh Pastor of a Parish which had been founded in 1846 to meet the needs of German-speaking Catholics in Chicago. The first Church of St. Peter's Parish had been located on what is now Washington Street, between Wells and Franklin Streets. But after a succession of Pastors and shifts in population, the center of the Parish was moved to the Church built at Polk and Clark Streets, the site where Father Fischer arrived in 1864.

           "He was an energetic man; strong in his conviction, a believer in rigorous Catholicism, which. however, he did not hesitate to practice first himself. He was a good man, but a stern man," is the historical commentary we have handed down to us on Father Peter Fischer's character. And strength of character was what he would need most that night, and in the days and years following.

The St. Peter's Parish which Father Fischer found upon his arrival in Chicago in 1864 was already a flourishing one; so much so that during his first few years he found himself – along with the School Sisters of Notre Dame who served its School – hard pressed to serve the spiritual needs of his flock from the confines of the Church and School complex on Polk Street. As a result, in 1868, Father Fischer erected a second school at what were then known as McGregor and Hanover Streets – and what is now known as the vicinity of 24th Place and Canal Streets.


Old St. Peter's second school, at McGregor and Hannover Streets (now 24th & Canal),
near where Father Peter Fischer built the original St. Anthony of Padua Church and Parish

Although the site of the new school was beyond the South Branch of the Chicago River, and actually in Bridgeport, the German speaking members of St. Peter's Parish were already seeking living space there. In fact, they were also joined by numbers of immigrants from Central Europe whose Bohemian tongue made it logical that the new school could serve both groups.

It would have been difficult to fault Father Fischer for taking satisfaction in the progress his Parish was making by that October night. But whatever reflections he may have had were shattered by the cry of "Fire!" Within minutes that wisp of smoke Father Fischer had seen on the horizon had raged out of control, then, became a major conflagration destroying entire blocks of the city. Within hours, Father Fischer's Church was filled with refugees seeking safety in one of the few stone – therefore, seemingly fireproof – structures in the neighborhood.

The blaze had started near DeKoven and Clinton Streets. Amid the panic of those seeking safety in St. Peter's rumors circulated concerning a cow, a lamp, and one Mrs. O'Leary, in whose barn the fire was said to have started.

Whatever the origin, fanned by high winds and favored by the long dry spell which has enveloped the city for over a month, the flames devoured the frame buildings in St. Peter's Parish with increasing ferocity. Here and there a lone fire engine fought the monster with a single stream of water. By the early hours of Monday morning, the flames had already leapt east ward across the river, and were just south of the Polk Street Bridge – with St. Peter's and its huddled refugees directly in its path.

As the bells in its steeple continued to toll an alarm to a neighborhood which had long since been deserted to the flames by most others – the Church, and its refugees huddled inside, appeared doomed. It is in circumstances like those that legends are born, and like any other legend the facts of this one are difficult to verify but equally impossible to argue and doubt.

For years since that night, it has been told that, drawing upon a personal devotion he had for St. Anthony of Padua – undoubtedly sparked by an intellectual and scholarly kinship he had with the Saint – Father Fischer led his parishioners in prayer to the Church Doctor asking for his intercession that St. Peter's Church, its school, and its people be saved from the flames. It has been said, moreover, that Father Fischer declared that if his prayers were heard and his request granted, he would build a church in honor of St. Anthony of Padua. He was even said to be specific in his declaration that he would erect the new Church in the "suburbs" where never again would a House of God be in danger of the kind of fire which was at that moment destroying the city around him.

 



Map showing devasted area following the Great Chicago Fire of 1871

 

Whatever the truth to the legend, a look at a map of the area destroyed by the Great Chicago Fire shows even today that the flames on Monday, October 9, 1871, veered north and eastward, sparing St. Peter's Church. The building, in fact, was to survive well into the 1950's, succumbing only to the wrecker's ball and urban renewal. The Parish, however, still exists to this day, centered in a new Church serving the downtown area of Chicago. But back in those first few days, when the ashes of what had been Chicago were still cooling, Father Fischer set out to fulfill his vow. Casting about for a suitable "suburb" in which to locate the Church he planned to dedicate to St. Anthony of Padua, he immediately settled on a logical location – the spot at McGregor and Hanover Streets, where the branch of St. Peter's School already existed.

In 1873, Father Fischer sought permission from Bishop Thomas Foley to begin fulfillment of his promise. In a letter which still exists today – found in the first volume of Baptismal records for St. Anthony's Parish – Father Fischer used formal, ecclesiastical Latin to record:

            "In the year of Our Lord 1873, on the 23rd day of May, the undersigned was transferred by the Most Reverend Thomas Foley from the Church of St. Peter, which he had administered for ten years to the point where no debt existed at all, to this region where a congregation and a Church were to be founded (instituted). In the same year the foundation for a Church building was begun and laid and in the 23rd day of October, 1873, the corner stone was blessed by the Most Reverend Bishop, in the year 1877, the Church was finally completed."

The original record is signed in a style which still shows unmistakable pride:

"Peter Fischer, Pastor,
St. Anthony of Padua Church."

It is an interesting historical note that in the days before St. Anthony's Church was to be consecrated in 1878, Bishop Thomas Foley — who had granted permission for the founding of the new Parish — had journeyed to Baltimore. Scheduled to return in time to preside over the consecration ceremonies, Bishop Foley died of pneumonia before he could see the formal dedication of the Church to which he was the spiritual godfather.

Having paid $8,000 for the land on which the new St. Anthony's Church would stand adjacent to the existing school, Father Fischer, undoubtedly calling upon his original vocation as a carpenter, supervised the construction of the new Church. But the structure which rose to be the original St. Anthony of Padua Church was of brick – in obvious keeping with the lessons learned during the Great Fire.  Its Romanesque architecture was, in fact, to characterize for many years to come a landmark for the area – and add two more steeples to the skyline of Bridgeport.

 



Artist's rendering of original St. Anthony Church at McGregor &
Hannover Streets (now 24th & Canal Streets), as it looked in the 1870's

 

Almost simultaneously with the building of his Church, Father Fischer began the spiritual structure of his Parish. In order to more closely unite his flock and to foster a spirit of brotherly love among his parishioners, he organized several societies for members of the new Parish. The first of these was the St. Anthony's Benevolent Society for the men. Soon afterwards was founded a branch of the Catholic Order of Foresters, known as the St. Nicholas Court. Later, a St. Ann's Ladies Society and a Sociality of the Blessed Virgin were established for the young ladies of the Parish.

Thus thoroughly organized from within, St. Anthony's began to grow and prosper, both materially and spiritually, while serving German Catholics who gravitated from areas of Old St. Peter's Parish which had been devastated by the Great Fire, and new immigrants — among them many Bohemians — who flooded into the northeastern part of Bridgeport to work in the Stockyards and on the railroads which bisected the neighborhood.

Apparently mindful of the wide area his Parish covered and cognizant of the danger posed by those railroad tracks running east of his Church, Father Fischer soon built a second school, at Portland Avenue (now Princeton Avenue) and 25th Place, at a cost of  $20,000. Placed in charge of the School were, again, the Sisters of Notre Dame, the order which originally served Old St. Peter's School. The Portland Avenue school soon rivaled the older school on Canal Street in popularity and enrollment.

 


St. Anthony's second school opened by Father Fischer, at 25th & Portland
(now Princeton) Avenue, which later became St. Mary Incoronata School.

And there are two interesting historical notes worthy of mention in connection with what was originally St. Anthony's second school. The distinct cleavage between ethnic groups in Chicago at that time can be seen in the fact  that only a few years before the school on Portland Avenue was founded by Father Fischer, Bohemian immigrants to the same area had already grown to such numbers that they demanded and founded a Church of their own. That Church located at 25th Street and Portland Avenue, was the original St. John Nepomucene.

Similarly, years after its founding, St. Anthony's second school was no longer serving the sons and daughters of German immigrants. By the turn of the century the area around the school had been populated by Italians in growing numbers – and demanding, too, a church of their own. The result, was the founding of still another Parish which was to add its story lo the history of Bridgeport, Saint Maria lncoronata. It was in 1904, in fact, that the second school building erected by Father Fischer was turned over to Italian Catholics in the area to be the School of Saint Maria lncoronata Parish.

The stories of both St. John's and Saint Maria lncoronata were to continue in the annals of Bridgeport, but the story of Father Peter Fischer and his part in the history of St. Anthony's Parish came to an end on May 31, 1903, when the founding Pastor passed to his eternal reward.

But during his 30 years governing the Parish, dedicated through his personal devotion to St.  Anthony of Padua, he left an indelible mark on its character, its parishioners, and on the many fellow priests who served with him as curates. Young men with names like De la Porte, Westkamp, Erz, Boniface, Bal­zer, Kirsch, Springmeyer, Newmann, Mertens, Nix, Schildgen, Kremer and Heimsath often performed their first priestly ministrations under Father Fischer. Later, some went forth to found parishes of their own or rise in the hierarchy of the Church, but all took with them a spiritual legacy and administrative experience drawn from Father Fischer and St. Anthony’s, which would be used to further build the Church of American and Chicago during the 20th Century. Father Fischer’s passing marked the end of an era for St. Anthony’s Parish, but it continued to grow and prosper during the early years of the 20th Century.


The Reverend Bernard Westharp succeeded Father Fischer, but ill health forced him to resign after only five years. He was succeeded in January of 1909 by Reverend John Dettmer, who like Father Fischer at the crisis of its birth – was to be present at still another crisis in the Parish’s history. As Chicago’s commerce mushroomed during the early years of this century, the city strengthened its grip on the title of railway hub of the nation. Like many other lines centered in the city at that time the Western Indiana Railroad soon found its right of way through the south woefully inadequate to the volume of traffic in those days.

 


Rev. John Dettmer
Third Pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Parish
1909-1930

 

It wasn't long before railroad officials were casting a jealous eye on the property upon which St. Anthony’s original Church and School stood at 24th and Canal Streets. It was in March 1913 that another legend concerning St. Anthony’s grew out of the negotiations between the railroad and Father Dettmer over the sale and transference of the property. By most appearances, the $225,000 offer the railroad made to Father Dettmer and the Parish was one which would have been difficult to turn down; particularly in view of the fact that the railroad also offered a number of shares of its stock to sweeten the deal.

According to the legend, however, there was a parishioner – obviously an astute and a farsighted businessman – whole entered the negotiations as an advisor to Father Dettmer. As the story goes, that unnamed parishioner found little long-range advantage to the Parish in the railroad’s offer of outright cash, and even less in the prospect of its becoming a shareholder in a railroad – no matter how seemingly prosperous. Instead, he proposed that the Church take advantage of the availability of land near 28th Place and Wallace Streets, farther to the south and west of the original site – and within the boundaries of All Saints Parish, which had been founded in 1875.

Indeed, the still relatively sparsely settled area of the truck farms around the proposed site of the new Church eventually lent itself to a massive migration of the German families also uprooted from their homes by the railroad, to the new settlement around their new Church. In fact, after some hard-nosed negotiating, the railroad agreed to build a new church, rectory, and school – even a convent – for the displaced parishioners. And as they, too, settled around their new church, they joined the Irish, Italian, Polish, Lithuanians, Bohemians and scattered Mexican families who had settled in the neighborhood by the turn of the century. While the memory of old St. Anthony’s Church on Canal Street would cling to the hearts of its German parishioners for years to come, the business acumen of Father Dettmer and his unnamed parishioner are still exhibited today – long after all evidence of the Western Indiana Railroad has passed.

The cornerstone of the present St. Anthony of Padua Church was laid in 1913 and, as the structure rose into the air, it slowly began to unfold the beauties of its Romanesque architecture – its distinction – and, as one of the few Catholic Churches in Chicago which was entirely paid for, steeple, bell, and altar, from the start.

 


Cornerstone-laying ceremony for the present St. Anthony's Church in 1913

 

Pre-eminent among the distinguishing features of the Church, even today, is a mosaic of the vision of St. Anthony of Padua adorning the exterior above the main entrance. The mosaic and the beautiful windows with which the Church is still adorned were imported from Munich, Germany.


Mosaic above the main entrance

 

The three bells which still hang in the south tower were cast by the McShane Bell Foundry, Baltimore, Maryland, in 1914. The largest of the bells is inscribed “In honorem Sancti Antonii,” the lesser in size, “…Sanctae Marinae,” and the smallest, “…Sancti Joseph.”

 

     

Church bells cast by the McShane Bell Foundry, Baltimore, Maryland, in 1914

The first services in the new Church were held on Christmas Day, 1914, and on June 13, 1915, the Church was formally blessed by the Right Reverend Paul Rhode, at that time acting in the absence of Chicago’s then Archbishop Edward Quigley.

 


Parade down 28th Place, marking the dedicaton of the Church in June of 1915

 

Having firmly established St. Anthony’s Parish in its new Church, Father Dettmer continued to shepherd his flock for another 16 years during which he not only preceded over the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Parish, but also was honored by George Cardinal Mundelein, in 1924, with the title of Right Reverend Monsignor.

In 1930, Father Dettmer retired, and later died in February of 1940. But, like the Pastors o St. Anthony’s before him, also left a heritage for the Parish and its people – and for the many fellow priests who labored with him; such men as: Fathers William Dettmer, A.H. Mescher, John Ott, Leo B. Gruenenfelder, Joseph A. Gehrig, A.A. Freeman and Eugene J. Luke.


It was during these years too, that lay men and women continued their unstinting activities in Parish Societies. At one point, St. Anthony’s could number among them: a Holy Name Society, there Courts of the Catholic Order of Foresters, The St. Nicholas Court, the St. Anthony Court, and the Three Kings Court. In addition, there was a chapter of the St. Vincent De Paul Society, the St. Lawrence Young Men's Benevolent Society, and the St. Alexius Boys' Society. But those were merely the Societies for men. The Ladies Societies were the Christian Mothers Sodality, the L.C.B.A., the Lady Foresters, the St. Cecelia's Young Ladies' Sodality, and the St. Agnes Girls' Sodality.
 

After the resignation of Father Dettmer, the Reverend Peter Lieser, then Pastor of St. Gertrude's Church in Franklin Park, Illinois became the fourth Pastor of St. Anthony's. Father Lieser arrived at a critical time; the depression was one, but he energetically shouldered the burden of the Pastoral Office at St. Anthony's and shared the temporal difficulties of the times with his parishioners. After having experienced with them the depths of the depression and the early years of World War II, Father Lieser was still Pastor at the start of the post-War era in 1945. But ill health soon compelled him to resign. It was after only a few months of lingering sickness that he passed away to his reward, on March 8, 1946.

 


Rev. Peter Lieser
Fourth Pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Parish
~1930-1946

But among Father Lieser's curates at that time – Reverends Eugene Luke, Joseph E. Wagner, and Martin C. Schmidt – it was Father Schmidt who was to succeed him as administrator of St. Anthony's. It was Father Schmidt, in the years immediately prior to 1948, who undertook several renovation and redecoration projects in the Church itself in preparation for the Parish's 75th Anniversary.


Forty-hour devotion in 1948, as St. Anthony of Padua Parish
celebrated its Diamond Jubilee.



Rev. Martin C. Schmidt
Administrator of St. Anthony of Padua Parish
~1946-1950

But it was a somewhat troubled and melancholy Father Schmidt who retired from his post at St. Anthony's back in 1950, knowing that the future of the Parish he was leaving was in doubt. As far back as 1939, suggestions had been made – from Rome itself – that there was no longer any need for a Parish of St. Anthony of Padua in Bridgeport. And the evidence was difficult to argue. What had once been a strong, almost insular, settlement of German immigrants and their descendants clustering around the Church, had dwindled during the years.

Many of the older families with Central European names had simply died out in the Parish. Others had moved out of the neighborhood to settle in other parts of the south side of the city; some found other German-speaking Parishes. As the Parish records started by Father Peter Fischer showed, the numbers of Marriages and Baptisms showed a steady decline matched only by the number of deaths in the years following the Parish's 50th Anniversary.

By the early 1950's the names on its rolls showed an increasing mixture of Italian, Irish, Polish, Lithuanian heritage. But, still the numbers declined because many of those people who attended the Church, and their children the School, did so as a matter of convenience. It was All Saints Church and others, to which many still owed their original allegiance.


Rev. Raymond J. Ackerman
Administrator and later Fifth Pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Parish

 

In 1950, the Reverend Raymond J. Ackerman was appointed Administrator of St. Anthony’s, and with his curates strove to keep the Parish and Church alive. Parish carnivals and bingo nights were held to help pay for mounting expenses. Rennovations of the Parish buildings were undertaken; and new members were recruited for the many Parish societies which still existed.

The roll call of the curates who served the Parish in those years indicates that there was still spiritual work to be done and aid to be given to any and all who asked. Fathers J. Austin Graff, Robert F. Sauer, Leon R. Wagner, Richard C. Laske, Matthias H. Hoffman, John Kauzlarich, Donald C. Heidkamp, Eugene J. Ahern, John J. Jankauskas, Richard J. Bartulis, and John O'Brien all contributed with their devotion and years of their lives.

And the Sisters of Notre Dame were still on hand, after almost 100 years of association with the Parish Peter Fischer founded. But the inevitable seemed almost unavoidable. The tentative nature of the Parish's existence was indicated during those years in the fact that Father Raymond Ackerman received the title of Pastor only a year before his transfer elsewhere. Similarly, Father Norbert E. Randolph, who succeded Father Ackerman, did so as Administrator and only later received the full title of Pastor of St. Anthony's Parish.

 


Rev. Norbert J. Randolph
Administrator and later Sixth and Final Pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Parish

The future was simply too vague. By the early 1960's, the commercial high school for girls – which had been founded years before as part of St. Anthony's School, and which had graduated hundreds of students – was closed for lack of enrollment. If anything, the elementary school itself was merely serving to handle the overflows of All Saints School and Mark Sheridan Public School a block away, during those years.

In the minds of the people who lived in the immediate neighborhood, St. Anthony's was still the "German Church" and School. But most of the founding German families were gone by that time. The pews in the Church which they had claimed as family possessions stood empty on Sundays. Sermons were no longer preached in German, nor school lessons taught in that language.

Those practices had ended many years before, but the image still remained. It was in 1968 that the Reverend Joseph Curielli, Pastor of All Saints Church, was appointed Administrator of St. Anthony's Parish – Father Norbert Randolph having been the last official Pastor of St. Anthony's in its own right. Father Curielli's appointment merely underscored the obvious.  St. Anthony's would have to be combined with another Parish, or would have to go out of existence entirely.

But the times, circumstances, and the farsightedness of Father Dettmer and his businessman/parishioner back in 1913, were to play their role as St. Anthony of Padua Parish neared its 100th – and possibly its last – Anniversary.

Despite the dwindling numbers of people they still served, the Church, Rectory, School, and  Convent built by the Western Indiana Railroad on 28th Place were still strong and solidly built – if in need of minor repair. Built in 1913, they were still relatively modern.

And it was by these virtues that St. Anthony of Padua Parish would be guaranteed entrance in to its second century – still retaining its history and essential spirit, while insuring the life, vitality and existence of one of the "Mother Parishes" of Bridgeport.


All Saints Church

The rails of the horse-drawn streetcar line along Archer Road were hot to the touch, the heat was so intense that night. Here and there, the wooden ties on which they rested burst into flame. The water in the marsh channel, which then led to the South Branch of the Chicago River from a point near what was later to become 25th Place, vividly reflected the night-turned-day as a storm of fire destroyed the City of Chicago.

Few, if any, of the men, women, and children living in the little neighborhood hesitated to stare, in either awe or terror. There simply wasn't time. Even though the flames were over three miles away to the north and east, there was no assurance that the winds would not shift; that the fire would not leap the River and consume their wooden shanties, too. Buckets of water swung from horse troughs, through chains of desperate hands, to be poured on the steaming roofs and blistering walls of their homes, lest they too burst into fire from the radiated heat. But, even in the confusion and near-panic, many abandoned their own homes to wet the timbers of a one-story frame building on Lowe Avenue at 26th Street, in hopes of somehow ensuring that at least it would survive if nothing else did.

During weekdays, the building housed a store. But on Sundays, it housed their Church and their faith. lt was then merely a mission of Old St. Bridget's Church, near "Mud Lake" along Archer Road, from where a priest came each Sunday to say two Masses for the Catholics who had been steadily making their homes along Halsted Street south to Pershing Road. Bridgeport was still predominantly Irish then, with some German immigrants mingled with a "few Native Americans" as the records of the day described the few Indians still lingering in the area.

Whatever their numbers or backgrounds, they constituted a well-knit neighborhood even then. And the nameless volunteers among them who managed to save their homes from the Great Fire that night saved their Church, too.

And, while those in other parts of Chicago proper in the weeks and months ahead took up the task of rebuilding the city to the north, those in Bridgeport tried to continue on with their lives as they had before. But, with the influx of many refugees into the neighborhood from areas destroyed by the fire – and even more seeking jobs in the Stock Yards, railroads, and truck farms in the area – the population grew and so did the mission's congregation.

Being more Irish in numbers, they petitioned their Bishop for permission to found a Parish of their own, rather than treck to St. Bridget's, St. James', or Nativity Churches. Those old, long-established Parishes were fine, but these Irish wanted a Church of their own. Bishop Thomas Foley recognized the need for a full-time Pastor, a permanent Church and the fact his petitioners' request was not born of Gaelic pride alone. Being a Gael himself, however, Bishop Foley may have seen the prudence in appointing one Reverend Edward J. Dunne as Pastor to the little community on the northern boundary of Bridgeport.


Rev. Edward J. Dunne
Founding Pastor of All Saints Parish
1875-1893

Father Dunne himself had been born in Ireland, but on every other count he considered himself a native Chicagoan after having studied at St. Mary's Seminary and having been ordained by Bishop Foley himself. When he arrived among his new, and first, flock just after the Great Fire, he was still but a young man of 27, having been a priest only three years.

His new Parish would extend from the River on the north to 31st Street on the south, from Halsted Street on the west to Wentworth Avenue on the east, he was told. In effect, it would become a virtual keystone, completing the solid block of Roman Catholic Parishes serving Bridgeport, and the "Mother Church" of all that would later be founded within its territorial boundaries.

Further, it was dedicated from the start to all of the Saints in God’s Heaven. To this day, there are no records indicating why the new Parish was so named, only the conjecture that it was the only compromise acceptable to so many Irishmen. Whatever the speculation, there was no question that the Parish's First Pastor was an energetic, if young and inexperienced man. He was so boyish looking, in fact, that he soon grew a beard in hopes of commanding respect and allegiance from his flock in the difficult task ahead.

First and foremost, the Parish needed a church and a school, he forcefully declared. And so it would be, his parishioners agreed. But the result was, again, a compromise, this time dictated by the necessities of finance. On August 15, 1875, the Parish of All Saints was formally founded, with the first Mass soon afterward being celebrated in its own building – the Church on the first floor, the School on the second – located on a plot of purchased land running westward from Wallace Street along the south side of 25th Place.


All Saints Church as it appeared shortly after its steeple was struck
by lightening and replaced before the turn of the century

Within two weeks, the School itself opened. But that was only after Father Dunne explained to the Sisters of Mercy that, although they were needed as teachers for his school, he had no residence for them. The Sisters, generously, found no hesitance in volunteering to travel from their Mother House on 28th Street and Wabash Avenue each day, for as long as necessary. Little did they know that "as long as necessary" would mean the next 75 years.

Little did they realize, either, that they would be taking part in the setting of a precedent which literally would have far-reaching consequences in the field of education.

In those Victorian days, it was usual in every Catholic elementary school for a contingent of Sisters to teach the lower grades, while an order of religious Brothers would tend to the education - and discipline – of older children, particularly the boys. But on the opening day of his new school, Father Dunne discovered that there were no Brothers available to teach his upper grades – even on a temporary basis.

"Could one of you teach the boys for just three days?" Father Dunne asked the Sisters. Sister Sabastian volunteered; but the three days were to lengthen into 18 years for her. Even more importantly, during those years All Saints School became the first in which the entire enrollment was tutored by religious women. Needless to say, time later proved that neither the older boys nor the Sisters suffered the worse for wear for the experience thus initiated.

While the School flourished from its first days, the Church quarters in the first building also wit nessed the first Baptisms and Marriages in the new Parish. Thomas Michael Gallivan and Catherine Ann Murphy were the first of well over 20,000 infants to receive the Sacrament of Baptism in the Parish during the next 100 years.

Michael Hanigan and Catherine Corcoran were the first – but far from the last – Catholic couple to make their marriage vows. Well over 6,000 more were to follow in the century to come. In fact, counting from the first Mass celebrated by Father Dunne that first year, a conservative estimate of over 100,000 Holy Sacrifices would take place in the Parish before the 20th Century would enter its last quarter.

But the daily ministrations to his flock weren't the only things that occupied Father Dunne's attention. Within three years, he discovered that the sheer number of his Parishioners had tripled. During the middle years of the 1870's, increasing numbers of Catholics – most of them Irish, but with increasing numbers of Germans, Poles, Bohemians and Italians-began moving into the Parish to be nearer their jobs in the Stock Yards, near what is now Archer Avenue and 22nd Street. Although the land around the newly built Church was low, marshy, and gave off a distinct odor, it was cheap. Gradually they filled the land, lot by lot, until the area began taking on the appearance of a modern for those days – and presentable settlement in its own right.

There was talk, in fact, or establishing horse-car lines along 26th and 31st Streets; talk which stimulated reclamation of more land and the opening of businesses along those streets, thus fulfilling the prophesy when the horse-car lines materialized by the 1880's. Not waiting for the future to arrive, however, Father Dunne immediately began laying plans for the construction of a new and ever larger Church, to serve the families he could foresee settling in the neighborhood during the years ahead. By that time, however, his job was not a single-handed one. Father Patrick Guilfoyle and one Father McShane had been assigned by Bishop Foley to All Saints as Father Dunne's curates.

Construction of the new Church began in 1878, adjacent to the existing Church and School building. Although the edifice was eventually faced with ordinary clay brick on the outside, much of the three years of its building was spent on lavishing time, money, and effort on its interior.

Although marble was too expensive for the parishioners' pocketbooks at that time, they agreed with their Pastor that what finances there were would be expended on the highest artistry that could be applied to the finest wood which could be had. Arches, pillars, vaulting, wainscotting, and pews; all submitted to the architects' design and wood carver's knife and chisel. The result was a distinctively intimate, yet imposing, House of God that would lend itself during the next 80 years to both private meditation and devotion, and the most glittering and glorious Rites of the Church.

Surmounting all was a graceful Gothic Steeple, but the bell it was designed to house would have to come later; the Parish pocketbook was just about empty. Nevertheless, on August 21, 1881, Archbishop Patrick Feehan – who had previously succeeded to the Bishop's throne in Holy Name Cathedral as Chicago's First Archbishop – blessed the newest Church in Bridgeport. It wasn't long afterward, on August 21, 1881, that Jeremiah Lane and Anna Conway became the first couple to be married in the new Church. The same day, Father McShane baptized Mary Teresa Cudworth, Thomas Gorman, Joseph Hogan, Maurice Murphy, and Teresa Doyle.

But the tall spire which stood overhead during the ceremonies that day wasn't to stand much longer. Although precise accounts do not exist today, tradition has it that the steeple was struck by lightening a few years later. By that time, however, efforts were underway to provide the Church with a real bell of its own, to add its sound to those of St. Bridget's, St. James, and Nativity on the skyline of Bridgeport.

And so it was, by 1895 – and for the next 77 years – the five foot high cast bell would ring forth in sound the spirit of the exhortation cast into its side:

"Praise the Lord, all ye nations
Praise Him, all ye peoples."


Also inscribed on the bell, but more prosaic, were the names of those who contributed to its casting: Rev. PJ. Guilfoyle; St. Ann Sodality; M. Hutchinson; M. Kelly; F. Higgins; Chas. Clayton; Pat Bush; T. Moynahan ; M. King; Nick Cook; T. Moakler; P. Sheehan; I. Griffin; Jas. Griffin; M. G. O'Connor; Dr. Collins; John Bush; C.J . Hull; M rs. Leibrant; Martin Kehoe; F.G. O'Neil. Lest posterity forget the source of the workmanship represented by the bell, one more line was added to the cast iron: "McShane Bell Foundry, Baltimore, Maryland."

Once mounted, the bell was covered by a cupola to protect it from the elements. In its thus somewhat truncated silhouette, All Saints Church assumed its landmark status in Bridgeport during the years to come.

If there were any questions about that lightning bolt's being an omen when it struck the original steeple, they were put to rest during the 18 years of Father Dunne's Pastorate at All Saints. As it was said at the time: "Father Dunne became one of the best-known priests in the diocese." He was noted for his energy as an organizer and builder. He was a gifted and learned speaker. Through his efforts, within a few years, All Saints became one of the most important and progressive Churches in the City. The school enrollment reached a thousand. He organized many parish sodalities and societies."

During those years, Father Patrick Guilfoyle also became known throughout the Parish and Diocese, both for his 15 years of faithful service as a curate to his Pastor and for his great charity and holiness.

Among the many other curates who also left their mark on the Parish were: Fathers Michael Foley; Edward Kelly; Daniel Toomey; Patrick O'Connor; A.J. McGavick; D.J .Pickham; Father Robert Dunne and Father T.J. Whalen. Many of them learned how to found a Parish from Father Dunne's example and went on to do so in other parts of Chicago during the years ahead. One in particular, however, rose to even higher rank within the Church hierarchy.

Father A.J. McGavick years later was to be consecrated a Bishop and assumed duties as the first Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago, and still later as Bishop of LaCrosse, Wisconsin. During his years at All Saints, and even more so from that high office, Bishop McGavick 's name went into the history books as a guiding light for Holy Names Societies in Chicago's Parishes and the founder of the "Big Brother" movement to aid wayward boys.

But Father McGavick was not the only – nor the first – priest to serve All Saints who was to wear the Bishop's mitre. In December of 1893, Father Edward Dunne, its Founding Pastor, was consecrated and appointed Bishop of Dallas, Texas, where he was to serve for 10 years. Historical records are unclear, and in some cases, missing, but where they leave off legend takes over. And one of the many relating to Al l Saints during the years at the turn of the century provides another historical note. Legend has it that when Bishop Edward Dunne, ordinary of Dallas, Texas, passed to his eternal reward on August 5, 1910, it was learned from his last testament that he directed that his remains be returned to All Saints Church in Chicago, where Solemn High Requiem Mass was to be said for the repose of his soul. By the time of that occasion, however, the parishioners of All Saints had long since also come to dearly love the man who had been chosen in December of 1893 to succeed Bishop Dunne as the Second Pastor of the Parish.

 


Rev. John C. Gillan
Second Pastor of All Saints Parish
1893-1927

Seemingly recognizing that All Saints was still an Irish Church, within an Irish Community, Bishop William Quigley at that time selected a young man who was a native of Bridgeport. Father John C. Gillan had been born in Nativity of Our Lord Parish and was a member of one   of its founding families. Beginning his formal education at Holden School on 31st Street, he later attended St. Ignatius College on 12th Street (Roosevelt Rd). After religious studies at St. Vincent's Seminary in Cape Girardeau, Mo., preceding his ordination, Father Gillan was assigned as a curate for nine years at St. Mary's Church, and later as Pastor of St. Patrick's Church in Lemont. Little did Father Gillan – or his parishioners – realize that when he arrived at All Saints as its Second Pastor, his stay would last until his death 33 years later.

But that melancholy event was long in the future as the young Pastor followed in the footsteps of his predecessor. If anything, he accelerated the pace. In 1903 Father Gillan   built an addition to the School at the rear of the Church. The following year, he supervised the construction of St. Helen's Chapel, behind the rectory and attached to the Church, which was years later to serve a purpose far removed from the daily Masses originally said there.

Soon, Father Gillan organized one of the first playgrounds in the community. In a building next to the school, a library was organized; a young man's lyceum was established in a three-story building a few doors west of the school on 25th Place. Named after one of the many curates who was to serve along with him, Father Matthew's Temperance Society – pledging to stay away from intoxicating beverages until 21 – was one of the many other Parish Societies founded during Father Gillan’s Pastorate.

There were also the Knights of Father Matthew, Children of Mary, St. Ann's Socialty, and the Fort Dearborn Council of the Knights of Columbus, one of the first in Chicago. But Father Gillan's interests extended beyond the Parish properties and its spiritual life. One of them is evidenced in the physical surroundings visible even today in the neighborhood. As land for the Church, School, and houses had been reclaimed and filled in over the years, by Father Gillan's time they appeared as if they had literally grown from the marshland. Just about every street in the neighborhood was at least three feet below grade level. It was through Father Gillan's constant urgings upon City authorities that streets were later paved and sidewalks put down, literally raising northern Bridgeport from the status of a 19th Century "suburb" of Chicago to at least the same street level as the City itself. He constantly petitioned, too, that the Stock Yards along the River be moved so that the neighborhood would be rid of the odor and the inconvenience of having to stand aside as herds of livestock were driven through the streets to their pens. And they were moved; to 47th and Halsted Streets, where they would remain until the middle of the 1960's when they gave way to economics and urban renewal.

Possibly Father Gillan's greatest work, however, was his example of piety and spiritual care for his Parish, which endeared him to his flock and pointed the direction for those who were to follow him. Although sickly and frail during most of his life, he was a dedicated and devout man whose sermons kept his people close to God, while they wondered at the temporal blessings their Pastor brought to their Parish and neighborhood.

His spiritual legacy was also represented by the living faith of scores of young men and women who entered religious life as priests, brothers, and sisters. It was during his Pastorate, in fact, that All Saints Church became known throughout the Diocese for well over one hundred such vocations, more than any other Catholic Parish in Chicago, and a record which, by all accounts, still stands today.

Included in those vocations were young men and women who were to become Right Reverend and Very Reverend Monsignors, Mother Superiors, Pastors of their own Parishes, and simple teaching and nursing sisters and curates – all of whom were to touch the lives of literally millions of people – much in the same manner as Father Gillan did. And it was many of these same religious people who returned to the "Mother of Priests" – as All Saints Church came to be known – to help Father Gillan and their own families, to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Founding of the Parish.

It was in these same months preceding October 1925 that Father Gillan undertook still another project in his Parish. For the expected occasion, he refinished the exterior of the Church and redecorated its interior. One of his additions to the Church was a huge crystal chandelier. Even today, its memory strikes awe among those who were present when it was lighted for the first time in the transept of the Church, as literally hundreds jammed inside to celebrate its first half century.

The first of a long series of Parish carnivals, which were to last until World War II, was held that Golden Jubilee year of 1925. And, the gaiety of the celebration was still a fresh memory when only months later Father Gillan became seriously ill. During most of the days and weeks which followed, he was confined to his bed, with only a few occasions on which he gathered enough strength to make it from the Rectory to the Church to say Mass. Christmas, 1926, was one of those occasions – and the last. Weakened by his illness and supporting himself against the altar during his sermon, Father Gillan told the people of his Parish that it would be the last Mass he would say for them. Sixteen days later, he died of a heart attack.

The same parishioners, friends, and fellow priests who had come to All Saints only a year before to help him rejoice, gathered again beneath his crystal chandelier to mourn his passing and rejoice at his eternal reward. "Perhaps," wrote a newspaper of the day, "never has there been a deeper sorrow felt by friends and parishioners than at the death of Father Gillan." It's almost touching – even at this distance in time – to note that not all of Father Gillan's mourners had immortal souls. Legend again adds that he also left behind as pets a huge St. Bernard dog, a white duck, and an alligator, kept in a bathtub during winter and in the rectory yard during summer.


During his long pastorate, Father Gillan had many curates; some stayed on many years, others were appointed to other posts within months. Among them were Fathers: M.A. Dorney, later founder of St. Gabriel's Parish; S. Luttrell; M.D. Hennessey; T. Smith; J .B. Crowe; F.E. Scanlan; T.L. Harman; C.A. McClellen; J.O. Hearn; B. Tarskey; R.J. Geraghty; J.J. O'Brien and Father C.C. Boyle.



Rev. Martin McGuire
Third Pastor of All Saints Parish
1927-1928

It was in March 1927 that Father Martin McGuire, a priest for more than 22 years, was appointed Third Pastor of All Saints. He had been a curate at St. Andrew's for ten years and later Founder and Pastor of St. Bonaventure's Church for more than 12 years. But before Father McGuire could get started, God called him on March 14, 1928. As a result, within a year All Saints was once again without a Pastor. For a short time, Father James Walsh served as Administrator of the Parish, until April of 1928, when His Eminence George Cardinal Mundelein appointed as Fourth Pastor of All Saints a young priest named Father John J. Doody.
 


Rev. John J. Doody
Fourth Pastor of All Saints Parish
1928 - 1932

Born in 1887, and educated on Chicago's south side, Father Doody had studied for six years in Rome before his ordination in September of 1911. He had been curate at St. Sebastian's and St. Dominic's as well as a professor at Quigley Preparatory Seminary before arriving at All Saints.

But when he took charge, he quickly discovered that all was not well with the Parish that was his new home. Learning that the old School could no longer be used for that purpose – it was over 50 years old by then and safety was a consideration – Father Doody set out to build a new school where Father Gillian's playground had been, across from the Church on Wallace Street. The cost was $80,000, but somehow a mortgage was obtained, and none too soon. Within a year of the start of the Great Depression, the new school was dedicated by Cardinal Mundelein. Although the debt on the new school building had yet to be paid, Father Doody was determined not to permit the old school at the rear of the Church to go unused for some "safe" purpose.

As soon as it was vacated by its pupils, and with the help of Fathers William Desmond and William O'Connor, the three-story structure was converted into a social center. Within months, it became the meeting place for more than six hundred youths and adults. A gymnasium, with basketball and handball courts, occupied the first floor. The second was the girls’ floor, equipped with a library, piano, and a "Victrola." The third floor was a roller skating rink, one of the first in the city. A dramatic club, a newspaper, six basketball teams, an instruction class, and a Question Box Club, were among the many groups organized and housed in the center. And with their organization came a marked decrease in juvenile delinquency in the neighborhood. Legend has it that someone once remarked that in addition to supplying more priests, nuns, and brothers to the Catholic Church during those years, there were an equal number who were headed for far less lofty vocations. But the success of the work by Fathers Doody and Desmond in rechanneling the energies of the young made All Saints famous among social scientists and correction authorities of the day. Many went so far as to say that Father Desmond was at least 10 years ahead of his time.

While the community center – or Guild Hall as it was known then – founded by the two priests was cited as the starting points for the famous C.Y.O. (Catholic Youth Organization) in Chicago, it was to Father Doody that the credit went for establishing the first Summer Vacation School in the City.

 


All Saints School

 

But those were also the first years of the Depression and many of Father Doody's parishioners were the first to suffer. It was then that All Saints' St. Vincent DePaul Society was enlarged and became active in helping the poor in such a manner that its works were to become a model for the city. Looking back on that time, it is impossible not to note that all that was accomplished by Father Doody took place in a scant four years. In July of 1932, he was appointed Pastor of Queen of Angels Parish. But his successor was another young, energetic priest.

 


Very Rev. Msgr. William J. Gorman
Fifth Pastor of All Saints
1932 - 1938

Although Father William Gorman had previously experienced rough going during several years as Chaplain to Chicago's Fire Department prior to his becoming Fifth Pastor of All Saints, he soon discovered even greater challenges ahead of him.

The depression had yet to reach its darkest depths, and his parishioners needed help of every kind, both material and spiritual. He had an $80,000 debt he could not even begin to pay off. Although the debt on the Parish School would only be paid off in increments during his Past orate, Father Gorman concentrated on the people and their problems as best he could.

One difficulty which immediately arose was a notice from City authorities that Guild Hall would have to be closed and torn down. It simply wasn't safe anymore and would cost too much to repair. Having had the experience as a Fire Chaplain of seeing the danger posed by unsafe and fire prone structures, Father Gorman said, "So be it." 

But the Vacation Schools started by Father Doody were continued by Father Gorman and his two curates, Fathers Felix Matasso and J.H. McTigue. They simply shifted the base of their operations to Mark White Square Park at 29th and Halsted Streets.    

During the six years of his Pastorate – six of some of the most difficult years through which any parishioners of All Saints ever lived, before or since – Father Gorman's courage and friendliness supported him as he led his people through the times.     

In August of 1938, Father Gorman left All Saints to assume the Pastorate of St. Columbanus Church. If anything, his fame during the following years was enhanced even more so as Chicagoans of all faiths came to recognize the white helmeted Chaplain ministering to Chicago's firemen.



Rev. Daniel Hartnett
Sixth Pastor of All Saints Parish
1938 - 1941

All Saints was to see its Sixth Pastor in the person of Father Daniel Hartnett. Ordained in 1922, Father Hartnett had been a curate of St. John Berchman's, Our Lady of Peace and Nativity Parishes. During his three years at All Saints, he began paying off the ten-year-old debt on the school and continued active in the C.Y.O.  Summer Schools he directed while still at Nativity.

But in June of 1941, Father Hartnett was transferred to St. Gilbert's Church. A month later, Archbishop Samuel A. Stritch appointed Father P. Albert Mei Administrator of All Saints. Father Mei, then only 40 years old, had been at Holy Rosary, St. Basil's and St. Charles Borrameo Parishes before arriving at All Saints. Within a year, because of his energy, he was appointed Seventh Pastor of the Parish and was to remain so for life – literally in sickness and in health.


Rev. P. Albert Mei
Seventh Pastor of All Saints Parish
1941 - 1956

One of Father Mei's most notable and long-lasting accomplishments in his new Parish was the organization of a successful Credit Union for his parishioners. Having gone through the Depression years at All Saints, the parishioners made the Credit Union an immediate success based on the lessons they learned that financial security is best founded "among your own."

During Father Mei's Pastorate, too, with the help of Fathers Francis McElligott and Cletus Lynch, the All Saints Holy Name Society was rejuvenated to become one of the largest and most active in the Archdiocese. And with his support, the present St. Albert the Great Council of the Knights of Columbus was founded.

But after seven years of strenuous labor, in which still another of his successes was the entire removal of the Parish debt, Father Mei suffered a heart attack which was to leave him partially paralyzed for years to come. After months of determined effort, he found his duties as Pastor, nevertheless, far too much of a strain and too much of a hindrance to his Parish.

Consequently, Father Mei asked Cardinal Stritch to appoint an Administrator. In May of 1950, Father Cletus J. Lynch, who had been a curate working with Father Mei for the past six years, took up the burden. Along with Fathers Richard Crowley, and later Francis Ciezadlo and Mark Monaco, Father Lynch immediately began preparations for the celebration of the 75th Anniversary of the Parish's founding.

For at least the third time in the Church's history, another project of refurbishing and redecoration was undertaken. But this time no expense was spared. The interior of the Church was completely repainted, transforming dark and stained walls to their original colors, revarnishing the fine woodwork to its origin al luster. While new lighting was installed to replace the original, "artificial candles" installed at the turn of the century, Father Gillan's crystal chandelier was deemed of questionable safety because of its weight, and removed.

Also of questioned condition at that time were some of the stained glass windows which adorned the Church, and some of the original brickwork on its facade. While members of the Parish circulated through the neighborhood collecting funds for the restoration of the windows, others solicited to pay for the virtually complete tuckpointing and replacement of bricks that were needed. The result was that by the time the Parish's Diamond Jubilee arrived in October, 1950, the Gothic structure on Wallace Street offered, for the first time in 75 years, as near a vision of its original state as was possible.

Once again, the image of St. Patrick in stained glass above the nave cast its colored beams as it did when installed by the original Irish parishioners, who insisted on its presence in their Church. But All Saints could no longer be referred to as an "Irish Church." During the early part of its second half-century, its parishioners had taken on a more polyglot character.

There were still those of Irish extraction, of course; but since the turn of the Century the minorities of German, Italian, and also Latin ancestry had grown in proportion, while many older Irish families moved from the neighborhood to other parts of the South Side. The result was that, by 1950, the makeup of the Parish could be described as almost truly cosmopolitan.

Whatever its ethnic makeup, there was no question of the vitality of the Parish as it entered the last quarter of its first one hundred years. Despite the incapacities of its Pastor, the Diamond Jubilee of the Parish went on with much celebration and a solemn High Mass celebrated by His Eminence Samuel Cardinal Stritch. So great was the crowd that gathered for the ceremonies, in fact, loudspeakers were installed at the front of the Church so those unable to gain entrance could hear and mark the occasion. But merely mark the occasion was all the pomp and ceremony did, at least in relation to the other Parish activities which went on unabated – even accelerated – during the years following the Diamond Jubilee.

As Father Mei slowly, but gradually, regained his physical powers to match the mental ones which were never impaired, his Administrator and curates continued to follow the spiritual and social precedents set down by their predecessors.

While Father Cletus Lynch administered the daily business of the Parish, Church, and School, Father Mark Monaco worked his special influence on the intellectual and social lives of the young and old of the Parish. Meanwhile, Father Francis Ciezadlo, who had converted what had once been St. Helen's Chapel to a clubroom for teenagers, became a patron to the youth of the parish.



All Saints School Classroom 
1950's

By the  mid-1950's, All Saints School had an enrollment of over 400 children, while 225 more public school pupils received their Catholic educations through Confraternity of Christian Doctrine classes held every week. In addition to the Credit Union, All Saints offered its parishioners one of the largest Holy Name Societies in the City; a St. Ann's Sodality, a Mothers' Club, and a School Mother's Club.

For the youth, there were: the Socialities for the young people; the Queen's Teens, for high school girls; the Acolytes, for the high school boys; two bowling teams; a softball league; two basketball  leagues; weekly summer outings to "Cedar Lake;"  and bimonthly dances in the School Hall for grammar and high school students.

 


All Saints School Teenage Club Room
1950's

It was amid this kind of spiritual and temporal activity when All Saints Parish was seemingly adding chapter, verse, and line to a legend which would make it one of the most renowned Parishes in the City, and one to which young priests persistently asked to be assigned, that one of the more melancholy chapters was added to its history.

In December 1955, at Christmas Midnight Mass, history essentially repeated itself as Father P. Albert Mei shuffled to the pulpit with the aid of a cane to deliver the Christmas Sermon, much as Father John Gillan had done 60 years before. Unlike his predecessor, however, Father Mei gave no indication that his sermon would be his last as the Seventh Pastor of the Parish. Instead, his sermon was one of the hope and joy of the Christmas Season.

But it was only weeks later that the physical infirmities against which he had struggled and which had prevented him from actually saying Mass finally claimed their due. It was on a cold February Sunday morning in 1956 that the Administrator and two curates who had labored with him to serve the Parish, announced to their parishioners that he was no longer their Pastor.

Within a year of the Solemn High Requiem Mass said for Father Mei, and attended by several thousand, the Parish entered still another period of its history as Father Cletus Lynch went on to found a Parish of his own, and Fathers Ciezadlo and Monaco were assigned to other Parishes in Chicago and the suburbs.

                                    
           Rev. Cletus J. Lynch              Rev. Francis A. Ciezadlo         Rev. Marcellus J. Monaco
                   Administrator                  
                 All Saints Parish


          

They were succeeded, however, by the Parish's eighth – and possibly one of its most energetic and optimistic – Pastors, Reverend Joseph Curielli; along with several curates who were to assist him during the next 11 years.




Rev. Joseph Curielli
Eighth Pastor of All Saints Parish
1957 - 1968
First Pastor of All Saints - St. Anthony Parish
1968 - 1968

It was with Father Curielli's arrival at All Saints that for the first time, the elements of apprehension and doubt entered as a factor in the Parish's history. For several years prior to his appointment, the Parish and neighborhood had come under the cloud of speculation over where the City of Chicago would construct a new expressway.

Despite rumors that the new highway would bisect – even destroy the neighborhood as it was then known – Father Curielli forged ahead with the optimism of a gambler that the Church, Parish, and neighborhood would somehow be spared the wrecker's ball. If anything, more Parish Societies were instituted, more social groups were formed; the School was refurbished; the Church again redecorated; and laymen made even more a part of the Parish life through participation in the governing of the Parish.

Several vacant, rubble strewn lots at the northeast corner of Lowe Avenue and 25th Place were cleared and fenced to create "Curielli Field" for little league baseball games. The vacant lot at the rear of the Church – which had once been the site of the original All Saints School, and later, the Guild Hall – was paved and made in to basketball courts, with Parish teenagers themselves painting the boundary lines and constructing the backboards.

The teenage clubroom, picnics, bike-hikes, toboggan trips, each by then Parish traditions, continued even flourished under the guidance of a cigar-chomping, curly-haired Pastor and the curates who served with him. For many members of the Parish – some merely children and teenagers then, but adults with children of their own now – memories of such men as Fathers Paul Tsi, William Henkel, Leo Spizziri, Stanley Rudcki, Raymond Yadron and James Ouletta,  remain.

But, as clear as those memories may have been, they were still clouded for many by an abrupt turn of events which took place in the late 1950's, seemingly signaling a permanent sunset on those days.

The rumors, which had been gaining  substance for years, finally materialized into fact. An expressway – named after Daniel Ryan, himself once a native of Bridgeport – would cut through the neighborhood, severing an area where 500 families made their homes in the Parish. While the wreckers' picks tore away at homes which had been built by their parents and grandparents, some Parishioners turned away to disperse to other parts of Chicago and its suburbs.

Still others, however, determined all the while to live as close as possible to the Church which had been so intimately a part of their lives. Ironically, only a few realized at the time that it was All Saints, merely as a Church a creation of brick and mortar – which was also doomed. It was the Parish represented by the spiritual lives of its people which would refuse to succumb.

One of those few who were painfully aware of the inevitable was Reverend Joseph Curielli. But, for the time being at least, he had other preoccupations with which to contend. And one of those was his new responsibility as Administrator of nearby St. Anthony of Padua Parish.

By the mid-1960's, that once-proud, independent, "German Parish" had become something of a shell of its former self. Although some of the descendants of its original Parishioners still clung to the Parish founded by Reverend Peter Fischer, and the Church built by Rev. John Dettmer, it was clear to Archdiocesan authorities that their numbers were far too few.

The question was whether St. Anthony's should be closed permanently – as had been suggested by Rome as early as 1939 – or somehow merged with one of the other many Parishes in Bridgeport.

As a temporary measure at first, Father Curielli was appointed Administrator of St. Anthony's, to oversee the spiritual and temporal needs of those few families in the neighborhood who still nurtured their loyalty to St. Anthony's.

But it wasn't long before it became obvious that the logical solution to the problem was the merger – not the closing of St. Anthony Parish with All Saints.

The conclusion became a fact in early 1968 when the two Parishes, and their inherent traditions, were joined and sealed with the appointment of Father Curielli as the first Pastor of All Saints - St. Anthony Parish.

 

All Saints - St. Anthony Parish

For a short time, children of the neighborhood had the opportunity of attending either of two Catholic Schools; Masses were scheduled to provide the convenience of attending either of two Churches; but that luxury was to be short lived.

Times had changed, and radically so. There were no longer that many school children, nor practicing Parishioners, to justify the expenditure of funds to support two massive physical structures to serve their needs. If anything, the choice would have to be made on the basis of hard, cold economic considerations.

It was in that kind of sobering atmosphere that Father Curielli was succeeded in 1968 by the Second Pastor of the combined Parishes, of All Saints - St. Anthony, the Reverend Mariano L. Vita.

 


Rev. Mariano L. Vita
Second Pastor of All Saints - St. Anthony Parish
1968 - 

Within months of his arrival, however, Father Vita was faced with what he later would call the "most difficult and painful decision of my life." And, although he was able to put off making that decision for a time, the factors which were to dictate its outcome continued inexorably toward the inevitable. For, by the early 1970's, the brick, mortar, and finely polished wood that comprised All Saints Church were rapidly falling victim to their own antiquity. Adding to the damage done by the years, moreover, was the fact that isolated at the northern portion of the Parish the Church repeatedly fell victim to vandals.

Finally, the decision was made and needed only to be sealed with the final Mass celebrated in the Church on Easter Sunday morning, 1973. From all over the Parish and the Chicago area itself hundreds came to sadly mark the occasion.

Within the following days, many of those same people managed to rescue mementoes of the Church before they were destroyed. Many more artifacts – several windows, pews, carvings, statues, and stations of  the cross were dispersed to places like the Chicago Art Institute and private collections where they were insured safekeeping for their artistic and sentimental value. Some relics of the Church, too, went on to serve their same purpose, but in other Churches in the Chicago area. Typically, the bell which had been paid for by All Saints’ original Parishioners and cast by the McShane Foundry of Baltimore in 1895, found a new home at Divine Infant Church in Westchester, Illinois where it would continue its work in calling people to worship and praise of God.

As the wrecking ball and dozers moved in to raze the old building, its walls reluctantly but steadily gave way. But it was several days more before the entire corner of 25th Place and Wallace Street was finally cleared of rubble, seemingly declaring that if the pocketbooks of the Church's builders had not allowed them to build strong, they did have the funds to build massively. If anything, however, that sheer massiveness of what had once been All Saints Church merely added to the sense of loss when those who had been baptized, received their First Communion, and were Confirmed and married in the Church painfully viewed the vacant land.

 

 

To be continued....

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The above account was primarily written by Mr. John C. Noonan, a former parishioner of All Saints - St. Anthony Parish, with contributions by many parishioners of the time when it was published in booklet form in 1974 on the occasion of All Saints – St. Anthony of Padua Parishes’ Centennial Celebration. It has been only slightly edited for accuracy due to the time elapsed since its publication.