The beginnings of the parish date back to the early 1870’s when Polish immigrants started to establish themselves in the sparsely settled area of the southwest side. They eventually got together to try to have the Archdiocese of Chicago give approbation to have a parish formed. This was done when Bishop Thomas Foley appointed Rev. John Klimecki, a recent arrival from Europe, to begin the work of being rector (pastor). In 1874 the national parish of St. Adalbert was established.
In the course of the next 3 decades the parish grew and had a succession of 3 pastors after Rev. John Klimecki. Rev. Dominic Majer furthered along the construction of the old red brick church building and the formation of the parochial school. Rev. Adolph Snigurski finally finished the old church along with a completed school building. Failing health compelled Fr. Snigurski to relinquish his charge to Rev. John Radziejewski. It was during this tenure that the educational training was entrusted to the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth (1886) and a new school building and rectory were built. All the growth during this time was of course fostered by the hard work and determined resolve of the parishioners.
After the death of Rev. John Radziejewski in 1904, Rev. Casmir I. Gronkowski was placed in charge. The biggest building projects and the spiritual life of the church grew by leaps and bounds during his tenure. In 1907 another school building was erected. In 1912 additional land was bought, and the cornerstone of the new church was laid by Rev. J.E. Quigley. Two years later in the presence of many priests and around 50,000 parishioners and well-wishers the church was dedicated on September 20, 1914.
The architect Henry J. Schlacks designed it, patterning it after St. Paul Basilica Outside the Walls in Rome. It is a marvelous edifice. The façade is impressive with the two towers capped by copper domes, the arched loggias and balconies surmounted by a Renaissance style roof. The portico is held up by 8 solid granite columns. Over the portico is a precious Rose window with fine stained glass windows with images of St. Cecilia.
The interior of the basilica with capacity of 1825 (originally 1900, but some benches in back have been removed as have some from the center) is equally impressive. The columns are of marble with corinthian capitals supporting the arches and clerestory walls. The main altar is also worked with marble with ten graceful spiral columns supporting a perfectly proportioned marble dome shaped civory. Over the main altar is a small stained glass Tiffany half dome. On the chancel arch above the altar are inscribed the opening words of the Polish hymn Bogu-Rodzica which St. Adalbert himself is said to have composed. There has since been added a Spanish inscription to the Blessed Virgin Mary, in honor of the Mexican community that has become the majority of the congregation in the last decades. The mural on the upper left portion of the north wall above the sanctuary portrays the wedding of Queen Jadwiga of Poland and Prince Jagiello of Lithuania and on the right the 1655 victory of Our Lady of Czestochowa when by the Virgin’s intervention an army of 9,000 invading Swedes failed to take a monastery held by only 250 monks. The predominant muted red tones of the mural are repeated in the present color of the ambulatory wall and also in the ceiling coffers and panels of the clerestory, also of course the colors of the Polish flag- red and white.
The side altars are also of marble and in one side transept is an alter containing a full size replica of Michaelangelo’s “Pieta” done in Carrara marble. The raised pulpit which has the figures of the Apostles and 4 Evangelists is also a great work of art that parishioners can experience in close proximity. The Munich, Germany based company F.X. Zettler crafted the iridescently colorful stained glass windows that provide an ethereal light to the sanctuary of the church. Last but not least, providing a full sensory experience is the W.W. Kimball Pipe organ with 4 manuals, 5 divisions and 48 ranks, giving rich full sound (unfortunately it hasn’t been played since the 1970’s and just briefly recently). All in all the church stands as a testament to the parishioners and the fortitude of Rev. Gronkowski.
Rev. Gronkowski also built the rectory (also designed by Henry Schlacks), the convent and a newer school building that was needed to accommodate more students. There was much growth and tremendous spiritual energy during this time in what is termed “the Golden Age” of St. Adalbert’s. There was a forward thinking nursery that was established for working parents. He introduced the use of missals at mass, 15 years before other parishes had them. The school was the first parochial school to be accredited by the Chicago Board of Education.
The parish became renowned for its cultural and civic activity. The Polish Roman Catholic Union, the Polish Women’s Alliance and the Falcons, all had their origin in the parish. Newspapers were published there. The church held sacred music concerts in the church and in the school hall there were religious and national Polish dramas. There were over 50 societies and organizations that were formed during this heady time. All parishioners celebrated their Polish pride with fervent spiritual Catholicism.
When Chicago celebrated the Century of Progress in 1933, the people of St. Adalbert’s societies helped plan a Polish Week of Hospitality at the fair. Hundreds of parishioners took part in the mammoth spectacle of drama, music and dancing on the lake front which climaxed with Polish Day at the fair.
Rev. Gronkowski’s tenure ended with his death in 1957 at age 84. Rev. Louis Novak was pastor from 1958-1963 and he leveled the old church building to make a much needed parking lot. Though brief in being pastor at St. Adalbert, Rev. John Koziol did manage to collect over $110,000.00 to stand-blast and tuck-point the outside of the church and renovate some of the interior. Rev. Roman Berendt followed quickly as pastor, but his tenure was also brief due to age and infirmity. The school board was formed for the first time during this time period.
By the time Rev. Henry Pozdol was appointed as pastor in 1973, St. Adalbert had already begun a general decline in parishioners and activity. The neighborhood was changing. The mostly Polish parish had begun to have Mexican immigrants come through its doors and to its school.
It faced a grave crisis in the centennial year of 1974. A study had been conducted by the Pastoral Resources Committee of the Archdiocese of Chicago and it was decided to close the parish and the school and move the children to St. Vitus.
The “Save St. Adalbert’s Committee” was formed principally by the endeavors of 4 women, Elaine Olszewski (president of St. Adalbert’s school board), Emily Lisak (President of St. Adalbert’s Mothers Club), Geri Wilczynski and Mathilda Jakobowski. Through their various toils of letter-writing, funding raising, marching on Holy Name Cathedral and setting up a fund through People Federal Savings and Loan Association, their efforts started to bear fruit. The Centennial Committee which had initially been formed to take care of the Centenary celebrations also turned their efforts to not only fundraising for the celebration, but for the cause of keeping the church open.
Then a special committee was formed by the archdiocese to help in these efforts, headed by Bishop Alfred L. Abramowicz and included Msgr. Brackin, Leonard Slotkowski (President of Slotkowski Sausage Company), Jacob Dumelle and others. They were in charge of the funds, but to also spearheaded an archdiocesan wide effort to collect funds and help save St. Adalbert. Through the efforts of all these groups, major repairs were done and the heating system was converted from coal to gas. On June 16, 1974, hundreds of former parishioners came back to St. Adalbert’s parish for a special mass commemorating the 100th anniversary of the founding of the parish.
After the crisis, efforts were pushed forward to have the Mexican immigrants become a more lasting part of the congregation of St. Adalbert. Spanish masses were started. On June 29, 1975 a shrine in honor of our Lady of San Juan de los Lagos was dedicated in St. Adalbert and later a traditional portrait of Our Lady of Guadalupe was donated by Bishop Abramowicz.
While the Parish had been saved, the school unfortunately eventually could not. In 1978, there were only 161 children enrolled, so by the end of that year in June the parochial school was closed and the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth moved out after 94 years of dutiful service to the children of St. Adalbert.
In 1980 Rev. James Kaczorowski was named pastor of St. Adalbert. He was young and energetic. There were general improvements made to the church and he rented out the convent and in time the school building was also rented out to the Chicago Board of Education. St. Vitus Parish closed in June of 1990 and they were welcomed with open arms and a formal celebration to St. Adalbert.
Rev. Mike Michelini became pastor in 2000. He also made improvements, the floor of the church was varnished, he had a new roof put on the garage and it was then then the food sales and thrift store were started in said garage. He also started the store in the back of the church to sell religious articles. The school building was then rented out to UNO charter schools. They in turn thoroughly renovated the school building. Rev. Michelini retired in 2012.
The current Pastor Rev. Michael Enright became pastor in 2014. He has done some renovations in the rectory. The towers are currently not in the greatest shape and they along with other items in the church need much TLC.
We are now at another turning point for St. Adalbert Parish. We would like to continue the mission of the Polish immigrants who in the 1870’s campaigned for their own parish and church so that their spiritual and their community needs, who mirror our own, would not be forsaken. We want to create a stronger parish and seek to have the vision of the founders of this Parish long endure in any future parishioners of St. Adalbert.
Published with permission by the Henry J. Schlacks Society
From “A History of the Parishes of the Archdiocese of Chicago” – 1980
2014 Anniversary booklet of St. Adalbert Church-140 Years of St. Adalbert Church
The Archdiocese of Chicago Antecedents and Development
St. Mary’s Training School Press, Des Plaines IL, 1920
Typewritten pages from the Archives of St. Adalbert titled” The Beginnings of St. Adalbert Church”, the Diamond Jubilee of the church and of the 50th anniversary of ordination of Rev. Gronkowski in 1947.