Monday, February 23, 2015

Saint Hedwig Catholic Church, Chicago
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Saint Hedwig Catholic Church (1901) Adolphus Druiding, architect /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Today, London holds the title as the city with the largest Polish population outside of Warsaw. But for a little over 130 years Chicago reigned at the top of that statistical heap, and a large number of those West Slavic-speaking immigrants settled on the city's Near Northwest Side. Their story survives in a cluster of churches constructed within a short span of time and located within just a mile of one another along the Milwaukee Avenue Corridor, once known as Chicago's Polish downtown.

[Saint Hedwig Church, 2226 N. Hoyne Avenue, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

In 1869 the newly arriving Polish Catholics established a parish called St. Stanislaus Kostka, run by priests of the Resurrectionist order. The Resurrectionists had been formed in France in the mid-19th century by a group of Polish ex-pat clergymen who joined the great migration from Europe to America, and established Polish-speaking Catholic parishes in their new homeland. With the huge numbers of Poles flooding into Chicago, St. Stan's Resurrectionists saw an opportunity to set-up satellite parishes as the Polish community expanded further north, following Milwaukee Avenue's diagonal trail. In 1887, Father Vincent Barzynski - head honcho of the ever expanding St. Stanislaus power base - purchased a vacant city block at Hoyne Avenue and Webster Street. Two years later he built a church hall/school building at the northwest corner of the property, made his brother Joseph pastor, and Saint Hedwig parish was born.

    [Saint Hedwig Catholic Parish, Bucktown, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

From all outward appearances the burgeoning Polish community in Chicago looked like a tight cohesive unit, but as we all know, appearances can be deceiving. Although life was centered around the Church, Polish nationalism, and the rights of the ruled vs. the rulers spilled over from the old country and into the new. Emboldened by the freedoms that America seemed to offer, many Poles didn't take to being lorded over by their fellow countrymen who acted like the old nobility and revolted. Saint Hedwig became one of the parishes caught-up in the struggle over who owned what, who controlled what, and the perception that Chicago's Irish-dominated Catholic hierarchy did not respect the Polish Catholic community. St. Stanislaus' leaders sided with the establishment while the majority of the parishioners of St. Hedwig sided with the dissenters, led by Hedwig's associate pastor Father Anthony Kozlowski. In 1895 Kozlowski took a very bold step and broke away from the oversight of the city's powerful Catholic Archbishop Patrick Feehan. The renegade priest founded All Saints parish just down the street from St. Hedwig - and over two-thirds of St. Hedwig's church goers followed him.

  [Saint Hedwig Catholic Church, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Things eventually settled down, but not before some nasty business pitting neighbor against neighbor, excommunications, and the establishment of the Polish National Catholic Church. Out of this mess, St. Hedwig was able to reclaim enough momentum, parishioners, and cash, to finally construct a freestanding church structure separate from the school building. Architect Adolphus Druiding, designer of over 30 churches stretching from Alabama to Ohio and Illinois to Missouri, came-up with a design for St. Hedwig's in the " Baroque Polish-style." Consecrated in 1901, the parish not only recovered form the troubles of 1895, but flourished. In 1938 over 3,000 families worshipped in Druiding's Baroque-inspired concoction, and 2,600 children attended school. Changes even greater than the divisiveness of the previous generation befell the close-knit community in the 1950s. Greater access to the dream of a suburban life and the devastation of a large segment of the neighborhood housing stock to make way for  the Northwest (Kennedy) Expressway, resulted in the school's eventual closure and the reduction of parishioners to around 1,000 families. But enough of them still speak Polish in the re-energized, revitalized, Bucktown neighborhood that a mass is offered every Sunday in the West Slavic language, along with one in Spanish, and two in English.

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