When Fr. Gordon became pastor at St. Stanislaus Kostka from 1906 to 1909 Fr. Joseph Ziemba CR was made pastor of St. Mary of the Angels, but soon had to resign due to ill health. Fr. Felix Ladon CR administer St. Mary of the Angels until Fr. Francis Saborosz CR could become pastor. Fr. Saborosz had the church and school interiors painted and laid concrete sidewalks around the property. In 1909 Father Gordon returned to St. Mary’s again as pastor.
In 1912 Fr. Gordon built a new priests residence on Wood Street to free up space in the nuns teaching in the school. The sisters took over the freed up portion of the church-school building for their residence, which also allowed more room for their growing novitiate.
After building the new church much was still needed: electric lights were installed in 1921 and a year later a new W.W.Kimball organ (costing $23,750) was installed and central heating added.
Visitors would come to St. Mary of the Angels for its beauty. It was acclaimed as one of the finest specimens of Roman Renaissance architecture in the United States. The world famous Polish painter, Wojciech Adalbert Kossak, and Józef Haller, General of the polish Army, were among those duly impressed.
When Father Gordon died in 1931 Fr. Leonard Long CR became temporary pastor for a few months, followed by Fr. Thaddeus Ligman CR.
In July, 1932 Fr. Edward Brzezinski CR assumed the duties of pastor. Father “Ed” was a native son of St. Mary of the Angels—young, courageous, and full of great zeal and initiative—who had worked under Father Gordon for three years. He continued to improve St. Mary of the Angels despite the hardships of the Great Depression. Fr. Ed was instrumental in liquidating a parish debt of $250,000 while decorating and repairing the church in preparation for the 50th parish anniversary that would be in 1949.
In 1934, thinking of the welfare of the youth, Fr. Ed renovated the school auditorium as a dance hall, which due to its new beauty and conveniences became known as the “Polish Aragon” (NOTE: the Aragon Ballroom was built in uptown on Lawrence Avenue in 1926. It was famous for big band concerts and dances). Hundreds attended weekly dances where many a young girl met her “Prince Charming.” The renovations included enclosing the entrance to St. Mary of the Angels School, with new offices and bathrooms. The auditorium and addition was officially dedicated on December 16, 1934, by the Rev. Stephen Kowalczyk CR delegate-general of the Congregation of the Resurrection.
Each succeeding year hummed with activity. An annex to the school building was completed in 1936 at a cost of $27,000. The following year electric bells were installed. In 1938 the first floor of the school building was renovated and hosted its first kindergarten classes. In 1939 the dome and facade of the church building underwent repairs.
The original interior of St. Mary of the Angels church was rather stark, except for the stained glass, a few statues, and the painting behind the high altar; all the walls of the church were painted shades of gray and white.
To prepare for the parish’s golden jubilee, Fr. “Ed” Brzezinski had the church interior decorated, with giant new paintings done by John A. Mallin, making the church “one of the most beautiful in the city.” The jubilee was celebrated on October 16, 1949 with a Solemn Pontifical Mass of Thanksgiving celebrated by Bishop Thomas L. Noa of Marquette, Michigan, assisted by the Provincial, Fr. Casimir Guziel CR as arch-priest; by Fr. Stanislaus Fiolek CR as deacon; and by Fr. Jerome Klingsporn CR as sub-deacon. Cardinal Stritch—Chicago’s archbishop—gave the jubilee sermon. The Knights of Columbus were there in full regalia and some 200 school children in various national costumes. The Cardinal, bishops, and distinguished guests enjoyed a celebratory luncheon after the Holy Mass.
Fr. “Ed” Brzezinski retired for health reasons in 1950, after 18 years of faithful service.
Fr. John R. Waiss
St. Mary of the Angels was built with love, sacrifice, and nickels and dimes; it was built in love and honor of Our Blessed Mother. These sacrifices were made both by the priests and parish staff, but above all by the faithful parishioners who were moved by love to make these sacrifices for their families and their Mother.
With great fidelity to Catholicism and dedication to Polish immigrants, Fr. Francis Gordon CR became St. Mary of the Angels’ first pastor at age 39. Prior to becoming pastor, Fr. Gordon was a great figure in Chicago heading the Polish newspaper, Dziennik Chicagoski, and founding the Polish Alma Mater in 1897, which served more than 10,000 youths.
As the first pastor and organizer of the new parish, Fr. Francis Gordon formed a committee composed of citizens living within the boundaries of the new parish. These included Francis Osinski, Francis Roszkowski, Michael Borkowicz, Michael Raflewski, Jacob Klinger, Joseph Wroblewski, Adalbert Przybylski, John Kaminski, Ignatius Ignatowski, Michael Huntowski, Lawrence Wachowski and Peter Bykowski. A week after its formation the committee unanimously agreed on the church’s location and the architect’s tentative blueprints for the church, school, and rectory in one building (now our school building).
Fr. Gordon celebrated the first Mass at St. Mary of the Angels church on December 11, 1899, the day after its dedication. In 1900 a church organ was installed and a year later the three church bells—cast in Troy, New York—were acquired for $4,000. A special bell tower was built in the schoolyard just north of the church. The bells rang out for the first time on August 1, 1901 to summon the faithful to honor of the Patroness of the parish.
Fr. Gordon left St. Mary of the Angels briefly to become pastor of St. Stanislaus Kostka in 1906, the mother parish for the Polish people in Chicago. But Fr. Gordon’s assignment there was brief and returned to St. Mary of the Angels as pastor three years later.
A New Church: Majestic and Beautiful
In 1909 St. Mary of the Angels parish had grown to become one of the largest in the Archdiocese of Chicago, with some 1200 mostly large families. Both the church and school had become too small to hold all the parishioners and their school children. As a result Fr. Gordon hired Henry Worthmann and J.G. Steinbach to design a new church in the Roman Renaissance style, similar in style to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The new church would be located at the corner of Hermitage and Cortland and seat 2000. The dome would rise 125 feet from floor to ceiling (St. Peter’s in Rome 394 feet), 230 feet in length (St. Peter’s 694 ft.), and 125 feet in width (St. Peter’s, 451 ft.). 26 nine-foot tall angels would decorate the perimeter of the church’s roof (similar to the 140 eighteen-foot statues of the apostles and other saints on the colonnade and above the façade of St. Peter’s).
Work on the new church began on September 28, 1911. While excavating the site the workers unearthed three crucifixes. This was taken as a sign of God’s providential will for the church. On August 2, 1914—feast of St. Mary of the Angels—the cornerstone was blessed before thousands of faithful. Difficulties seemed to bog down the project with shortages of money, building materials, labor strikes, and World War I.
Fr. Gordon became provincial superior of the Resurrectionists from 1918 until 1928, while remaining pastor at St. Mary of the Angels. He followed the construction of the church and development of the parish closely.
After years of hard work and much sacrifice the present church of St. Mary of the Angels was finally finished at the cost of $400,000 ($5 million in today’s currency). Archbishop George W. Mundelein dedicated the church on May 30, 1920, which was attended by the U.S. Ambassador to Poland and the Polish Envoy to the United States. The Archbishop recognized the great generosity of the ordinary, rather poor, working-class parishioners for the many sacrifices they made in building this extraordinary edifice: “The people in this neighborhood were satisfied to contribute from their slender earnings in order that God’s house might rise gigantic, majestic and beautiful.” In fact, parishioners had mortgaged their home to raise the monies needed to build the church. To thank our Blessed Mother for her help in turning their dreams into reality, the people marched in a May procession after the solemn high Mass.
Fr. John R. Waiss
Like many other nationalities, Polish immigrants saw America as the “Land of Opportunity” while maintaining their national heritage and their strong faith in God. Before the immigration influx, the Bucktown area of Chicago was mostly open fields used to pasture goats (the Polish people called male goats “bucks”). Many people fled war-torn Poland in the 1830s to come to the United States, the first settled in Jefferson Township, then Holstein, until also settled here. In 1866, the parish of the Annunciation was established on the corner of Paulina and Wabansia to serve English speaking Catholics, mostly Irish.
In 1864, Polish families formed the patronage of St. Stanislaus Kostka and in 1869 bought land for a church—about a mile from St. Mary of the Angels towards downtown. A Polish diocesan priest, Fr. Joseph Juszkiewicz, administered the parish. The pastor of Holy Name Cathedral, Fr. Joseph Roles, approach Fr. Jerome Kajsiewicz, C.R, superior general of the newly founded Congregation of the Resurrectionists, asking him to supply priests for Chicago’s Polish and Bohemian emigrants. Fr. Kajsiewicz visited Chicago in 1871 and met with Bishop Foley, who formally agreed to entrust the Polish missions in Chicago to the Resurrectionists for the next ninety-nine years. They then took possession of St. Stanislaus Kostka parish.
The bishops of Chicago established more Polish churches as immigrants poured into the city: St. Josaphat (in 1884), St. Hedwig (1888), St. John Cantius (1892), Holy Trinity (1893), St. Stanislaus Bishop-Martyr (a mission church from 1893–1901), and St. Hyacinth (1894).
History of St. Mary of the Angels
As immigrants poured into the Bucktown area of Chicago, and to meet their needs, the pastor of St. Stanislaus Kostka, Fr. Vincent Barzynski, CR, petitioned Archbishop Patrick Feehan to make a new parish between St. Stanislaus Kostka and St. Hedwig. So, St. Mary of the Angels parish was formed on November 28, 1898. Two city blocks were purchased for $60, 000 between Paulina and Wood, and between Bloomingdale and Clybourn Place (renamed Cortland Avenue in 1913). One block was subdivided for homes while the other became the site of the parish. Rev. Francis Gordon, CR, was named its first pastor.
They broke ground for the church building on April 21, 1899 and laid the cornerstone on July 2. The three-story brick building was built for $65, 000 and designed in the Polish Renaissance style by Henry J. Schlacks—Schlacks became University of Notre Dame’s first Director of the Course of Architecture (School of Architecture). The Archbishop dedicated the church before a crowd of 20, 000, including Chicago’s mayor, Carter Harrison, Jr., on December 10, 1899.
The one building held everything. The upper floor church seated 924 for Mass, while the middle floor school, which began instruction in 1900, was divided into twelve classrooms for 425 students. The lower floor had meeting rooms and an auditorium that double as a gymnasium. The priests resided on the west end and the convent—for the four Sisters of the Congregation of the Resurrection (Sisters Anna Strzelecka, Casimira Szydzik, Sophie Podworska, and Mathilda Surej), who arrived from Rome on February 15, 1900—was in the attic. This building currently houses the parish school and the Midtown Program for Boys.
Fr. John R. Waiss
Learning to “mourn”—the second Beatitude—means learning to take up our cross and follow Christ. It means to love the cross, to see Christ there, as St. Josemaría wrote: “We cannot, must not, be easy-going Christians: on earth there must be sorrow and the Cross” (The Forge 762) and “To find the Cross is to find happiness: it is to have found you, Lord!” (The Forge 766). To find the cross is to find Christ; to flee the cross is to flee Christ.
In fact, embracing the cross is what honors God’s name, as St. Paul so emphatically exclaimed:
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:5-11)
Embracing his own cross, Christ exalted God the Father and moved the Father to bestow on his Son the name above every name: Jesus. God is calling us to do the same, to graciously accept life’s sufferings—as a sharing in Christ’s atonement for our sins. This will help us to see Christ in everything that happens in our life and earn us a great name. It will help us to revere God and his name, as well as Christ’s name. Then we will also honor the names of Mary and the saints. A failure to embrace the cross is a failure to love.
Likewise, a failure to revere God’s name and Christ’s name—and to honor the names of the saints—is a failure of love. Although it may not be a mortal sin that kills our relationship with God, using God’s name in vain always hurts our relationship with him.
Consider a man who shouts out his wife’s name every time something bad happened: he hit his thumb with the hammer and shouts out, “Oh Marylu!”, or he breaks a glass… “Marylu, not again!”, etc. This wouldn’t kill their relationship but it certainly would hurt it. Likewise, if every time something bad happens we use God’s name in vain—perhaps we miss a basketball shot and shout “Oh Christ…,” it is as if we were saying: “Christ, if you wouldn’t have moved the hoop, the ball would’ve gone in”— this is usually not a mortal sin, as it would if God’s name were used with hatred or contempt. Using God’s name in vain or with slight irreverence is still offensive and hurts our relationship with him.
Cussing (the use of expletives and “four letter words”) doesn’t entail using God’s name in vain, but is a way to blame others for our suffering by making them suffer with us, by saying something that would hurt or disgust them. Thus cussing is a lack of longsuffering (suffering with patience) that leads to a lack of charity.
“The Christian begins his day, his prayers, and his activities with the Sign of the Cross: “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” The baptized person dedicates the day to the glory of God and calls on the Savior’s grace which lets him act in the Spirit as a child of the Father. The sign of the cross strengthens us in temptations and difficulties.” (CCC 2157)
Fr. John R. Waiss
As we saw in previous Weekly Notes, the title “St. Mary of the Angels” goes back to Mary’s Assumption and to the empty tomb of the Virgin Mary. Angels were waiting at Mary’s tomb to take her body to heaven, where she was received by her Son and reunited with her soul. The Hermits of Josaphat remained to safeguard the tomb. In 364 some of these Hermits came to Rome with relicts from Mary’s tomb and presented them to Pope Liberius, who built a little church for them in Assisi and called the church St. Mary of the Angels. Because the little church was on a little plot of land, it was popularly called the Porziuncola—little plot.
In the year 1045—200 years before St. Francis—there is a record that the villagers heard angels singing in and around the little church, renewing its association with the angels. This seems to mirror what happened at Mary’s tomb about a thousand years earlier.
In 1216, Pope Honorius established August 2 as the day for the Porziuncola Indulgence, when people could receive full pardon for their sins. This was reinforced by Our Lady in several apparitions and miraculous statues.
For example, on August 2 in 1635 in Cartago, Costa Rica, a poor woman went out in the morning to gather firewood when she found a small, black stone statue of the Virgin Mary on a boulder next to a stream. She took the statue home and placed it in a box. She went out again at noon and she found the identical statue on the boulder again. Awestruck, she took the statue and rushed home. The box where she had put the statue was now empty. So, she placed the statue in the box again and locked it. When she returned to gather more wood, she again found the statue on the same boulder. Taking it home again she found her box still locked but with no statue inside. So she brought the statue to her parish priest and told him the story.
Incredulous, the priest locked the statue up in the rectory, telling the woman that he would look into the matter later when he had more time. Relieved, the woman resumed her task of gathering wood and found the statue again on the boulder. This time the woman left the statue at the boulder. She told neighbors as she went to find the priest. The small crowd followed the woman to the boulder. The priest took the statue and all processed back to the parish church where the priest locked up the statue in the tabernacle. But, as you can guess, the statue found its way back to the boulder. The people then built a little chapel there where Our Lady could stay! She is now recognized by Costa Ricans as their national patron: La Negrita—La Virgen de los Angeles.
In 1660—again on August 2nd—people around Lurs, France, saw and heard a choir of angels announcing the presence of Notre Dame of the Angels, as she appeared on a site where they built a little church. Miraculous cures took place then and still take place in the little church built on the site. It is located along one of the pilgrimage routes to Santiago del Compostela.
Franciscans would spread devotion to St. Mary of the Angels wherever they went, as they did when they went to California to evangelize the native Americans there. One of their missions, established by St. Junipero Serra, was named Nuestra Senora de los Angeles, which is now the city of Los Angeles.
So, Our Blessed Mother wants to be honored as St. Mary of the Angels, especially on her feast day, August 2. We plan to do precisely that, with our parish celebration.
Fr. John R. Waiss