Few parishes can boast of the energetic, dedicated Catholics whose efforts led to the building of St. Albert the Great Church. A number of parishioners from St. Gerald Parish living in Stickney Township went door to door collecting signatures for a request that a parish be established in the area to meet their spiritual needs. The petition was presented to Cardinal Stritch, and he responded by appointing the pastor of St. Gerald’s Church, Father Loras Welch, to investigate. Father Welch noted the need, and arranged for the first Mass to be celebrated at the old Tobin School. Following the first mass, he delegated his associate Father Joseph Phelan, to care for this new flock, and from that point on Sunday mass was celebrated each week at the school, and a First Holy Communion Class received the Eucharist on May 5th at the school
A business meeting was set for May 9, 1949. The major outcome was the decision to erect a mission church with volunteer labor. Tremendous activity ensued. A First Holy Communion Class received the Eucharist on May 5th at the school. The first parish picnic was held in Summit in September. With the increasing size of the congregation, the space at TobinSchool was no longer adequate. Hence, Sunday Mass was moved to the old House of Hughes Restaurant on Cicero Avenue. At this site the St. Albert the Great Choir sang for the first time with approximately twelve members.
Meanwhile, the construction of the first church was put into the hands of one hundred thirty-one men of the parish. These parishioners literally built the church themselves. The crew worked late at night under floodlights to erect the mission church. Despite the weather, with the physical help of their temporary pastor, they poured the foundation of the parish. On December 18th the cornerstone was laid. Unbelievable as it was, on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1949, the first Mass was celebrated. The event was described in the Clearing – Stickney Bulletin:
The first service to be held in the new church took place Christmas Eve, 1949 when Midnight Mass was celebrated just three months and eight days after the excavation. On that Christmas Day the church resembled the stable in which Christ was born. The floor was only the subfloor through which one could see the raw clay in the basement below. The walls were unplastered and the lighting was temporary. The hot air from the boiler had to find its own way up to the church. The grounds were muddy and rough, with a walk made of planks. Yet the parishioners and their friends filled the church with some standing outside on the front steps that Christmas Eve.
The church was completed in 1950 and was named St. Gerald’s Mission. It had a seating capacity of 250. the building included a few rooms at the back for a rectory and a hall downstairs. The next year the mission was canonically erected as St. Albert the GreatChurch. Father Joseph Phelan, the acting administrator was appointed the first pastor. Most Revered Samuel Cardinal Stritch formally dedicated the new church on April 29, 1951. The boundaries were established as: Cicero Avenue on the east the railroad facilities on the north, 87th street on the south and “somewhere beyond the sunset on the west”. The congregation now registered 450 families. A dinner – dance was held to celebrate the birth of the new parish and to honor its founder.
Sunday catechism classes and other parochial activities became part of the vibrant congregation’s many exercises. The first annual carnival was inaugurated to finance the beginning expenses of the three year old parish. The event was held at 79th and Cicero Avenue.
With six hundred and fifty young families registered in the parish, the need for a parish school arose. The response was to build. The northern half of the present school was constructed. Eight classrooms were blessed on April 8, 1953 by Monsignor William P. Long. A temporary convent home was purchased at 8025 S. Linder on August 9, 1953. Three Adrian Dominican Sisters arrived on August 11, 1953. The group was composed of Sister Eileen Patrick, superior, and Sisters Albert Therese and Patrick Ann. These were the first of many that followed the white-robed trio. The school opened its doors to 200 students September 9, 1953 with the three sisters and a lay teacher, Nancy Murray.
Growth continued. To meet the needs of the rapidly increasing congregation, the original church was enlarged in 1954 and again in 1955. This growth necessitated the need for another priest. Father Leo J. Hanley was assigned as the first associate to the parish. Just one example of this increase was the large number of candidates for Confirmation that year, two hundred and forty-one. In 1956 religious instruction for public school students was begun. The Chi-Rho Club for public high school students was established. Among those who taught these latter classes were several volunteers from the Knights of Columbus.
Two thousand families in the parish and 800 students in the school demanded more space. Twelve additional classrooms were built in 1958. To meet parking needs the property was expanded from one and a half acres to eight acres. On October 31st, twelve Adrian Dominican Sisters moved into the new parish convent at 8000 S. Linder. Sister Rose Louise became the second principal. The rectory also added rooms at this time for a second associate, Father Francis McGrath.
The year 1958 records phenomenal spiritual activities in the parish: 350 Baptisms. 270 First Communions, and 437 Confirmations. Three Sunday Masses were moved from the lower church to the new St. Laurence High School Cafeteria. September of 1960 records a school of 1338 students taught by 15 sisters and 11 lay teachers in twenty-five classrooms. The parish boasted of 2906 registered families.
Due to tremendous growth in the area, two new parishes were being established within St. Albert’s confines. Both were to the west, St. Fabian’s and St. Louis de Montfort. With the new arrangement, St. Albert the Great lost 1300 families, 1000 to St. Fabian’s and 300 to St. Louis de Montfort. The parish’s new western boundaries were:
Narragansett Avenue from 75th to 83rd and Austin Avenue from 83rd to 87th Streets.
Yet despite this reconfiguration of the parish area, St. Albert’s Parish continued to grow. By 1964, 13,000 Catholics lived within the boundaries. Plans for a large, permanent church on the corner of State Road and Central Avenue were presented to the congregation and accepted. The groundbreaking ceremony was held on April 19, 1964. The cornerstone was laid on November 15, 1964, the feast of the patron, St. Albert the Great. Though the interior lacked some furnishings and finishing touches, Mass was offered for the first time on Ascension Thursday, May 7, 1965 by, then associate, Father Joseph Lynch. The sixteen year old dream for a permanent church became a reality with the Concelebrated Mass of Dedication on October 3, 1966. Most Reverend John Cardinal Cody presided. The first pastor, Father Phelan, concelebrated the Mass together with ten priests who had formerly served the priest.
The contemporary church structure is symbolic of the hill on which Christ was crucified with its steps that lead to a free-standing altar. The church has a marble background for the figure of the Crucified Christ with wood paneling on either side. Seats are arranged so that all may feel part of the liturgy. Light from the stained glass windows produces a soft, inspiring atmosphere.
Aside from a new church, the year opened with a new principal, Sister Rosemary Ingersoll. Sister served for eight years, celebrating her silver anniversary as a religious during this period.
In November of 1967, our founding pastor, Father Phelan, retired after 18 years of dedicated service. Not many weeks later, Father William Rogers, from St. Thomas of CanterburyChurch in Chicago, was appointed second pastor. His installation was held on December 3, 1967. During the fall of the same year, plans were drawn up for a new rectory. Construction began in the fall and the staff and administration moved in the following spring.
The parish celebrated its Silver Anniversary with a refurbishing of the church. A Mission of Renewal was conducted during Holy Week in preparation for the Jubilee Mass. Father Phelan, founding-pastor celebrated this Mass. A dinner-dance at the Martinque climaxed the celebration on September 29, 1974. With the beginning of the second quarter of the parish’s life the membership listed 4000 families with 680 students in the school. Father Rogers retired as pastor emeritus in 1978. A hearty farewell was held to honor him. Six years later the parish held a celebration to honor Father Rogers’ 50th Anniversary of his ordination.
Father Joseph Lynch was appointed third pastor in 1978. Father returned to the parish, now as pastor, after a nine year absence as an associate. He was welcomed with a special Mass and reception on October 8, 1978. On his arrival he found a parish with 3400 families, 500 students in the school and 1000 in religious education. The parish also had a remarkable number of volunteers, approximately 900. In 1980, Father Lynch celebrated the 800th anniversary of the patron saint, St. Albert the Great, in grand style. During his pastorate several priests served as associates: Father John Curran, Father John Pollard, Father Patrick Brennan, Father John Doyle, Father Norman Trela, and Father Daniel Jarosewic. Brother John Puodziunas was assigned to St. Albert’s as a deacon. After his ordination, he celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving for the parishioners of the parish. After a six year term, Father Lynch was given another assignment by the Archdiocese of Chicago. Father Edward Mackowiak was appointed fourth pastor of St. Albert the Great Parish in 1984. He came to the parish from St. Suzanna in Harvey. Father was installed by Bishop Alfred Abramowicz on June 10, 1984. At this time many new things were happening at the parish. Michael Olinger donated bells for the tower in memory of his wife. Sister Marilyn McGinnis left as director of Ministry of Care after eight years of service to the elderly. She was followed by Sister Michael Mary Madden, who continued to serve the sick and elderly. Fathers Patrick Henry and Michael Andrejek were the first men to be ordained from our parish. Karen Fitzpatrick, a parish catechist, joined the Franciscan Sisters.
Sister Eileen Brost became our Director of Evangelization. She formulated Bible Study groups, Lenten Reflections, Advent Retreats, Calling Ministry and Each One Reach One.
The fortieth anniversary of the parish was commemorated with a Mission preached by Fathers Pat Brennan and Mike O’Connor. The Jubilee Mass was celebrated on April 23, 1989 followed by a reception in Rogers Hall. A more formal anniversary dinner was held that evening at Niko’s Restaurant.
During the next past ten years many additional programs were initiated, some of which are still active in the parish: SPRED, Choir Concerts, Medical Mission, Christmas Sharing, St. Joseph’s Table, Prayer Network, Pro-Life, Phoenix and Good Friday Ecumenical Services. Other activity groups include Bingo, Carnival, Scout programs, Las Vegas Night, and Blood Drives. Important support groups such as Ladies Guild and Holy Name Society together with St. Vincent de Paul Society have performed outstanding service for the parish. Nor can one neglect to mention the Teen Crusaders or the Widows and Widowers.
Memorable events of the 90’s included many anniversaries: Father Edward Mackowiak, our former pastor, celebrated the thirty-fifth and the fortieth anniversaries of his ordination to the priesthood. Masses of Thanksgiving were celebrated with a celebration reception following each occasion. We also received additional associates: Father John Sullivan, Father Frank Plotka, Father Thomas Koys, Father Bruno Janik, and Father Frank Burek. Both Father Bruno and Father Frank celebrated anniversaries of their ordinations shortly after being appointed to the parish; Father Bruno for thirty years and Father Frank for twenty-five years. The weekend celebrant, Father Michael O’Connor OSA, also celebrated his twenty-fifth anniversary of ordination. Mr. Kevin Wiseman was honored by the parish for his twenty-five years as Director of Religious Education. Sister Josephine LaMantia, a longtime teacher and catechist, celebrated sixty years as an Adrian Dominican.
In 1991, Mr. Irvin Bryce was ordained to the permanent diaconate and assigned to our parish to work with Baptismal Prep, Religious Education and the RCIA. These years also witnessed the establishment of the weekly Polish Mass and Polish literacy programs, the Parish Pastoral Council, the Manna Program, Market Day, the yearly dramatization of the Living Passion, and the Summer Sweepstakes.
The decade also had parish losses. Father Rogers, second pastor of St. Albert’s, died on May 16, 1996. A somewhat unexpected loss was that of Father Edward Mackowiak. Father had been in poor health, but continued in his ministering. He had planned his retirement on February 21st. Father went to his Master on February 16, 1998. A concelebrated liturgy commemorated his life with us and his death. Bishop Gorman presided at the Mass which was offered by Father’s close friend, Father Joseph Kruszynski. Many priests, relatives, friends, and parishioners attended. School children formed a guard of honor down the driveway as the funeral procession left and released bubbles to his memory.
In June of 1998, Father Robert Stepek, from St. Joseph Parish in Homewood was appointed as our fifth pastor. Father was installed by Bishop Gorman on September 27, 1998. This was followed by a hearty parish welcome in Rogers Hall.
Father’s arrival was timely. The year 1999 would be the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the parish. He moved in with unusual energy. His first accomplishment was to finalize the Access Project which had been in the process for several years. On Easter Sunday 1999, the parish opened its doors to many handicapped and homebound parishioners with the new hydraulic lift. Another of his endeavors is the FatherJosephP.LynchMemorialPlaza. It is located in front of the new north wall of the church. The statue of St. Albert was been moved to be the focal point of the plaza with attractive grounds surrounding it. Father has also had a new church organ and piano installed for our Jubilee Anniversary.
The parish planned many varied activities for the 50th Anniversary celebration. Among these; a mission, a parish picnic, a vintage style clothing show featuring WGN TV anchor Robin Baumgarten (a St. Albert the Great School alumna) as master of ceremonies, choral concert and a parish quilt. In July of the Jubilee year the parish welcomed its newest associate, Fr. Marek Grzela. A Jubilee Mass was offered on September 19, 1999 and a reception followed in Rogers Hall. The celebration culminated with a glamorous dinner dance at Niko’s Restaurant.
As the new millennium dawned in the year 2000, the parish continued the celebration of its jubilee. In April, St. Albert’s hosted the world-renowned Harvard Glee Club. Our generous parishioners took the Glee Club members into their homes and provided overnight accommodations for them. In May, we were privileged to host the thirty foot tall stainless steel statue of the Blessed Mother known as “Our Lady of the Millennium” For a full week, devotions were held consisting of various prayer services, the rosary prayed in English, Polish, Spanish and Italian, music, an outdoor mass, and procession.
In January of 2001, the Harvard Glee Club in its “Lite” version returned for a concert in church. Again our parishioners hosted the members in their homes. In May, pastoral associate Sr. Michael Mary Madden initiated the weekly Thursday Holy Hour which continues to this day. Infrastructure improvements continued including
re-surfacing of the main parking lot, a new sound system in the church and a makeover of the kitchen in Rogers Hall.
Father Joseph Lynch celebrated the 50th anniversary of his ordination on May 4, 2003 with a Golden Jubilee mass followed by a reception in the parish hall. The Parish Pastoral Council sponsored a Ministry Fair and Recruitment weekend to get more parishioners involved in the many organizations and ministries that do so much good for the parish. Many parishioners participated in the Catholic Festival of Faith at Soldier Field.
The current decade has brought many changes to the parish. Two new associates joined us, Father Robert Marchwianny and Father Mariusz Nawalaniec. The Polish population increased, a second Mass in Polish was added each weekend, and bi-lingual masses were introduced for Holy Saturday and other special occasions.
The Lenten Fish Fry Friday’s were followed by Soup and Salad Saturdays, and several parish picnics. The parish carnival of 2005 was the last for a couple of years as Oktoberfest and Summer Fest replaced it. The annual St. Joseph Table made a comeback in 2006 after several years, and the carnival returned in 2007.
As Administrator, Father Mike Adams helped the parish through a difficult transition period and was with us for twenty one months until Father Richard Milek our current administrator joined us.
The decade produced losses also, as many long time parish leaders such as Therese Wielgos, Charlotte Lagodny, Pat Schall, Rita Francone, Bill Flaherty, Al Steffek, Bruno Magda and Sister Michael Mary Madden went home to God. Former associate Father Frank Plotka also passed away. Deeply felt was the loss of our long time music director Carolyn Farmer who succumbed to her long battle with cancer.
Faith and hope prevail and the future of St. Albert the Great Parish is secure. The entire parish debt was paid off with the help of pledges from over a thousand parishioners including several large donations, allowing for additional infrastructure improvements. A sizeable endowment fund for the school was the gift of a deceased parishioner. The spirit of those energetic, dedicated Catholics whose vision and hard work built the church of St. Albert the Great is still felt in this 60th Jubilee Year. May the Good Lord continue to shower us with His blessings.