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St. Stanislaus Kostka: 150 years of Polish Catholic tradition in Chicago

At 1351 Evergreen Ave., St. Stanislaus is famous as the church around which the Kennedy Expressway had to be diverted. No doubt a few other churches would have had to go as well. The church was saved by Illinois State Rep. Bernard Prusinski (details below). The second picture below shows just how close the call was. The expressway passes just a few feet from the church offices. Just south of St. Stanislaus is Holy Trinity, another large, beautiful Polish church.

The history of St. Stanislaus
St. Stanislaus Kostka was the first Polish Catholic church in Chicago, founded in 1867. Thirty years later it had 8,000 families and 40,000 parishoners and "mission churches" attached to it. It is a beautiful church with a second worship space on the lower level.

The history of St. Stanislaus is closely connected to that of the Church of the Holy Trinity, which is located just two blocks to the south. Both are on Noble Street in Chicago, the former just north of Division and the latter just south of the same street (more detail below).

Their connection is not a happy one. Three years after it was opened, Holy Trinity sought to be independent of St. Stanislaus. A lay group sought to hire its own pastor, and the bishop of Chicago closed the church in 1876. After a year Mass was offered in the church, but in 1881 the church was closed again until 1889, opened briefly, and closed until 1893. The dispute was settled by a papal representative.

Edward R. Kantowicz, The Archdiocese of Chicago: A Journey of Faith (2006) offers a synopsis of the connection between these two handsome churches, which are both thriving in 2017. There are excerpts on my page for Holy Trinity. Note that St. Stanislaus has an extensive website.

  Trucks zoom by the church property day and night.

The interior was renovated, art restored, pews replaced, starting in 2011. The work was ready for this year's celebration of the parish's 150th anniversary.


The parish was founded in 1867 and the church begun in 1877. Very beautiful, all of it, and heartening to see it cared for and well-used.

There is a worship space beneath the principal part of the church. It might seem that it was not always intended for this use, but someone who grew up near the church told me that on Sundays in her day some 5,000 people came to Mass here, and that both levels were filled with Masses on Sunday morning on the hour. The soup kitchen is through the door to the left.

The altar is missing a large statue in the central bay behind the crucifix, which seems to occupy the visual space of the removed statues. The altar's grandness is compromised by the low ceiling. One can imagine cornices and other features to give height in another space.

Seen from the back: the top of the altar is only a few inches below the ceiling. The angels on either side (pink on left, blue on right) seem to be in their original positions and from back here one can see that the altar was carefully fit into this space.
Adjacent to the lower worship space is a kitchen with a small dining area that serves free lunches Monday to Friday.
The dining room is small, but its height, and its handsome fittings, speak to the grandeur of the building.

History of St. Stanislaus
Below is material quoted from the website of St. Stanislaus:

The parish of St. Stanislaus Kostka opened in 1867. Bishop Foley put the Resurrection Fathers in charge of the growing parish in 1871. As the flow of Polish immigrants continued into the neighborhood, a larger church was needed. The cornerstone of the present church building was laid in 1877 and the church was dedicated in 1881.

By 1897, St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish was the largest parish in the United States with 8,000 families, totaling 40,000 people. There were twelve Masses each Sunday: six Masses in the upper church and another six Masses in the lower church. St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish is considered the mother church of the many Polish parishes founded by Fr. Vincent Barzynski, C.R., during his pastorate (1874-1899).

In the early 1950s, the church was slated to be razed to make room for the Kennedy Expressway, but due to protests by the Polish community and the work of Illinois State Representative Bernard Prusinski, a civil engineer, the church was saved. Prusinski shows that railroad tracks to the east of the proposed new road could be moved and the roadway shifted as well. Many people believe that U.S. Representative Daniel Rostenkowski was responsible for this feat, but he himself told the Chicago Tribune in 1992 that this was not the case. I give references at the end of this note.

Today, the parish continues to serve the spiritual needs of parishioners who come from a wide geographic area and include many different ethnic groups. The large number of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans has brought a new vitality to the parish. Masses are said in English, Spanish and Polish. The parish continues to operate an elementary school, as well as, a strong religious education program.

In 2007, Cardinal Francis George designated St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish as the Sanctuary of the Divine Mercy in Chicago and, in 2008, he blessed the iconic Monstrance, Our Lady of the Sign-Ark of Mercy, which draws many people to 24-hour Eucharistic Adoration at this historic church.

In September, 2011, St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish began a project of essential repair and restoration of the church building. The vision is that the parish will continue to be a beacon of hope for the next generations of Catholics of Chicago.

The Story Behind the Kennedy Expy., and How this Church Impacted Its Route (reprinted from By Justin Breen
January 20, 2016, updated on February 12, 2016

According to an April 4, 1954 Tribune article, plans originally called for the expressway to be built to the west of the church, but that would have uprooted 400 families and left the church isolated. Other plans had the expressway going through the church, which would force the building to be demolished, according to WBEZ.

But the church and the parishioners' homes were saved by State Rep. Bernard Prusinski, a civil engineer who hatched a plan to move the adjacent North Western railroad tracks to the east so the expressway also could be moved east of the church, according to the Tribune. The Tribune article noted Prusinski's idea also saved between $6 million and $8 million.

"It saved a little money, an important parish and a fairly powerful political block of voters," Alter said. "The curve is very much in keeping with Chicago's history in terms of immigration and politics. There were reasons to stretch that expressway around the church."

According to his 1987 Tribune obituary, Prusinski was credited with saving the church, although some called the expressway's dramatic avoidance of the church the "Rostenkowski curve." That's in honor of the late U.S. Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, the son of one of Prusinski's political opponents, Joseph Rostenkowski.

Dan Rostenkowski told the Tribune in 1992 that he wasn't responsible for saving the church, but, nonetheless, the church on its website gives credit to him, and not Prusinski, for its survival.

8-25-2017 and 12-16-2017