A History of St. John Cantius Parish

Awesome is this place. it is the House of God and the Gate of Heaven!
– (Genesis 28, 17), from the cornerstone of St. John Cantius Church

When a parish church is formed, a great enterprise is begun. For from that beginning an unbroken and strong channel of grace is opened for us, indeed, the road to heaven. By the active participation of the Faithful in the Life of the Church, through the ministerial priesthood of Jesus Christ and the offering of the Sacrifice of the Mass together with the administration of the Sacraments, the Church offers us the strength we need on our journey to Eternal Life. From Baptism to Christian Burial, the Church is at our side offering the graces and spiritual consolations we need to grow in holiness. By taking part in the Sacrifice of the Mass, we proclaim our oneness in Christ and in each other. Bound by a common faith, culture, and often a language, we as a parish form a small segment of the Mystical Body of Christ on Earth.

A parish church does not offer only spiritual life to its members. It also provides social fraternity — especially among immigrant communities that find themselves in a strange land. This was the case with St. John Cantius Parish, which was founded in the late nineteenth century by the increasing numbers of immigrants arriving on Chicago’s near west side from southern Poland. At one time, St. John Cantius parish supported over fifty parish organizations, which provided for the spiritual, material and social well-being of its members. Of prime importance was the school, where the children of Polish immigrants were given the necessary education to make them productive citizens and loyal Catholics.

However, although St. John Cantius Parish was founded specifically to serve the needs of Polish Catholics, its history is integrally intertwined with the development of Roman Catholicism in Chicago.

The Roman Catholic presence was firmly established in Chicago when the French settlement organized the city’s first parish, Old St. Mary’s, in 1833 under the direction of the Fr. Jean Marie Ireneaus St. Cyr. However, the greatest influx of Catholic population in the area began in the late 1840’s and continued through the 1920’s with the immigration of millions of European Catholics. First came the Irish, suffering from religious persecution and famine, then later the Germans, Poles, Italians and others. Extreme poverty was the order of the day for the majority of the inhabitants of Europe. The rise of Liberalism and the passage of anti-clerical laws caused much religious indifference and persecution. The displacement of the agrarian way of life at the onset of the Industrial Revolution trapped many in dismal futures.

By the mid 1800’s, the political situation in Poland was one of non-existence. The country had been partitioned into three sections by neighboring Prussia, Austria and Russia, thereby, ceasing to exist as an independent country. The Prussian section suffered greatly under the domination of German Protestants led by Count Otto Von Bismarck, whose Kulturkampt and subsequent Falk Laws severely restricted the Church. The various wars Prussia was waging abroad caused a heavy burden of taxation and forced military service. The partition under the control of the Austro-Hungarian Empire enjoyed religious freedom under the rule of the Catholic Habsburgs, but most found themselves in a state of poverty, as they were not landowners. Of all the partitions, the Russian sector suffered the greatest through a plan of cultural and religious genocide. The Polish language was replaced with Russian, Poles were deprived of employment, all societies were suppressed and private lands confiscated. Forceful efforts were made to destroy the Roman Catholic Church and allegiance to Rome. A college of canons was set up at St. Petersburg to govern the church and new liturgical books and devotions were introduced. In effect, a schismatic church was put into place. Reprisals for the participants of the 1863 Insurrection were so harsh, that many Poles had no choice but to flee.

From these tragic circumstances, many Poles sought relief in the United States of America. After traveling by sea and arriving at Ellis Island, a great number of Poles came to Chicago and settled near the Rolling Mill district along the North Branch of the Chicago River. In 1867, St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish was formed and by 1870 was placed under the direction of the Congregation of the Resurrection. This parish was to be the first and mother of all Polish parishes in the Archdiocese of Chicago.

The Congregation of the Resurrection was founded in Paris by three Polish émigrés—Bogdan Janski, Peter Semeneko and Jerome Kajsiewicz—in 1836 with the sole purpose of the regeneration and preservation of Catholicism among Poles scattered across Europe and North America through missionary action. In 1871, Bishop Foley was so impressed with the work of this Congregation among the Polish population of Chicago, gave them control of all Polish parishes to be formed in the coming 99 years.

The Fr. Vincent Barzynski, C.R. was named pastor of St. Stanislaus Parish on September 18, 1874. Under his direction the parish grew and flourished. He was a truly remarkable priest and an indefatigable worker and organizer. His almost ceaseless labor for the Church and for souls was not limited merely to Chicago, but also bore fruits elsewhere in Illinois, Michigan, Nebraska and Wisconsin. By the time he died in 1899, Fr. Barzynski had played the important role of directing the foundation, establishment and organization of twenty-five parishes.

By 1892, twenty five years after its, founding, St. Stanislaus Kostka was considered to be the largest parish in the world! The steady arrival of Polish immigrants caused the area to swell to enormous proportions. To relieve over-crowding in the area immediately surrounding the church, new arrivals began settling in an area southeast of the parish along Chicago Avenue. This area quickly became known as Wygnana Polska (“Expatriate Poland”, or popularly known later as the “Polish Patch”). The need to divide St. Stanislaus Kostka soonbecame apparent.

The residents of the “Expatriate Poland,” strong in love of God and frequently hampered in the external exercise of their religion by distance or weather conditions, quickly organized and approached the Fr. Vincent Barzynski with the request of founding another parish. Perceiving the validity of their request, he immediately named a committee to study and find a suitable site for the new church. On December 10th, 1892, the New World announced that “A new parish will be made early next year, and a church built in the neighborhood of Chicago Avenue and Carpenter Streets for the Polish residents in that vicinity.”

Despite the panic and depression following the Columbian Exposition, the search for land went on. Within a short time, several lots were purchased at Front (now called Fry) and Carpenter Streets for the exorbitant sum of $75,000.00. According to the New World of January 14th, 1893, twenty homes had to be demolished to make way for the new church. With the site purchased, Fr. Vincent entrusted the organizing and building of the parish church to the Fr. John Kasprzycki, C.R., the first pastor of St. John Cantius. Owing to the economic difficulties then prevalent, Fr. Barzynski deemed it wise that the parish should have a second patroness, St. Anne, who would intercede on behalf of this new enterprise.

Under the able administration of Fr. Kasprzycki, C.R. (1893-1899), the work of building the new church began immediately. Possessed with a great ability to organize, he began his pastorate by hiring the architect, Alphonsus Druiding, to draw up plans for a magnificent and imposing Renaissance-Baroque structure. It was to measure 230 feet in length and 107 feet in width and have a seating capacity of 2000. Work was started in the spring of 1893, and soon footings and foundations of the basement which was to serve as the first church began rising out of the ground. On September 4, 1893, Archbishop Patrick A. Feehan officiated at the laying and blessing of the cornerstone, which carried the following inscription, “Awesome is this place. It is the house of God and Gate of Heaven.” This event brought the first sense of achievement to the new parish.

The Fr. Kasprzycki next set about establishing a parochial school by petitioning Mother Caroline Friess of the School Sisters of the Notre Dame have her sisters to staff the school. This congregation of sisters founded in Bavaria was primarily German in composition, but had a significant Polish membership. Mother Caroline S.S.N.D. consented, and on November 12, 1893, Sister Mary Josaphat, S.S.N.D. and another companion began classes for 150 children. The school was housed in areas of the basement not occupied by the church proper.

By December of 1893, the basement church was ready for use. On the 24th of that month at ten o’clock in the morning, with solemn ceremonies, the Archbishop of Chicago, the Very Reverend Patrick Feehan, blessed and dedicated the newly completed basement church for sacred use. The following day, the Feast of Christmas, Mass was offered for the very first time and the channel of graces necessary for our sanctification was opened. These same graces continue to flow to this day.

That basement church was crudely finished on the inside without pews, and altars were fashioned from unfinished wood. Recalling the poverty of the stable at Bethlehem, this was to be the scene of the church’s first Mass, offered by the Very Fr. Simon Kobrzynski, C.R. on December 25th, 1893. That first Christmas, the Word was made Flesh upon the Altar in a most real way for the parishioners of St. John Cantius, who rejoiced at the many gifts God had bestowed on their new parish. Although the church was poor in quality, the parishioners had managed to build it, together with a school, within a time span of less than one year.

However, as work continued, progress on the main upper church took an unexpected turn. While the lower church was constructed quite rapidly, work on the upper church slowed down to a crawl. As an economic depression settled over Chicago and the rest of the country, unemployment grew each day with a slowdown in industry. By 1896 the two uneven bell towers had been raised and most of the exterior shell was completed. On Palm Sunday of 1897, three large bells were blessed by the Fr. Vincent Barzynski, C.R. and put in place in the south tower but were to remain silent for over one year. Weighing respectively 5,186 lbs., 2,891 lbs. and 1800 lbs., the bells cost just over $2000 to install.

Now, all that remained was the completion of the church’s interior and the acquisition of proper liturgical appointments. For this, the pastor and parishioners resorted to a variety of means to raise even the smallest funds for these necessary items. It was the noble idea of Fr. Kasprzycki and his parish committee (Ludwik Kalisz, Jan Klosowski, Walenty Kubicki, Woj. Kilczynski, M. Ptaszek and Fr. Kantak, C.R.) to hold a novena in honor of St. Joseph as a last resort. With great faith, the parish began the novena on March 9, 1898. At a momentous meeting on the 28th of March, soon after its completion, a sum of $3000 was raised to complete the building’s construction. Just as St. Joseph provided for the Holy Family, he provided for the Parish of St. John Cantius and has since been revered as its Protector and Intercessor.

From the very onset of the parish, various societies were formed to meet the spiritual, material and political needs of the parishioners. By 1897, there were some twenty-three different societies actively associated with the parish. Among them were chapters of the Polish Roman Catholic Union, the Polish Union of America, the Polish Alma Mater and many sodalities and confraternities. It was these groups, whose members pooled their resources together, that contributed the largest portion of the financing toward the construction of the church. Through them the pennies of the poor erected a magnificent temple to the greater Glory of God. The great faith of the Fr. John Kasprzycki and his band of pioneer parishioners will always be remembered by the future generations of parishioners, who spiritually benefit from the edifice they built.

After almost five years, the interior of the church was completed and Fr. Kasprzycki was able to announce that the dedication ceremonies would take place in time for Advent on December 11th, 1898. That Sunday afternoon, a large throng of parishioners, school children, bands and members of the Polish Cavalry went to the episcopal residence on North Avenue and State Street, where they were greeted by Archbishop Feehan, who joined their entourage and processed back to the church. They first proceeded west on North Avenue to Noble Street, then south to Chicago Avenue, and finally east on Chicago to the rectory, where the Archbishop symbolically received the church property from the pastor.

The dedication ceremonies commenced at 4:00 PM with the blessing of the exterior walls. While the Litany of the Saints was being sung, the Archbishop entered the church and blessed the interior walls after which the doors were thrown open and the faithful entered for the first time. Archbishop Feehan spoke kindly to the parishioners at the ceremony, expressing his joy at this achievement. It was his fervent prayer that future generations of the parish would continue to thank and bless them for their generosity under the most difficult of conditions, for their example and for their zeal in spreading the Kingdom and Glory of God. The ceremonies concluded with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament and the singing of the traditional hymn “Niech Bedzie Pochwalony!” (May He be praised!).

The Fr. Kasprzycki had completed his mission at St. John Cantius. With the death of Fr. Vincent Barzynski, the pastor of St. Stanislaus Kostka, he was assigned as pastor of that parish where he remained until 1905, when he was elected Superior General of the Congregation of the Resurrection, whereupon he left for the congregation’s house in Rome. He held that office until 1920 and died on May 3, 1933, while living at St. Joseph Novitiate in Chicago, Illinois.

The Fr. Eugene Sedlaczak, C.R. (1899-1901) was thennamed pastor and immediately began the task of decorating the interior of the church. It was during his term of office that construction of the present day rectory began. Fr. Sedlaczek hired the noted architect, Henry Schalcks to draw the plans for a rectory in a modified Gothic style, and supervise the construction. The building was completed during the brief tenure of the Fr. Stephen Dabkowski, C.R. (1901-1902).

After coming from Kitchner, Ontario, Canada, the Fr. Stanislaus Rogalski, C.R. (1902-1909) became the next pastor. To him we owe the greatest credit for thedecoration of the interior of the church and forgiving it the character it has today. Many of the fine paintings and murals in the church, as well as the organ, date to this time. The famous clock on the high steeple (just recently renovated and reactivated in 2001) was also installed under the direction of Fr. Rogalski in 1907.

After the completion of the upper church, the space formerly occupied by the original provisional church was converted to classrooms for the school. On March 7, 1903, the New World reported:

“At the present, children are taught in the basement of the church, and as there are more than 1400 pupils, more space is very much needed. Eighteen School Sisters of the Notre Dame have charge of the school.”

Fr. Rogalski immediately turned his attention to the building of a new facility for the school and again engaged the architect Henry Schalcks to draw the plans. Through the generosity of the parents of the school children, the building was finished and occupied by November 1903. Unfortunately, Fr. Rogalski, who was beloved by his flock at St. John’s, was then appointed as pastor of St Stanislaus Kostka in 1909. He passed away in 1933 while stationed in Ontario, Canada.

His successor was the Fr. John Kosinski, C.R. (1909-1914), who was previously the rector of St. Stanislaus Kostka College. He was known for his renowned speaking abilities and progressive educational ideas. During his tenure as pastor, he installed the latest in ventilating systems for the comfort of the parishioners. He also replaced the gas lighting in the church with a modern electrical system, and finally had the lancets of stained glass windows installed. Fr. Kosinski contracted for the repainting of the entire interior of the church at the cost of $11,000.00, but he was not to see the completion of this task. He took ill in March of 1914 and died on May 1st of that year at only forty-four years of age. He was the first pastor of St. John Cantius to die in office. His Requiem Mass was celebrated by the Most Fr. Paul Rhode, then Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago, and attended by a large crowd of parishioners and friends.

Upon Fr. Kosinski’s death, the Fr. Vincent Rapacz, C.R. who had served in the capacity of assistant at the parish since 1899, was appointed interim administrator of the parish. Fr. Vincent, however, loved his priestly duties too much to remain in the position of pastor for long. So dedicated to the service of the Church was he, that parishioners lovingly referred to him as the St. John Vianney of the parish. Fr. Vincent often spoke of the priesthood as the “Sweet yoke of Christ and a light burden.” Offering the Mass, conducting the many and varied services, leading devotions, preaching, visiting the sick and hearing confessions were his greatest loves. The amount of time Fr. Rapacz spent in the confessional knew no limits.

During his short administration, until March 1915, Fr. Rapacz remodeled the entire interior of the rectory. Following this, he continued his work in the parish as assistant pastor until his death on March 29, 1931. After 32 years of selfless and saintly service to the parish, grateful parishioners collected funds to donate a fine chalice in Fr. Rapacz’s honor. The gold filigree chalice set with enamels was inscribed, “Given in honor of the Vianney of St. John Cantius Parish, the Fr. Vincent Rapacz, C.R.”

After a brief interim period, the Fr. Stanislaus Siatka, C.R. (1915 – 1920) was appointed pastor. He proved to be a most able administrator and the number of parishioners continued to grow. In one of his first tasks, Fr. Siatka replaced the old stairs leading to the front of the church and built an imposing brick wall around the perimeter of the parish property. A section of this wall stands to this day immediately behind the church. The basement was remodeled into a spacious auditorium with stage, a kitchen installed, and the remaining classrooms converted into smaller halls for meetings. A central heating system at the east end of the basement was installed to heat the church, rectory and school.

The dream of the parish had been to build a convent to house the sisters teaching in the parish school. This was to be Fr. Siatka’s greatest contribution to St. John Cantius. Four lots were purchased on Fry Street east of the rectory for the sum of $19,000.00. Construction commenced on the 17th of July, 1916. By August of 1917, the structure was finished. With the blessing of the residence on the 5th of September, the thirty sisters stationed at the parish took up residence in the fine building, which contained a chapel, kitchen, parlors and enough small, but comfortable rooms so that each sister had her privacy. The construction costs totaled $75,000.00.

The work of the pioneering pastors and parishioners was now finally complete. The parish had grown almost a thousandfold, from the original twenty-five settlers to over twenty-three thousand souls. A magnificent church had been built, along with a new school which housed over two thousand children, a rectory, and lastly the convent—all within the span of some twenty-five years.

No occasion could have been more fitting for the parish to celebrate its accomplishments than the Silver Jubilee of the founding of St. John Cantius Parish. Fr. Siatka, along with his committee, appointed Sunday, October 21, 1918 as the day on which this event would be observed. Prior to this, a two week mission was preached by the Polish Jesuit Fathers, and the Solemn High Mass of Thanksgiving was offered on that day by the Very Fr. Francis Gordon, C.R., the Delegate General of the Resurrectionists in Chicago. He was assisted by the Fr. Vincent Rapacz, C.R., as deacon and the Fr. Ladislaus Filipski, C.R., as sub-deacon, while the Fr. Ladislaus Zapala, C.R., future Superior General, preached the sermon. A commemorative book, published on this occasion, relates how parishioners thronged the church to overflowing from morning until night thanking God for the manifestation of His goodness to them.

In 1920, Fr. Siatka was transferred to the pastorate of St. Hedwig Church, and the Fr. Stephen Kowalczyk C.R. (1910 – 1929) was named pastor of St. John Cantius. The parish was firmly established, and the work of Fr. Kowalczyk was primarily focused on the spiritual growth of his parishioners. While zealously performing his duties as pastor, Fr. Stephen saw in the pastorate an opportunity to foster vocations to the religious life. He made it possible for graduates of the parochial school to continue their education at Weber High School. Through his constant encouragement, continued interest and saintly example, many were propelled to enter the Congregation of the Resurrection. Fr. Kowalczyk was personally responsible for more than thirty vocations to the priesthood and deservingly earned the title, “Zealous Promoter of Religious Vocations.”

In the middle of the 1920s, following a wave of postwar prosperity, an increase in the use of trucks and automobiles necessitated the construction of Ogden Avenue. The Parish of St. John Cantius was dealt its first critical blow. This major undertaking dislocated the homes of many parishioners, forcing them to move to other areas and thus breaking up what had been a solid ethnic neighborhood. This street seems harmless enough today, but at that time, it was a heavily used truck route as it was part of the famous U.S. Route 66. Parishioners who lived west of Ogden Avenue began to think twice about sending their children to the school for fear of traffic fatalities. Many of the faithful began attending the nearby parishes of Holy Innocents and St. Boniface, and the number of parishioners and pupils in the school began to decline.

This was the situation that the Fr. Walter Bartylak, C.R. (1929-1934) inherited when he became pastor after Fr. Kowalczyk. In addition, the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and subsequent Great Depression painted a picture that was anything but promising. Fr. Bartylak, the first pastor of St. John Cantius of American birth, met this challenging situation with much optimism and ingenuity. Opening the church facilities to the frequently unemployed young men and women of the parish, Fr. Bartylak organized many activities and societies to keep these young people from becoming restive. The most active of these groups were the St. John Cantius Sportsmen, the Sodality of St. Therese of the Infant Jesus, the Panama Circle and the Scatter Joy Circle. Fr. Walter not only succeeded in keeping these youngsters active, he also strengthened their loyalty to God, country and parish.

In spite of the Depression, Fr. Bartylak was able to raise the funds necessary to renovate the entire sanctuary of the church and to redecorate the church. This major undertaking included the painting of the present mural in the sanctuary apse, the redesigning of the High Altar and installation of a new lighting system. Fr. Bartylak left the parish in 1934 when he was named Superior of the newly founded Resurrectionist Mission Band in Castleton-on-the-Hudson, New York.

The Fr. Theodore Kloptowski, C.R. (1934-1939) was named the next pastor of St. John’s soon acquired the endearing name, Fr. Ted. With maintenance demands at a minimum, he devoted all his efforts toward the spiritual betterment of the parish. He sustained and strengthened his parishioners through the depth of the Depression, and as recognition for his administrative capabilities, he was named pastor of St. Hyacinth Church.

The Fr. Joseph Prusinski, C.R. (1939-1942) assumed the pastorate of St. John Cantius, as well as the vice-chairmanship of the Polish Alma Mater. As pastor, he ahd the privelege to host, the Consul General of Poland, Dr. Charles Ripa, General Ladislaus Sikorski of the Polish Army, and the Polish statesman, Ignacy Paderewski as guests of the parish. In 1942 Fr. Prusinski was transferred to the Mission Band, where he served admirably in this important apostolate to the Polish community.

After a brief interim pastorate by the Fr. Leonard Long, C.R., Fr. John Grabowski, C.R. (1942-1951) was appointed pastor. Young, energetic, and only thirty-five years of age, Fr. Jack was the ideal choice for the difficult days that lay ahead. With many of the younger parishioners off at war or engaged in Red Cross work, Fr. Jack began preparations for the parish’s Golden Jubilee celebration. Unfortunately, this occasion proved to be emotionally trying for the older parishioners, who had earlier witnessed the parish at its peak.

What had been a great and large parish a mere twenty-five years before, was now in the throes of regression, not spiritual, but statistical. The number of parishioners had declined dramatically, and there were but 376 students in the parish school. Even the best and holiest of works can be ravaged by time and change. In spite of this, the parish celebrated its Fiftieth Jubilee with much festivity. In preparation for this event, through the generosity of parishioners, the entire entrance stairway to the church was re-built, and the church was thoroughly cleaned. Sunday, January 9th, 1944 was appointed the day of the celebration.

Amid impressive ceremony, the Most Fr. Samuel Stritch, the Archbishop of Chicago, officiated at the Solemn Mass of Thanksgiving at 10:00 AM that morning. Following the Mass, a reception was held in the parish hall for the assisting clergy and later that evening, the parishioners were guests at a banquet held in the parish hall. The next day, Monday, January 10th, 1944 a Solemn Requiem Mass was offered for all the deceased members of the parish.

The end of World War II brought yet more tragic consequences for the parish of St. John Cantius. Those, who got married after returning from war, began moving to newer areas of the city and even to the suburbs. With this depopulation of the neighborhood, others of non-Polish ethnic stock rapidly took their places. Soon what once had been a solid ethnic enclave could hardly be recognized as such—except for the very few “old timers” who remained despite all the changes. Fr. Grabowski continued to struggle despite all the odds, and thenin 1951 he was appointed pastor of St. Mary of the Angels Church.

Fr. Stanislaus Duda, C.R. (1951-1957), who had been assistant pastor since 1942, assumed the pastorate. Fr. Duda did all in his power to stem the parish’s decline, literally spending himself and his health in the process. During his term of office, the parish received its most cruel blow. The construction of the Kennedy Expressway (then known as the Northwest Expressway) in the late 1950s necessitated the demolition of thousands of homes, and even more parishioners were forced to leave the area. In the midst of this, Fr. Duda was transferred to St. Hedwig Church where he died at the age of only 48 in 1960.

When he was appointed pastor, Fr. John C. Wojcik, C.R. (1957-1963) found himself in the same tragic situation. He tried every means available to stem the unrelenting tide of parishioners away from the neighborhood, which was now rapidly declining economically. Fr. Wojcik organized a neighborhood council with the dream of stimulating urban renewal and reconstruction in the area. However, this effort proved to be just that—a dream. On November 5th, 1960, a segment of the J.F. Kennedy Expressway extending from Lake Street to Foster Avenue opened just west of the church. Ironically, this thoroughfare, which caused so much grief for St. John Cantius and the many parishes along its route, was now utilized by many parishioners who left the area in order to return on Sundays.

In 1963, Fr. Wojcik was named Superior of the Novitiate of the Resurrectionist Fathers in Woodstock, Illinois and was succeeded as pastor by the Fr. John Pawelczak C.R. (1963-1972). During his tenure it became increasingly difficult for the parish to maintain the school because most families with school aged children had already moved away. In June 1967, the last class graduated and the school ceased operation. The School Sisters of the Notre Dame, who had staffed the school from the beginning, left the parish after seventy-five years of service and the school building was rented to the Near North Montessori organization, providing the parish with a source of revenue. Upon their departure, the convent building remained vacant until it was utilized by the Archdiocese, Chicago for the Office of Religious Education.

The Diamond Jubilee of the parish was fast approaching and preparations began. The church’s exterior was cleaned of all the soot which gave it a nearly black appearance and the interior was prepared as best as was allowed. The date chosen for the observance of this event was Sunday, October 20, 1968. A two week mission, preached in both Polish and English, and the celebration the Forty Hours Adoration, spiritually the parish for the event. The Jubilee Day featured a concelebrated Mass of Thanksgiving with a homily delivered by the Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago, Alfred Abramowicz. Many former parishioners and friends of St. John Cantius returned for this occasion and filled the church to capacity. A choir made up of present and former parishioners under the direction of Mr. Albert Kasluga, provided fine music at the Mass. Following this, a banquet was held on November 3rd in the International Ballroom of the Sherman House Hotel, at which his Eminence John Cardinal Cody was a guest, brought the Jubilee festivities to a close.

Fr. Pawelczak remained as Pastor until May of 1972. During the pastorates of the Fr. Peter Fiolek, C.R. (1972-1985), and Fr. Felix Miliszkiewicz, C.R. (1985-1986) the parish membership stabilized. Although no longer living in the area, many continued to support the parish and return on Sundays. Through the dedicated energies of the laity, various fundraisers and activities were held to add to the parish treasury and support the maintenance of the parish properties. As the number of these dedicated individuals decreased through death, those that remained worked even harder. Even in its decline, the Parish of St. John Cantius never went into debt—a testament to both pastors and parishioners alike. In fact, the parish was even able to support another parish, St. Josaphat, through the Archdiocesan Sharing Program.

On August 15, 1988, the Fr. C. Frank Phillips, C.R. assumed the post of pastor. Coming from Weber High School, where he had been a religious education and music instructor, Fr. Frank brought youthful optimism and engaging charm to this position. However, he soon proved himself to be an able administrator. At that time, the parish consisted of a small and mostly elderly contingent of Faithful and thoroughly dedicated members. Fr. Phillips saw in the pastorate an opportunity to make St. John Cantius a viable parish for the future by promoting the richness of the Church’s liturgical tradition—particularly its Latin Liturgy. As St. John Cantius no longer found itself in a strictly residential neighborhood, this particular apostolate proved successful in drawing new parishioners from many other neighborhoods and suburbs, which increased needed revenues.

In July of 1988, His Holiness, Pope John Paul 11 issued the Motu Proprio, Ecclesia Dei, calling for a wide and generous application of the indult of 1984, which renewed the celebration of Mass according to the Missal of 1962 (widely known as the Tridentine Mass). The purpose of this Apostolic letter was to fulfill the rightful need of those attached to this Liturgical tradition and to bring those members of the laity, who were involved with the new schismatic Society of Pius X back into the true fold. Late in 1988, arrangements were made between Fr. Phillips and the Fr. Robert Kealy, on behalf of the Archdiocese of Chicago, to have the Indult Tridentine Mass celebrated on a weekly basis at St. John Cantius. The first of these Masses was said on February 4, 1989, and continues to this day. For many years, a group of Archdiocesan priests celebrated this Mass on a rotational basis. Then on December 8, 1992, a large group of faithful who had formerly worshiped with the schismatic Society of Pius X at their Oak Park mission, began attending the Indult Mass at St. John’s.

Fr. Phillips has always been a proponent of liturgy that is celebrated with reverence, care and with great attention paid to the rubrics established by the Church. In January, 1989, he began to celebrate and continues to be celebrate the Novus Ordo Missae (1970 Missal of Paul VI) each Sunday in Latin. He also greatly enhanced this solemn Liturgy by the rich musical tradition of Western Catholicism. On most Sundays, the Schola Cantorum of St. Gregory the Great rendered the Gregorian Propers and Ordinaries of the Mass. The Resurrection Choir, which was founded and directed by Fr. Phillips, sang the Ordinaries of the Mass in settings from the Viennese Classical tradition on the second Sunday of each month. On greater Feast Days, the St. Cecilia Choir enhanced the Mass with settings in the polyphonic tradition of the Renaissance. Distinguished celebrants of the Mass included Fr. George Rutler, Fr. John Hardon, S.J., Fr. Matthew Habiger, O.S.B., Fr. Gary Gurthler, S.J., Fr. Paul Quay, S.J. and the Fr. Thomas Paprocki, Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Concerned with the spiritual development of the parish, Fr. Phillips introduced various means to address this need. He revived many devotions, including: Vespers and Benediction, the Corpus Christi procession, Stations of the Cross, the St. Joseph and St. Anne Novenas, Tenebrae, First Friday and Saturday adoration, as well as others, which all contribute to the spiritual well-being of the parishioners. The Confraternity of Christian Doctrine classes were established early in Fr. Phillips’ tenure, for the religious education of the parish’s youth. For adults, the parish hosted the classes of the Institute for Religious Life, where topics such as Church history, Canon Law and Patristic writings are taught. He established the Lay Extern Program of the Congregation of the Resurrection for the laity. Its members engaged in spiritual exercises, performed corporal works of mercy, and involved themsleves in various apostolates of religious education. Believing that the future of the Church depended on strong vocations to the priesthood and religious life, Fr. Phillips fostered vocations through prayer, example, and by opening the rectory to those who are interested in religious life.

The parish of St. John Cantius has long been blessed with a beautiful church and other buildings. As they grow older, these buildings require extensive repairs and maintenance. Therefore, ongoing restoration has been one of the major concerns of Fr. Phillips’ pastorate. In Fall of 1988, soon after his arrival, he started the Cantian Fund in order to generate the revenues which were needed for specific restoration projects. The following is a list of restoration projects already completed, in chronological order:
The cleaning and repairing of the painting of St. John Cantius above the High Altar.
The cleaning, varnishing and re-gilding of the two side altars.
The cleaning and reinforcing of the south bell tower, as well as, the re-electrification of the bells.
The cleaning and replacing of the wooden tracing of the north Rose window and two other windows in the nave.
The rebuilding of the parish garden and addition of the outdoor shrines of Sts. Anne and John the Baptist.

Since 1989, our parish school building has housed the Chicago Academy of the Arts, a private high shcool that emphasizes the performing arts.

In the summer and fall of 1990, Hollywood came to St. John Cantius with the filming of two movies on the parish grounds. The first was a made-for-television movies, entitled “Johnny Ryan.” The second was a major Hollywood film entitled, “Only the Lonely,” directed by John Hughes and starring Maureen O’Hara and John Candy.

In March of 1989, the parish hosted a visit by Thadeusz Mazowiecki, Prime Minister of the newly-democratic Poland. Other events and guests at St. John Cantius during Fr. Phillips’ tenure included the Fr. Patrick Peyton, of the Marian Conferences and the National Latin Liturgy Convention.

In February of 1991, various parishioners began to form committees and plan the events of the upcoming Centennial year. At Midnight Mass of Christmas 1992, a year of celebration was officially opened. One of the major events of the Centennial Year was the Festival of Sacred Music, a concert series given by various prestigious groups of the Chicago musical establishment.

The Centennial Mass and Banquet took place on September 19, 1993. Joseph Cardinal Bernadin celebrated the Jubilee Mass at 10:00 a.m., and later that evening parishioners attended a splendid dinner-dance at the Grand Ballroom of the Marriott Hotel on North Michigan Avenue. The Centennial Year was brought to a close at Midnight Mass on December 25, 1993. Just as this parish set down its roots at the Altar of God one hundred years earlier on that very day, on the Feast of the Incarnation, so too we fittingly ended our centennial celebration in the same manner.

We look to the future with its inevitable challenges and corresponding opportunities for us to grow together in holiness, as we remain strong in Faith and love of God and one another, continuing to work toward the good of our parish and ultimately the Greater Glory of God.

Written in 1994 for the 100th Anniversary Book