In-Depth History of St. John Cantius Church
Non Est Hic Aliud Nisi Domus Dei Et Porta Caeli
“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 must also provide social fraternity—especially in immigrant communities. This was the case with St. John Cantius Church, 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 supported over 50 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.
Although founded specifically to serve the needs of Polish Catholics, the history of St. John Cantius Church is, nonetheless, integrally intertwined with the development of the Roman Catholic Church in Chicago.
Roman Catholicism became firmly established in Chicago when the initial French settlement organized the city’s first parish, Old St. Mary’s, in 1833 under the direction of 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, followed by the Germans, Poles, Italians, and others. Many fled to America to escape poverty or religious persecution.
At the end of the eighteenth century, Poland had been partitioned into three sections by neighboring Prussia, Austria, and Russia, and thereby no longer existed as an independent country. Poles in the Prussian Partition suffered greatly under the domination of German Protestants led by Count Otto Von Bismarck, whose Kulturkampf and subsequent Falk Laws introduced a program of Germanization in the Polish territories under its rule and severely restricted the Church. The various wars Prussia was waging abroad also led to heavy taxation and forced military service. Poles in the partition controlled by the Austro-Hungarian Empire enjoyed religious freedom under the rule of the Catholic Habsburgs, but many found themselves in a state of extreme poverty, as they were not landowners. Of all the partitions, those in the Russian Partition suffered the greatest as a result of cultural and religious oppression. Forceful efforts were made to destroy the Roman Catholic Church and allegiance to Rome. Reprisals for the participants of the 1863 Polish Insurrection were so harsh that many Poles were either exiled to Siberia or chose to flee.
Many Poles sought relief from these tragic circumstances in the United States of America. After a long sea journey, a great number of Poles came to Chicago and settled near the Rolling Mill district along the North Branch of the Chicago River. St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish was formed in 1867 and, by 1870, it had been placed under the direction of the Congregation of the Resurrection. It was to be the first and therefore “mother” of all Polish parishes in the Archdiocese of Chicago.
The Congregation of the Resurrection was founded in1836 in Paris by three Polish émigrés - Bogdan Jański, Piotr Semeneko, and Hieronim Kajsiewicz - with the goals of 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, that he gave them control of all Polish parishes to be formed in the coming 99 years
Under the direction of Fr. Wincenty Barzyński, C.R., who was named pastor of St. Stanislaus Parish on September 18, 1874, 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. Barzyński had directed the foundation, establishment, and organization of 25 parishes.
The steady arrival of Polish immigrants to Chicago caused the new Polish settlement around St. Stanislaus Kostka Church to swell to enormous proportions. By 1892, 25 years after its founding, it was considered to be the largest parish in the world with 40,000 parishioners! To relieve overcrowding 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” (popularly known later as the “Polish Patch”). The need to divide St. Stanislaus Kostka soon became apparent.
The residents of “Expatriate Poland,” strong in love of God and frequently hampered in the external exercise of their religion by their distance from St. Stanislaus Kostka Church or weather conditions, quickly organized and approached Fr. Wincenty Barzyński with the request to found another parish. Perceiving the validity of their request, he immediately named a committee to find a suitable site for a new church. On December 10, 1892, the New World announced, “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. According to the New World (January 14, 1893), twenty homes had to be demolished to make way for the new church. Once the site was purchased, Fr. Wincenty entrusted the organization of the parish and building of the church to Fr. Jan Kasprzycki, C.R., the first pastor of St. John Cantius Church (1893-1899). Owing to the economic difficulties then prevalent, Fr. Barzyński deemed it wise that the parish should have a second patron, St. Anne, who would intercede on behalf of this new enterprise.
Under the able administration of Fr. Kasprzycki, C.R., the work of building the new church began immediately. Fr. Jan began his pastorate by hiring the architect Alphonsus Druiding to draw up plans for a magnificent and imposing structure. It was to measure 230 feet in length, 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 to rise from 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 the Gate of Heaven.” This event brought the first sense of achievement to the new parish.
Fr. Kasprzycki next set about establishing a parochial school by petitioning Mother Caroline Friess of the School Sisters of Notre Dame to have her sisters staff the parish 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 used for liturgical services.
By December of 1893, the basement church was ready for use. At ten o’clock in the morning on the 24th of that month, the Archbishop of Chicago, the Very Reverend Patrick Feehan, solemnly blessed and dedicated the newly completed basement church for sacred use.
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 Fr. Szymon Kobrzyński, C.R. the next day on December 25, 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 already bestowed on their new parish. Although the church was poor in quality, the parishioners had managed to build it, together with a school, within 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 bell towers had been raised and most of the exterior shell was completed. On Palm Sunday of 1897, three large bells were blessed by Fr. Wincenty Barzyński and put in place in the south tower but were to remain silent for over one year.
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 the funds needed for these items. It was the noble idea of Fr. Kasprzycki and his parish committee (Ludwik Kalisz, Jan Kłosowski, Walenty Kubicki, Wojciech 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 and by March 28, not long after the novena had ended, they had already raised the $3,000 needed 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 inception of the parish, various societies were formed to meet the spiritual, material, and political needs of the parishioners. By 1897, there were some 23 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. Members of these groups contributed the largest portion of the financing toward the construction of the church. Together with the pennies of the poor, they were able to erect a magnificent temple to the greater Glory of God. The great faith of Fr. Jan Kasprzycki and his band of pioneer parishioners will always be remembered by the future generations of parishioners, who now benefit spiritually from the edifice they built.
After almost five years, the interior of the church was finally completed and Fr. Kasprzycki was able to announce that the dedication ceremonies would take place on December 11, 1898, in time for Advent. 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, then south on Noble Street, past St. Stanislaus Kostka Church, and finally east on Chicago to the rectory, where the Archbishop symbolically received the church property from the pastor.
The dedication ceremonies began at 4 o’clock in the afternoon with the blessing of the exterior walls. While the Litany of the Saints was 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 their 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 as well as 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 Będzie Pochwalony!” (“May He be praised!”)
Pastors and Parish Administrators
Fr. Jan Kasprzycki, C.R. (1893-1899)
Fr. Eugeniusz Sedlaczak, C.R. (1899-1901)
Fr. Stefan Dąbkowski, C.R. (1901-1902)
Fr. Stanisław Rogalski, C.R. (1902-1909)
Fr. Jan Kosiński, C.R. (1909-1914)
Fr. Wincenty Rapacz, C.R. (1914-1915)
Fr. Stanisław Siatka, C.R. (1915-1920)
Fr. Stephen Kowalczyk C.R. (1920-1929)
Fr. Walter Bartylak, C.R. (1929-1934)
Fr. Theodore Klopotowski, C.R. (1934-1939)
Fr. Joseph Prusiński, C.R. (1939-1942)
Fr. Leonard Long, C.R. (1942)
Fr. John Grabowski, C.R. (1942-1951)
Fr. Stanislaus Duda, C.R. (1951-1957)
Fr. John C. Wójcik, C.R. (1957-1963)
Fr. John Pawelczak C.R. (1963-1972)
Fr. Peter Fiołek, C.R. (1972-1985)
Fr. Felix Miliszkiewicz, C.R. (1985-1986)
Fr. C. Frank Phillips, C.R. (1988-2018)
Fr. Scott Thelander, S.J.C. (2018-2019,
Parish Administrator ad interim)
Fr. Joshua Caswell, S.J.C. (2019-)
With the death of Fr. Wincenty Barzyński, Fr. Kasprzycki completed his mission at St. John Cantius and was assigned as pastor of St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish where he remained until 1905, when he was elected Superior General of the Congregation of the Resurrection and left for the congregation’s house in Rome.
Fr. Eugeniusz Sedlaczak, C.R. (1899-1901) was then named 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 Schlacks 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 Fr. Stefan Dąbkowski, C.R. (1901-1902).
After coming from Kitchner, Ontario, Canada, Fr. Stanisław Rogalski, C.R. became the next pastor (1902-1909). To him we owe credit for the first decoration of the interior of the church and for installation of the clock on the church tower in 1907 (renovated and reactivated in 2001).
After 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 1,400 pupils, more space is very much needed. 18 School Sisters of Notre Dame have charge of the school.”
Thus, Fr. Rogalski turned his attention to the construction of a new school and again engaged the architect Henry Schlacks to draw up the plans. Through the generosity of the parents of the school children, the building was finished and occupied by November 1903. Unfortunately, Fr. Rogalski, greatly beloved by his flock at St. John’s, was then appointed pastor of St Stanislaus Kostka in 1909.
His successor was Fr. Jan Kosiński, C.R. (1909-1914), 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 modern ventilation 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 stained glass windows installed. Fr. Kosiński contracted for the repainting of the entire interior of the church at the cost of $11,000, but he was not to see the completion of this task. He became ill in March of 1914 and died on May 1 of that year at only 44 years of age. He was the first pastor of St. John Cantius to die in office. His Requiem Mass was celebrated by the Most Rev. Paweł Rhode, then Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago, and attended by a large crowd of parishioners and friends.
Upon Fr. Kosiński’s death, Fr. Wincenty Rapacz, C.R. who had served as associate pastor at the parish since 1899, was appointed interim administrator of the parish. Fr. Wincenty, however, loved his priestly duties too much to be satisfied with the administrative duties 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. He often spoke of the priesthood as the “Sweet yoke of Christ and a light burden.” Offering Mass, conducting many and varied services, leading devotions, preaching, visiting the sick, and spending countless hours hearing confessions were Fr. Wincenty’s greatest loves.
During his short administration, until March 1915, Fr. Wincenty remodeled the entire interior of the rectory. Following this, he continued his work in the parish as Associate 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, Fr. Vincent Rapacz, C.R.”
After a brief interim period, Fr. Stanisław Siatka, C.R. (1915-1920) was appointed pastor. He proved to be a most able administrator and the number of parishioners continued to grow. One of his first tasks was to replace the old stairs leading to the front of the church and build an imposing brick wall around the perimeter of the parish property. The basement was completely remodeled. A large portion was converted into a spacious auditorium, a kitchen was installed, and the remaining classrooms were converted into smaller gathering halls. A central heating system at the east end of the basement was installed to heat the church, rectory, and school.
It had long been the dream of the parish to build a convent to house the sisters teaching in the parish school and this was to be Fr. Siatka’s greatest contribution to St. John Cantius Church. Four lots were purchased on Fry Street east of the rectory for the sum of $19,000 and the structure was finished by August 1916. After the residence was blessed on the 5th day of September, 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.
The work of the pioneering pastors and parishioners was now finally complete. The parish had grown almost a thousandfold, from the original 25 settlers to over 23,000 souls. A magnificent church had been built, along with a new school which housed over 2,000 children, a rectory, and lastly, a beautiful convent—all within the span of some 25 years.
No occasion could have been more fitting for the parish to celebrate its accomplishments than the Silver Jubilee of the founding of the parish. Fr. Siatka, along with his jubilee committee, chose Sunday, October 21, 1918 as the day on which this event would be observed. Prior to this, the Polish Jesuit Fathers preached a two-week mission. A Solemn High Mass of Thanksgiving was offered on the jubilee day by the Very Rev. Francis Gordon, C.R., the Delegate General of the Resurrectionists in Chicago. He was assisted by Fr. Wincenty Rapacz, C.R., as deacon and Fr. Władysław Filipski, C.R., as sub-deacon, while Fr. Władysław Zapała, C.R., future Superior General of the Resurrectionists, 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 Fr. Stephen Kowalczyk C.R. (1910-1929) was named pastor of St. John Cantius. The parish had been 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 also fostered vocations to religious life and arranged for graduates of the parish school to continue their education at Weber High School which was run by the Resurrectionists. Through his constant encouragement, continued interest, and saintly example, many were inspired to enter the Congregation of the Resurrection. Fr. Kowalczyk was personally responsible for more than 30 vocations to the priesthood and deservingly earned the title, “Zealous Promoter of Religious Vocations.”
In the middle of the nineteen twenties, following a wave of postwar prosperity, an increase in the use of trucks and automobiles necessitated the construction of Ogden Avenue, which dealt the parish its first critical blow. This major undertaking necessitated the demolition of 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.
The Great Depression, starting with the stock market crash of 1929, brought a further decrease in registered parishioners. This was the situation that Fr. Walter Bartylak, C.R. (1929-1934) inherited when he became pastor after Fr. Kowalczyk. The stock market crash 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 bored. 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 for renovation of the church’s sanctuary and for the redecoration of the entire interior. 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.
Fr. Theodore Klopotowski, C.R. (1934-1939), who 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 dark years of the Depression, and as recognition for his administrative capabilities, he was named pastor of St. Hyacinth Church.
Fr. Joseph Prusiński, C.R. (1939-1942) then assumed the pastorate of St. John Cantius, as well as the Vice-Chairmanship of the Polish Alma Mater. As pastor he had the privilege to host the Consul General of Poland, Dr. Charles Ripa, General Władysław Sikorski of the Polish Army, and the Polish statesman, composer, and pianist, Ignacy Paderewski as guests of the parish. In 1942 Fr. Prusiński was transferred to the Mission Band, where he served admirably in this important apostolate to the Polish community.
After a brief interim pastorate by Fr. Leonard Long, C.R., Fr. John Grabowski, C.R. (1942-1951) was appointed pastor. Young, energetic, and only 35 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 25 years earlier, was now a parish in the throes of statistical decline. By 1943, the number of parishioners had declined dramatically to 5,000 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 rebuilt, and the church was thoroughly cleaned. Sunday, January 9, 1944 was appointed the day of the celebration.
Amid an impressive ceremony, the Most Rev. Samuel Stritch, the Archbishop of Chicago, officiated at the Solemn Mass of Thanksgiving at 10 o’clock 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 10, 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 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, and in 1951, he was appointed pastor of St. Mary of the Angels Parish.
Fr. Stanislaus Duda, C.R. (1951-1957), who had been assistant pastor since 1942, assumed the pastorate. He 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 devastating blow. The construction of the Kennedy Expressway (then known as the Northwest Expressway) in the late fifties 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 in 1960 at the age of only 48.
With the construction of the Kennedy Expressway most of the neighborhood’s residents left what was rapidly developing into a ghetto. In spite of the many negative factors working against the parish’s future, a good number of those who moved continued to attend Mass and support the parish. These, along with the competent leadership of various pastors, made it possible for the parish to continue.
When Fr. John C. Wójcik, C.R. (1957-1963) was appointed pastor, he found himself in the same tragic situation. He tried every means available to prevent the exodus of parishioners away from the neighborhood, which was now rapidly declining economically. Fr. Wójcik organized a neighborhood council with the dream of stimulating urban renewal and reconstruction in the area. However, this effort proved to be just that—only a dream. On November 5, 1960, a segment of the 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. Wójcik was named Superior of the Novitiate of the Resurrectionist Fathers in Woodstock, Illinois and was succeeded as pastor by 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. The last class graduated in June 1967 and the school ceased operation. The School Sisters of Notre Dame, who had staffed the school from the beginning, left the parish after 75 years of service and the school building was rented to the Near North Montessori School, providing the parish with a source of revenue. Upon the Sisters’ departure, the convent building remained vacant until it was used by the Archdiocese of Chicago for its Office of Religious Education.
As the Diamond Jubilee of the parish approached, preparations began. The church’s exterior was cleaned of all the soot which had blackened much of the stone and brick, while 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 of the Forty Hours Adoration spiritually prepared the parish for the event. The Jubilee Day featured a concelebrated Mass of Thanksgiving with a homily delivered by Polish-born 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 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 pastor until May of 1972. Following that, parish membership stabilized during the pastorates of Fr. Peter Fiołek, C.R. (1972-1985) and Fr. Felix Miliszkiewicz, C.R. (1985-1988). Although no longer living in the area, many former parishioners continued to support the parish and return on Sundays. Through the dedicated energies of the laity, various fundraisers and activities helped 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, Fr. C. Frank Phillips, C.R. (1988-2018) became pastor. Coming from Weber High School, where he had been a religious education and music instructor for 11 years, Fr. Frank brought youthful optimism and engaging charm to this position. He also 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 the parish 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 II 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 (the Tridentine Mass, also known as the Extraordinary Form of the Mass). His purpose was to fulfill the rightful need of those attached to this liturgical tradition and to bring those members of the laity affiliated with the Society of Pius X back into the true fold.
Late in 1988, in response to Pope John Paul II’s request in his motu proprio, Joseph Cardinal Bernardin contacted Fr. Phillips about establishing St. John Cantius Church as the site for the renewed celebration of the Tridentine Mass in the Archdiocese of Chicago. As a result of discussions between Fr. Phillips and Fr. Robert Kealy of the Archdiocese of Chicago and with the approval of Fr. Phillips’ superiors on the Provincial Council of the Congregation of the Resurrection, it was decided that the Indult Tridentine Mass would be celebrated on a weekly basis at St. John Cantius Church. The first of these Masses was held on February 4, 1989. For many years, a group of Archdiocesan priests celebrated this Mass on a rotating basis. Then on December 8, 1992, a large group of faithful who had formerly worshiped with the Society of Pius X at their Oak Park chapel, began attending this Mass at St. John Cantius Church.
Fr. Phillips had always been a proponent of liturgy that is celebrated with reverence and with great attention to the rubrics as established by the Church. In January 1989, he began to celebrate the Novus Ordo Missae (1970 Missal of Paul VI, also known as the Ordinary Form of the Mass) each Sunday in Latin. He also greatly enhanced this solemn liturgy by the rich musical tradition of the Western Church. On most Sundays, the Schola Cantorum of St. Gregory the Great sang the Propers and Ordinaries of the Mass in Gregorian Chant. 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 these Masses included Raymond Cardinal Burke, Francis Cardinal Arinze, Fr. George Rutler, Fr. John Hardon, S.J., and Bishop Thomas Paprocki (who at that time was Msgr. Paprocki, Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Chicago).
Concerned with the spiritual development of the parish, Fr. Phillips introduced various opportunities for the parishioners’ spiritual growth. 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 First Saturday Devotions, as well as others, all of which contributed to the spiritual well-being of the parishioners.
The Confraternity of Christian Doctrine classes were organized early in his tenure for the religious education of the parish’s youth. For adults, the parish hosted classes of the Institute for Religious Life on topics such as Church history, Canon Law, and Patristic writings. He established the Lay Extern Program of the Congregation of the Resurrection for the laity, whose members engaged in spiritual exercises, performed corporal works of mercy, and involved themselves 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 and example.
The parish of St. John Cantius has long been blessed with a beautiful church and other buildings, but as they age, old buildings require extensive repairs and maintenance. Therefore, ongoing restoration was one of the major concerns of Fr. Phillips. In the 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. Some of the early restoration projects included: the cleaning and repairing of the painting of St. John Cantius above the High Altar; the cleaning, restoration, and re-gilding of the two side altars; the cleaning and reinforcement of the south bell tower; as well as the re-electrification of the tower bells.
Since 1989, the parish school building has housed the Chicago Academy of the Arts, a private high school that emphasizes the performing arts, providing added revenue for the parish.
In March of 1989, the parish hosted a visit by the first democratically-elected Prime Minister of the newly-free Poland, Tadeusz Mazowiecki.
In the summer and fall of 1990, Hollywood came to St. John Cantius to film two movies on the parish grounds. The first was a made-for-television movie, 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 February of 1991, parishioners began planning for the events of the upcoming parish Centennial. At Midnight Mass, 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.
Joseph Cardinal Bernadin celebrated the Centennial Mass on September 19, 1993 and later that evening parishioners attended a splendid dinner-dance at the Grand Ballroom of the Marriott Hotel on North Michigan Avenue.
In 1997, Fr. Frank Phillips, C.R. announced his plans to rededicate the parish to Our Blessed Mother for the approaching third millennium and that he would like to accomplish this by making a new set of crowns for the image of Our Lady of Częstochowa. After the new crowns were made by a local goldsmith from jewelry and “old gold” donated by parishioners, Fr. Phillips and a small delegation from the parish took the crowns to Rome in April of that year. After attending the Holy Father’s morning Mass in his private chapel in the Apostolic Palace, Pope John Paul II met with them in his private study and blessed the new crowns. Having returned with the blessed crowns, a solemn re-coronation of the image took place on September 15, 1997, the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, officially consecrating the parish to the Blessed Mother for the third millennium.
One of the most important and significant things to happen in the history of the parish was the founding by Fr. Frank Phillips of a new religious community of men to continue his work of liturgical renewal. On March 2, 1998, Fr. Phillips, Fr. Jerry Twarog, C.R., and Dr. Burns Seeley met with Francis Cardinal George to discuss his vision of founding this new community that would be dedicated to the restoration of the sacred. Sensing that this was a true movement of the Holy Spirit, Cardinal George told Fr. Phillips to invite interested men to begin living the common life at St. John Cantius. Because it was an outgrowth of life at the parish, Cardinal George chose to call it the Society of St. John Cantius. The name was later changed to the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius.
Formal induction of the first members of the Society of St. John Cantius took place that same year after Mass on August 15, the Feast of the Assumption, and for this reason, that date has been considered the community’s Founding Day.
Later that same year, for the first time in over thirty years in the Archdiocese of Chicago, on October 20, 1998, newly-appointed Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Perry celebrated a Pontifical Solemn High Mass in the Extraordinary Form at St. John Cantius Church. Since then, Bishop Perry has regularly celebrated both the Extraordinary and Ordinary Forms of the Mass at the parish for major feast days, as well as for the conferral of the Sacrament of Confirmation.
As the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 approached, St. John Cantius Church was designated by the Archdiocese as one of the local churches outside of Rome that would carry the privilege of the Jubilee Indulgence. In preparation for this, Francis Cardinal George celebrated Mass at St. John Cantius Church on August 15, 1999, the first anniversary of the Founding Day of the Society of St. John Cantius, after which he blessed the Porta Sancta (the Holy Door) that had been prepared for the Jubilee Year at the church’s south front door. Then, concurrent with the opening of the Jubilee Door in Rome on December 24, Fr. Phillips solemnly opened the Jubilee Door at St. John Cantius Church before the beginning of the Midnight Mass.
Formation of parish youth was always a priority for Fr. Phillips, but with the founding of the Society of St. John Cantius, even greater opportunities for various youth activities became possible. Organized by one of the members of the Society, the first Don Bosco Boys’ Camp for youth began at the parish on August 16, 1999.
Because St. John Cantius Church had become a leader in the Latin Liturgy Movement through the work of Fr. Frank Phillips, the Latin Liturgy Association chose to hold its 2001 National Conference at the church on June 23-24. The event drew people from around the country.
Funerals are a normal part of parish life, but they usually do not figure prominently in the overall history of a parish. There was one, however, which turned out to be a major public and media event. In 2005, lifetime parishioner, Edward Moskal passed into eternal life. Not only was he the chairman of the parish council, he was also President of the Polish National Alliance and the Polish American Congress, two of the most important Polish organizations outside of Poland. And it was because of this that Moskal’s funeral drew mourners not only from around the country, but also from Europe. Due to the number of people that were expected, the wake took place for two full days in the church, followed by a Solemn Requiem High Mass in the Extraordinary Form on the third day, with many prominent dignitaries present.
Over the years, the number of young men interested in serving at the altar had increased enormously and Fr. Phillips had long hoped to establish an affiliate of the Archconfraternity of St. Stephen at St. John Cantius Church as a way to foster the vocation of those ministering at the altar. His dream was finally realized in 2009 when Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I., Archbishop of Chicago, gave his approval.
Over the past 25 years, many distinguished and eminent public figures have visited St. John Cantius Church, but in September of 2008, the parish was graced with the exceptional presence of Her Imperial and Royal Highness, Maria Anna, granddaughter of Blessed Karl of Austria, the last Austro-Hungarian Emperor, and her husband Prince Piotr D. Galitzine of Moscow. They had taken up residence in Chicago and Princess Maria Anna, who was Catholic, often attended Sunday Mass at St. John Cantius Church until the couple moved to Houston in 2013. On special occasions, she was accompanied by her Russian Orthodox husband, Prince Piotr.
On October 9, 2012, the church was host to another member of the Royal Family, His Imperial Royal Highness Archduke Rudolph of Austria, brother of Princess Maria Anna and eldest grandson of Blessed Karl and Servant of God Empress Zita.
Because the Royal Family had been blessed with examples of sanctity within its own ranks, Fr. Frank Phillips decided to erect a special shrine in their honor in the Chapel of the Dormition at the rear of the church dedicated to Blessed Karl of Austria, Princess Maria Anna’s imperial grandfather and Servant of God Prince Dmitri Galitzine, an ancestor of Prince Piotr Galitzine, who emigrated to America in the eighteenth century, converted to Catholicism and was eventually ordained a Catholic priest. Blessed Karl’s wife, Servant of God Empress Zita of Austria, will hopefully join them at this shrine when she is also eventually raised to the altar.
The last redecoration of the church, which took place in 1933, gave it the appearance that it has today, but many years of accumulated dirt, pollution, and the residue of incense, as well as a poor attempt at restoration in the sixties, left the once-vivid colors of the interior dull and muted. In addition, the previous shoddy “restoration” darkened the church because copper-based leaf was used instead of real gold leaf for the regilding. Then, when the less-than-expert “restorers'' lacquered the copper leaf with hairspray to give it a sheen, this caused it to oxidize and darken. This is why, from the time he became pastor of St. John Cantius, Fr. Frank Phillips had dreamed of restoring the church’s interior to its former glory when it was called “The Golden Church.” This finally came to fruition in 2011 when he was able to garner the financial support needed to undertake such a gargantuan project, which took two years to complete.
After the church interior had been restored to its former beauty, Fr. Phillips then undertook a complete restoration and regilding of the grand high altar in 2015-2016.
As Fr. Phillips continued the restoration of the church, he realized that the organ, which had served the parish well for many years, was in such poor shape that it needed to be replaced. Through a strange twist of fate, a closed church on the city’s south side was looking for a home for its long unused organ that had been made by Casavant Frères of Quebec, the world’s largest organ company. Originally crafted in 1926 for St. James United Methodist Church, the organ was built on a grand scale. However, there was much work to be done before it could serve the needs of St. John Cantius Church. After being cleaned, restored, and installed in the church’s upper balcony, as well as a portion in the north balcony, parishioners and organ enthusiasts gathered on October 20, 2013 for the Solemn Blessing and Dedication by Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I. of the newly restored and installed organ, nicknamed “Tina Mae.”
In 2015 the parish mourned the death of its chief shepherd, Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I., a Solemn Tridentine Requiem Mass was offered for the repose of his soul on April 22, 2015.
Later that year the relics of St. Maria Goretti toured the United States in 2015 and St. John Cantius Church was honored to be the only location within the city to host the remains of this immensely popular saint. The glass-sided casket with her skeletal remains encased in wax was on display for a full 24 hours beginning October 12, 2015. The church was kept open throughout the entire night while over 15,000 visitors came to pay their respects and pray for the saint’s intercession. The priests of St. John Cantius Church and other Chicago priests were available for Confession during the period and one of the notable features of this event was that the confessionals were never empty during the entire 24 hours. Many graces were granted during this time and many sinners, moved by the child saint, were reconciled.
In spring of 2016, St. John Cantius Church was voted “The Most Beautiful Church in America” in an online competition hosted by Patrick Murray of ArtandLiturgy.com. The good-humored competition, called Church Madness, was styled after the renowned college basketball tournament, March Madness. Murray paired St. John Cantius Church in competition with some of the Midwest’s most outstanding churches, including the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. When it made it to the finals, St. John Cantius Church then moved past the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. to finally take the “National Churchpionship” against Salt Lake City’s Cathedral of the Madeleine.
On August 27, 2016, the world-famous International Pilgrim Virgin Statue of Our Lady of Fatima arrived at St. John Cantius Church. One of two “twin” statues sculpted in 1947 by famous sculptor José Thedim, it was made according to the precise instructions of Sr. Lucia, one of the visionaries of Fatima. After an evening Mass, thousands marched down Chicago Avenue behind the Pilgrim Virgin Statue from the church to Eckert Park and back again in a Procession for Peace in Chicago.
Following the visit of the International Pilgrim Virgin Statue of Our Lady of Fatima, the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius decided to organize a momentous observance of the 100th anniversary of the apparitions in Fatima. It was to take place the following year, 2017. On the anniversary of each of the apparitions, the 13th of each month from May to October, there was an evening Mass, a presentation on the mystery of Fatima, and a procession through city streets with the Fatima statue to one of a number of neighboring churches. On Friday, October 13, that year, thousands came to St. John Cantius Church to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the final Apparition of Our Lady of Fatima, the closing event of the centennial year. The celebration began with a Pontifical High Mass celebrated by His Excellency Bishop Joseph Perry and was followed by a solemn crowning of the Fatima Virgin statue in front of the church.
In March of 2018, Fr. Frank Phillips left the parish that he had helped bring back to life and Fr. Scott Thelander, S.J.C. was named Parish Administrator ad interim. However, although Fr. Phillips was no longer the parish’s shepherd, the spirit of his legacy lives on in every facet of its parish life.
That same year, St. John Cantius Parish began a yearlong celebration of the 125th anniversary of its founding. Because the church was never formally consecrated, the anniversary celebration began on Saturday, October 20, 2018, the traditional feast day of St. John Cantius, with the solemn consecration of the church by Bishop Joseph N. Perry, followed by the Mass of Dedication.
In late spring of 2019, St. John Cantius Parish was unexpectedly approached to host two interesting events. On May 31, Chicago radio personality Kevin Matthews came to St. John Cantius Church to speak about his conversion and the radical change in his life after he found a broken statue of the Virgin Mary lying by a dumpster one day. After the compelling story of hope and healing that he gave to an overflowing crowd in St. John Cantius Church that evening, about 3,500 people walked down Chicago Avenue to the Chicago Water Tower on North Michigan Avenue with his statue of Our Lady of the Broken in a candlelight procession.
Then, following the fire that ravaged Notre Dame Cathedral, St. John Cantius Parish was asked to host a special concert on Saturday, June 8 in collaboration with the Consul General of France in Chicago to celebrate the spiritual and cultural significance of Notre-Dame de Paris. Entitled “Together with Notre Dame: Public Solidarity Concert” the program featured a combined choir of over 100 voices from choruses around Chicago performing French works composed in Paris at Notre Dame accompanied by our historic Casavant Fréres pipe organ. During the concert, a collection was taken up to benefit the rebuilding and restoration of Notre-Dame Cathedral.
The yearlong 125th Anniversary Celebration concluded on October 20, 2019 with a Solemn High Mass, followed by an anniversary gala dinner at the White Eagle Events & Convention Center in Niles.
In October of 2019, the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius conducted its first General Chapter and elected a new superior general, Fr. Joshua Caswell, SJC, who in assuming the pastorate of St. John Cantius Parish became the first pastor, who was not a member of the Congregation of the Resurrection, the religious order that had founded the parish and staffed it until that time. His Installation Mass was celebrated by Bishop Robert G. Casey on February 23, 2020
After years of being worn by the elements, the cross on the top of the church’s façade was in need of restoration. After it had been removed and re-gilded, it was solemnly blessed and re-attached to the top of the church pediment on May 3, 2020, the feast of the Finding of the True Cross.
When the country went into a lockdown in March 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, all of Chicago’s churches were also closed for services. In order to help meet the spiritual needs of parishioners and others, who would not be able to attend Mass in person for an indefinite period of time, the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius immediately began livestreaming their daily private Masses in the chapel of the St. Joseph House (the former parish convent). When they were finally allowed to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in the church building itself, but still not open to the general public, the Canons Regular transferred the livestreaming of Masses to the church. Before long, it became apparent that many people, not only from the Chicago area, but from around the world, were regularly watching these Masses. And because large numbers of viewers continued to follow the Masses at St. John Cantius even after churches were opened up to the public, the Canons Regular decided to purchase the high-tech equipment needed to continue what had become a new apostolate of high-quality livestreamed Masses.
On Wednesday, October 13, 2021, the anniversary of the Final Apparition of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal, the three parishes in the archdiocesan “Renew My Church” grouping known as “Our Lady’s Triangle,” collaborated in a major Marian candlelight procession that saw members of the Chicago Police, Chicago Fire Department, medical personnel, various parish groups, clergy, and religious, coming together to pray for peace in the city of Chicago. The evening began with a solemn Mass at St. John Cantius Church. From there the procession made its way to Holy Trinity Church and then finally to St. Stanislaus Kostka Church.
Over the years, a gradual re-populating of the surrounding neighborhood has helped foster a bright future as the parish continues to move through the second century of its existence. The area that was once known as “Expatriot Poland” is now called “River West,” a developing upscale area with fashionable town homes and luxury lofts. All of this comes at a time when renewed interest and enthusiasm for traditional Catholic values and teaching is growing. The parish, and the religious community that blossomed from it, are striving to respond to this eager longing for the fullness of our Catholic faith.
From the 1983 centennial book written by Fr. C. Frank Phillips, C.R. and Joe Kaczmarek with subsequent revisions made by Fr. Dennis Koliński, SJC