St. Hedwig Church at Webster and Hoyne Ave. on the northwest side of Chicago was organized in 1888 to serve Polish families who lived more than a mile from St. Stanislaus Kostka Church at Evergreen Ave. and Noble St. It was the fourth Polish parish in Chicago to be staffed by the Resurrectionist Fathers, who had been in charge of St. Stanislaus Kostka parish since 1871.
In 1887, Rev. Vincent Barzynski, CR, pastor of St. Stanislaus Church, purchased the city block bounded by Lyndale St., Webster Ave., Hamilton Ave., and Hoyne Ave. and he directed the construction of a combination church and school building which was dedicated on Dec. 4, 1888 by Archbishop Patrick A. Feehan. Mass in the new structure was celebrated for the first time on Dec. 8, 1888.
Father Barzynski's brother, Rev. Joseph Barzynski, was appointed first resident pastor of St. Hedwig parish. In January 1889, the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth opened the parish school; they took up residence in a portion of the combination structure at 2124 W. Webster Ave. The present rectory at 2226 N. Hoyne Ave. was completed about 1890.
Parish membership grew rapidly, from 230 families in 1888 to 1,300 families by 1894. In that year, Father Barzynski obtained the services of Rev. Anthony Kozlowski, a young diocesan priest who had recently emigrated from Europe. Father Kozlowski's appointment as an assistant on May 15, 1894 set in motion a series of events which had important consequences for St. Hedwig parish and for the Polish community in Chicago.
In his study of the Resurrectionist Fathers, The First One Hundred Years, Rev. John Iwicki, CR, recounts the controversy which led to "violence, rebellion, and schism." According to Father Iwicki, "Father Kozlowski's initial plan was not to cause a schism, but a sufficient disturbance in the parish in order to convince the church authorities to change the administrative personnel, and place him in charge of the parish." When a group of Poles composed mostly of women stormed the rectory on Feb. 7, 1895 to protest the appointment of Rev. Joseph Gieburowski, CR, as temporary pastor, Archbishop Feehan closed St. Hedwig Church. On Feb. 25, 1895, the Archbishop appointed Rev. Eugene Sedlaczek, CR, as pastor and he directed him to reopen the parish school on Apr. 29th.
In May 1895, Father Kozlowski formed a congregation separate from that of St. Hedwig parish. Through legal means, his supporters obtained a temporary restraining order which prevented the reopening of the parish church on June 16, 1895. On that day, Father Kozlowski celebrated Mass in a rented store at Lubeck St. (now Dickens Ave.) near Hoyne Ave.
When St. Hedwig Church finally was reopened on June 23, 1895, Rev. Peter J. Muldoon, Chancellor of the Archdiocese, read a letter from Archbishop Feehan introducing Rev. Eugene Piechowski, CR, as pastor. In calling for unity among the parishioners, Father Muldoon expressed the hope that "all the old misunderstandings shall be erased, forgotten, and forgiven . . ." However, Father Kozlowski's supporters numbered nearly 1,000 families while only 300 families had remained as members of St. Hedwig Church. On Aug. 11, 1895, Father Kozlowski laid the cornerstone of All Saints Church, which had been under construction at 2023 W. Dickens Ave.
When Father Kozlowski ignored Archbishop Feehan's warnings to cease organizing All Saints parish, he was excommunicated and the decree was read in all Polish and Bohemian parishes in the Archdiocese of Chicago on Sept. 29, 1895. The Polish-born priest continued his activities and on Nov. 10, 1895, All Saints Church was dedicated. Father Kozlowski founded the Polish Old Catholic Church and in 1897, he was consecrated an Old Catholic Bishop. Following his death on Jan. 14, 1907, All Saints Church became part of the Polish National Church under the direction of Rev. Francis Hodur. Today, All Saints Cathedral is the headquarters of the Polish National Church in Chicago.
The rebirth of St. Hedwig parish was due to the efforts of Polish-born Father Piechowski. He was well suited to the task, having served as pastor of St. Hyacinth parish. That Catholic parish had been founded in 1894 in order to thwart the establishment of a schismatic parish in the Avondale neighborhood on the northwest side of Chicago
By 1899, so many families had returned as members of St. Hedwig parish that the combination church and school building was overcrowded. As a result, construction on the present church-which had been interrupted by the bitter struggle over the appointment of a pastor-was resumed. The cornerstone of the imposing edifice was laid on June 18, 1899. Constructed at the southwest corner of Webster and Hoyne Ave., St. Hedwig Church was the last building designed by architect Adolphus Druiding; he had been awarded a gold medal in Munich, Germany, for his plans.
Auxiliary Bishop Muldoon returned to the parish on Oct. 27, 1901 to dedicate the new church which had been completed at a cost of $160,000. In its account of the ceremony, The New World noted that the parish numbered about 4,000 persons with 800 students enrolled in the school.
Under Father Piechowski's leadership, St. Hedwig parish revived in faith and dedication and the missions conducted by the Jesuits in 1896, 1898, and 1908 did much to revitalize the religious life of the parish. By 1905, parish membership numbered approximately 1,500 families with 1,300 children in the school. Most of the dissenters returned to St. Hedwig parish and a good deal of the animosity was eradicated.
Father Piechowski continued to serve as pastor for 14 years until his retirement in 1909; he died on Apr. 19, 1921.
Rev. John Obyrtacz, CR, former pastor of St. Stanislaus B. & M. Church in Chicago, was appointed pastor in 1909. At the time of the silver jubilee, which was celebrated on Dec. 7, 1913, 2,000 families belonged to St. Hedwig parish.
Under Father Obyrtacz's direction, an auditorium with a seating capacity of 1,000 persons was constructed in 1912 at a cost of $80,000 and in 1914, another story was added to the parish school. Enrollment then numbered 1,882 students under the direction of 33 Sisters of Nazareth. In 1916, the rectory was modernized to suit the needs of the seven priests assigned to the parish and within the next few years, the parish debt was liquidated.
Named pastor of St. Stanislaus Kostka Church in 1920, Father Obyrtacz was succeeded by Rev. Stanislaus Siatka, CR, who had been pastor of St. John Cantins Church since 1915.
Father Siatka and his parishioners financed the construction of a three story school annex in 1921 at a cost of $160,000. Within four years, 2,651 children were enrolled under the direction of 39 Sisters of Nazareth.
Rev. Francis Dembinski, CR, a former pastor of St. Stanislaus Kostka Church, was named pastor of St. Hedwig parish in 1923. Father Dembinski directed the construction of the church steeples which had been planned by his predecessor.
Following Father Dembinski's death on Apr. 19, 1935, Rev. Francis Uzdrowski, CR, was named pastor and under his leadership, a concerted effort was made to restore the parish buildings. The present convent, designed by Leo Strelka, was completed in 1937 at 2219 N. Hamilton Ave.
In preparation for the parish's golden jubilee, the church was repaired and refurbished. Bishop Stanislaus V. Bona of Grand Island, Neb., presided at the 50th jubilee Mass which was held in St. Hedwig Church on Dec. 11, 1938. At the time, parish membership numbered about 3,000 families with 1,400 children enrolled in the school.
In 1939, Father Uzdrowski organized St. Hedwig Mission at 2445 N. Washtenaw Ave. to serve members of the parish who lived west of Western Ave. As a result of his foresight and planning, the parish hall was rebuilt and redecorated and the parish plant was maintained in good order.
Rev. Jerome Klingsporn, CR, served the parish during the post World War II years. One of his first acts as pastor was to honor the servicemen of the parish who had given their lives for their country. Two memorial plaques were mounted in the church and dedicated on Nov. 7, 1946.
Appointed assistant pastor of St. John Cantius Church in 1954, Father Klingsporn was succeeded by Rev. John Mysliwiec, CR, who had been an assistant at St. Hedwig Church from 1937 to 1939 and again from 1948 to 1951.
During the 1950s, a profound change occurred in the neighborhood of which St. Hedwig parish is an integral part. The Northwest (now John F. Kennedy) expressway cut through the heart of the parish, forcing hundreds of families to move to other parts of the city. St. Hedwig lost its standing as one of the largest parishes in the Archdiocese and its school enrollment dropped from 1,300 to 700 students. That part of the expressway which extends from Lake St. to Foster Ave. was opened to traffic on Nov. 5, 1960.
When Father Mysliwiec was assigned to St. John Cantius Church in 1960, an assistant at that parish, Rev. Joseph Zaborowski, CR, was named pastor of St. Hedwig Church. Under his leadership, plans were made for the parish's diamond jubilee which was celebrated on Dec. 8, 1963.
Following Father Zaborowski's death on Aug. 28, 1969, Rev. John Iwicki, CR, was named pastor on Nov. 2, 1969. In addition to writing a history of the Resurrectionist Fathers, Father Iwicki had served as secretary general of the Congregation with headquarters in Rome from 1965 to 1969.
In implementing the directives of the Second Vatican Council, Father Iwicki organized a Liturgical Commission which was composed of Lectors and Commentators. With the help of Rev. Robert Kurtz, CR, and Rev. Joseph Malczyk, CR, of Gordon Tech, he introduced the Spanish Mass on Dec. 14, 1969 to serve Spanish-speaking families in the parish. After a year of intensive work, the Spanish Society of St. Hedwig Church was established, thus incorporating a fairly large segment of Latino Catholics into the parish.
In 1971, a Parish Council was organized as a result of the enthusiastic support and cooperation of the parish societies and in September 1973, a parish School Board was organized as an advisory and policy-making body.
Following Father Iwicki's appointment as pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, Rev. John Nowak, CR, served as pastor of St. Hedwig Church from January 1979 until December of that year. Prior to this assignment, Father Nowak had served as a faculty member at Gordon Technical high school, where he taught and headed the religious department.
Rev. Denis Oross, CR, was appointed pastor effective Jan. 1, 1980. Ordained in St. Hedwig Church in 1973, he served as librarian at Gordon Tech for four years after which he was assigned to Our Lady of Loretto Church in St. Louis, Mo., from 1977 to 1979. Prior to his appointment as pastor, Father Oross had served as professor at Weber high school.
Of the 1,300 families who now belong to St. Hedwig parish, 900 are of Polish birth or descent; 300 are Spanish; and 100 are of other ethnic backgrounds. The weekend schedule of Masses includes one Mass in Spanish, two in Polish, and four in English. In 1978, 362 children were enrolled in the school under the direction of 10 Sisters of Nazareth and seven lay teachers. The parish supports about 10 active groups.
Rev. John Poreda, CR, and Rev. James Gibson, CR are associate pastors. Residents include Rev. Casimir Guziel, CR; Rev. Charles Mrowinski, CR; and Rev. James Antosz, CR, Vocational Director for the Resurrection Fathers of the Chicago Province. Three permanent deacons-Angel Nieves, Gilberto Cintron, and Gregorio Velez-have been ordained from St. Hedwig Church.