The First 25 Years of St. Patricia Parish, 1959 - 1984
The history of St. Patricia Parish is embedded in the past of the Southwest area of Cook County. Long before the Indians or buffalo roamed our lands appeared, the geographical location of the parish was formed from melting glacial ice, building an ancient shoreline of Lake Chicago.
Early pioneers to the area, drawn by work on the Illinois and Michigan Ship Canal, settled along its bank in the 1800’s. They established a Mission known as Sacred Heart. Life was hard, winters long and cold, roads poor or nonexistent, but these settlers were hardy workers and they prospered. Their tiny community grew and farming became the dominant trade. Church life was an integral part of family life and the four parishes, each with its own boundaries, were formed through branching from Sacred Heart.
A 20 acre site near 91st St. and Cork Ave. had been acquired by the Archdiocese of Chicago from Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Grotz. The Parish complex was constructed on their former home site. On Feb. 21, 1960, the official groundbreaking for St. Patricia Church and School took place. Officiating at the ceremony were Rev. Thomas V. Brody and Rev. Francis M. Coyle, the Pastor of St. Michael Church in Orland Park. After the ceremony, Mr. and Mrs. Grotz were presented with a wooden crucifix by Fathers Brody and Coyle. This was a small gesture of appreciation for their cooperation in making St. Patricia a reality.
On June 15, 1959, Albert Cardinal Meyer appointed Rev. Thomas V. Brody to form a new parish in Hickory Hills. One month later on Sunday, July 12, 1959, using the facilities at Dorn School, 7840 W. 92nd St., Fr. Brody offered the first Masses for this newly organized community of believers. By Sept. 24th of that year, the name St. Patricia had been selected by the Cardinal, and the parish boundaries were established. The boundaries were 79th St. on the North, 103rd St. on the South, Harlem Ave. on the East, and LaGrange Rd. on the West. Within this area, Fr. Brody set about serving the 265 founding families. Sunday Masses were offered in Oak Ridge School, 10301 S. 88th Ave., and weekday Masses were offered in the basement of a home at 9115 S. 87th Ave., which had been converted into a Rectory.
Under the leadership of Fr. Brody, the parish life of St. Patricia flourished despite the absence of buildings. Spiritual direction was provided during the construction proceedings, so that by May of 1960, two groups of students were ready for the Reception of First Communion and Confirmation respectively. These sacraments were received at St. Michael Church in Orland Park.
Emil Mastandria designed the Church and School buildings. The Church was planned in such a way that the building could be converted into eight classrooms if a permanent Church was ever constructed. The School originally contained 13 classrooms, but it was three of these that were transformed into temporary living quarters for the teaching Sisters. On the lower level were a hall and kitchen facilities. A five foot tall statue of St. Patricia, designed by the Studio of Daprato, was erected outside the entrance of the Church.
The construction of the Church building progressed swiftly that fall and by Dec. 8th, the altar, tabernacle, and side altars were installed. Even the unfinished structure allowed for the celebration of midnight mass for Christmas, 1960.
On Aug. 21, 1980, the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth accepted the invitation to staff the School. Although the school building was windowless, 300 students took their seats at card tables and folding chairs for their first day at the new St. Patricia School on Sept. 13, 1960. As a convent was not in the original plans for the parish, the teaching Sisters commuted from St. Blasé in Argo. By Nov. 14th, they were able to reside in a portion of the School prepared for their living quarters. Eight classrooms were fully equipped by Nov. 29th.
On April 23, 1961, Cardinal Meyer dedicated St. Patricia Church and School located at 9000 S. 86th Ave. Participants at this joyful celebration, along with Rev. Thomas Brody, were 50 priests including Right Rev. Monsignor William McManus, Superintendent of Archdiocesan Schools. The procession into Church was led by the Knights of Columbus and the school children. Five hundred parishioners witnessed the blessing of this new facility.
By 1965, the parish had 750 registered families and 675 school students. As it is with any growing family, the original building soon became too cramped of its numbers. In order to accommodate this growth, the parish rented nine mobile classrooms from the Chicago Public School system.
A successful fund drive under the leadership of the Parish Lay Advisory Committee was launched on Sunday, Aug. 2, 1964. Albert Danley, Ted Symanski, and Walter Kopping coordinated 250 volunteers who contacted all parishioners. Through their efforts, finances were provided so that construction was able to commence for a much needed Convent. By Nov., 1967, a bi-level structure at 8601 W. 89th St. became the new home for the Sisters.
Fr. Brody was named Pastor Emeritus in Feb., 1975. Rev. Norbert A. Chappell was named pastor of St. Patricia Church on Feb. 5, 1975. Under his able direction, the parish’s physical complex continued to grow to accommodate the increasing demands of an expanding community.
In 1961, Fr. Brody had hoped that in the near future the priests would be able to have their own domain on the parish grounds rather than a few blocks away. This new rectory though, did not become a reality until Dec. 17, 1977. A new facility was built south of the school building. The meeting room of the building was named in honor of Fr. Brody, the man who never had an opportunity to live there.
As the school enrollment increased, so did the students enrolled in the Religious Education Program. The program that was serving 1,000 students by 1978 was being coordinated by Sr. Veronica Rose and Fr. Daniel M. Tomich using facilities that had served the Parish well 10 years earlier. Recognizing the need for more space, the Parish built an addition to the school. The Directors of Religious Education had a modern office to be their center of activity by Dec., 1978. Storage for the whole parish became a real problem. As a solution, a storage unit was constructed attached to the garage in 1979.
Summer of 1980 unveiled a new look to the interior of St. Patricia Church. A project which started with a design in 1977 became a reality. The community spirit of growth and cooperation was truly demonstrated with this endeavor. Parishioners were presented with the new renovation program through meetings and pulpit information. As they were agreeable, an extensive pledge drive was undertaken.
Angelo Gherardi, an artist associated with Daprato-Rigali Studios, was responsible for St. Patricia’s new look. Before any remodeling occurred, an extension to the ceiling of the back was constructed. A monochromatic color scheme was achieved through a combination of pale yellow wall, rust carpeting, and gold and red decorations. Behind the celebrant’s chair, gold and orange were used in a semi-circular pattern in order to depict the shape of a chalice. An off-while circle painted in the center represents the Host, the Bread of Life. A cross extended from the center of the circle gives the appearance of strength even though it was delicately, sponge painted. Placed over the cross was a linden wood carved figure of the Risen Christ. This was the dominant figure in the total composition of the wall.
The furnishings, consisting of altars, lecterns, baptismal font and chairs were of walnut contemporary style. The celebrant’s chair has an interesting background. It was used only once before being placed in St. Patricia. That was for a cardinal at the Grant Park Mass during the Papal visit of Pope John Paul to Chicago on Oct. 6, 1979. Faceted glass windows capturing the color scheme completed the new design. The modern Stations of the Cross were imported from Italy.
St. Patricia did not just experience physical growth under the leadership of Fr. Brody and Fr. Chappell. These two priests demonstrated the ability to meet the needs of the ever growing congregation of St. Patricia. Of course, they were not alone in serving the parish. Rev. Richard Laske was the first associate to be assigned to the parish. He shared duties with Fr. Brody from July, 1961 until May, 1966. Throughout its 25 years, 18 archdiocesan priests have called the Hickory Hills community home. Fathers Cusack, Sum, Reynolds, Henkel, McBrady, Hugh O’Brien, James O’Brien, Fahey, Beno, Tomich, Gallagher, Sivore, and Lagges have all provided leadership to the parish. At present the 2500 families look to not only Rev. Nobert Chappell, but also to Rev. William E. Killeen and Rev. Anthony C. Puchenski, as a source of guidance. Over the years, three deacons, namely Fathers Sztorc, Winikates, and Joslyn, completed a year service at St. Patricia before their ordination. The need for weekend assistants was met through the generosity of two Orders of Priests, the Vincentians and the Crosiers.
The Second Vatican Council in 1963 provided many changes for the Roman Catholic Church. St. Patricia accepted these innovations. This was evidenced when two of its married members were ordained as lay deacons. Rev. Mr. Nobert Weitendorf and Rev. Charles Keegan have assumed positions of responsibility within the community. Norb ministers to the sick, especially those confined to nursing homes. Charles has played a vital role in establishing a much needed Community Services program.
Students of St. Patricia School have always benefited from a well defined philosophy. “St. Patricia School is a faith community, dedicated to the total growth and development of the child. Recognizing the dignity and differences of individual students, the faculty strives to develop each child’s spiritual, intellectual, and social potential.” The first four Sisters to exemplify this thought were Mother Mariella, Principal, Sr. Bruno, Sr. Leotine and Sr. Christine. When the school opened in 1960, three lay teachers and one more teaching sister promised to educate the children following this ideal. As with any school, St. Patricia has experienced enrollment increases as well as decreases. By 1965, the faculty of eight sisters and six lay teachers met the needs of the 630 students. The 1975 school staff was composed of ten sisters, 10 lay teachers, two teacher aides, and the school secretary. Under their direction, 555 students were instructed. Continuing to live by the school philosophy is the present staff of dedicated teachers, aides, and office support staff. The present enrollment is 182 students. Guided by Mrs. Jamie Nowinski, Principal for the last three years, the school has continued to expand its education programs.
The Religious Education Program has a vital role of instructing the students who attend public school in the tenets of their faith. Through the years, the Directors of Religious Education, Sr. Gloria Marie, Sr. Georgette, Sr. Veronica Rose, and Sr. Margaret, have had the tremendous responsibility of organizing a program that would best meet the educational abilities and spiritual background of every child. These goals have been achieved through a well structured program that meets on Saturday (grades 1-6) and Wednesday evenings (grades 7-8). Teachers in the program are comprised of religious and lay persons who are willing to share their faith with others. At the present time, approximately 600 students are enrolled. This is a lower number than in the past, but it does reflect the same enrollment decline that has been experienced by the local School District. To assist in early faith formation, a pre-school Religion Program is offered on Sunday mornings for four and five year olds.
Only through the active participation and cooperation of parishioners can any parish successfully fulfill its responsibilities. St. Patricia is no exception. Dedicated lay persons have been and are still involved in assisting their parish in numerous functions. The growth of the community is demonstrated by its many organizations: Parish Council, School Board, Parents Club, athletic Association, Youth Group, Senior Citizens, Holy Name Society, Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women, Married Couples Social Club, and Scout groups.
St. Patricia Parish is a community of historical significance despite its relatively short existence. Within this parish community, leadership was not just shown by its two pastors, but also by all those who have guided the parish whether the task was large or small.
It is during this Silver Jubilee Year that we remember our growth as a Christian community. We celebrate together all of our achievements and we renew ourselves to continue witnessing for Christ.
History of St. Patricia: Adapted from a paper
submitted to the Chicago Metro History Fair by Anita Turek