The Story of Saint Thecla
From wild flowers and strawberries to jet streams and space travel
From blacksmith shops and horse drawn carriages to exhaust fumes and refrigerated trailer trucks
From dirt roads and cow paths to express ways and rapid transit systems
This is the time slot in which St. Thecla Parish was founded and grew.
From 120 families to 1,600 families
From a small frame church built by the hands of the first parishioners
to the large brick church built by the hearts of today's parishioners,
St. Thecla has grown and prospered
From a small school with 112 pupils and four nuns teaching them
to a school that now has 446 pupils, 6 nuns, and 11 lay teachers
And add to that today's great scout troops, athletic teams, singing groups,
and many other parish organizations and activities.
from the Saint Thecla Golden Jubilee Book, 1975
St. Thecla has survived the distractions produced by over 75 years of man's progress - the automobile, motion pictures, radio, television, jet travel - and has grown as a vital, living, loving, community of families involved with each other and dedicated to instilling in their children the same values that drew the original families of St. Thecla together in their need to be one in Christ. While some may see the church as merely a building of mortar and brick, those who are truly the Church know it's a living community held together by an indestructible spiritual mortar that is nourished by a flow of love that began with our lord and is present among us through His gifts to us. We are His people, and our involvement with each other and Him, is His Church - a living, working, loving community that houses itself in a brick edifice that also is called His Church. Just as the outside bricks sometimes need tuck-pointing, so also do our spirits. But as long as our cornerstone is Christ, we have no fear of our temple crumbling. We are as strong as our cornerstone.
The Early Years
In the beginning years of St. Thecla Parish, Norwood Park was a sparsely populated area with open fields and wildflowers. A former resident recalled that only a few homes stood in the area north of the Chicago and North Western Railway (now the Union Pacific) tracks. No paved roads or sidewalks of any kind existed, only dirt roads and paths. The few people that lived in the area did some farming. At dusk, the lamplighter would travel through the neighborhood with his ladder and torch, lighting the gas street lights.
All families have their histories, and so it is with the family of St. Thecla Parish. In 1923, Father Francis Rusch, superintendent of St. Hedwig Orphanage, located at the southeast corner of Touhy and Harlem Avenues, was asked by a group of Polish workers at St. Adalbert Cemetery to organize a meeting to plan a new parish. Father Paul Sobota was selected to help with the organization of the new parish. [St. Hedwig Orphanage later became the Niles College of Loyola University, the college branch of the Archdiocesan seminary system. The buildings were demolished in the mid-1990s. The site is now occupied by the Renaissance Condominiums and Pioneer Park]. Among those present were such last names as Blaszczyk, Legudzinski, Rozengal, Szakowski, Klein, Truty, and Bold.
In the fall of 1924, almost a year after the first meeting, permission was granted by the chancery office to purchase property within the area bounded by Devon, Oak Park, Palatine and Newcastle Avenues, for an amount close to $7,500. Shortly thereafter, work began on the construction for what was to be known as St. Thecla Church. Our first church was built by volunteer workers. This church was erected on an open field at the northwest corner of Palatine and Oak Park Avenues (6708 W. Palatine). Father Sobota was appointed first pastor in 1925. At first he lived on a home he purchased on Imlay Avenue. Later he purchased and lived in a home on the corner of Palatine and Newcastle Avenues in which the SMA priests would later reside. On the feast of the Assumption, August 15, 1925, the first Mass was offered at St. Thecla. Thus, began the spiritual life of a parish that numbered about 120 families.
The first St. Thecla Church, a white frame structure, was a combination church and school. Because of the dual purpose, the building had no pews, but instead it was furnished with wood folding chairs. These chairs could be set up in rows for Mass and moved to different sections of the building to form classes. Electricity had not yet been installed. Consequently, candles and lanterns were the source of light for evening activities in the parish. Our first church did have an organ, a manually pumped type, donated by St. Josaphat's Parish. Sr. Mary Lillian, C.R., assumed the task of the organist, and music became part of our liturgical ceremonies.
Since the beginning of St. Thecla School, the sisters of the Resurrection staffed the school. During the first year, nuns commuted to St. Thecla from Resurrection Convent on Talcott Avenue.
By the second year, 1926, St. Thecla doubled its size growing to 250 families and about 1,000 total parishioners. The original school, housed in the frame church grew from 112 to nearly 200 students. Once the parishioners realized how fast the new parish was growing, they immediately set out to raise money for a bigger church and school. There were picnics and bazaars, where the community got together to have a day of fun and enjoyment, with the proceeds going towards the improvement of the parish. Most of the picnics were at the Natoma Park grounds, the area on and around the northwest corner of Imlay and Milwaukee Avenues.
Additional land costing $20,000 was purchased to complete the area now owned by St. Thecla. On June 26, 1927, the cornerstone was laid for the reddish-brown brick, combination church-school building at the corner of Palatine and Newcastle Avenues (6323 N. Newcastle). It was construed at a cost of $122,000. The church occupied the first floor, while the school and convent filled the second floor.
The parish continued to grow. In 1927, school enrollment increased to 220, the teaching staff grew to six nuns, and the first class graduated. By 1928, families numbered 260 totaling about 1,200 people. In 1929, the faculty increased to seven nuns. There were 378 families by 1930 with a population of 1, 615. There were three Sunday Masses to serve the growing congregation. Father Charles Marcinkiewicz served as our parish's second pastor from August 27, 1929 through August 1935. Under his direction the old church building was expanded to create a rectory. New additions included rooms for priests, a kitchen, a dining room, a library, parlor, and office space. The original church sanctuary was converted into a hall used for meetings and social gatherings.
It became obvious by 1930 that St. Thecla School had once again out grown its space. Education required more space and improved facilities to serve the needs of children in the growing technological world to hear from you and times called expanded social awareness. Consequently, in 1930, the front section of the church was converted into newly furnished classrooms occupied by the seventh and eighth grades. St. Thecla parishioners were always a devout and energetic group. Many organizations and activities enhanced the lives of our early Parish settlers. An adult, children's, and junior choir, Women's Altar Rosary Society and Holy Name Society were formed. Holy Days, such as Corpus Christi, were beautiful, festival occasions. Processions were conducted around the entire parish grounds, with pauses at specially erected altars on the four corners of the block. Another special church service was Forty Hours Devotion, at which the Blessed Sacrament would be exposed on the main altar for adoration.
The Second Generation
On August 31 1935, St. Thecla welcomed its third pastor, Father Francis E. Dampts. In During that time Father Dampts was pastor, Northwest Chicago was growing rapidly. In 1952, to help accommodate the increasing number of school age children in the vicinity, the Sisters' summer porch was transformed into two large classrooms. However, this addition did not solve a problem for long. Once again, the number of classrooms have to be increased. The solution was to build a separate convent for the Sisters.
IIn 1954, under the guidance of Father Dampts, plans were undertaken to build a convent at 6333 N. Newcastle Avenue, north of the school. The new convent was ready for occupancy in 1957. At that time, the Sisters' quarters in the school were converted into additional classrooms. While Father Dampts was pastor, St. Thecla became too large to be served by one priest. In 1945, Father Hubert Hoffman arrived to aid with the work in our parish. Father Hoffman served saying that a lot until July 1949, when our associate pastor, Father Eugene Siedlecki, was appointed. In 1955, St. Thecla hired the first two lay teachers to be part of the teaching staff. This was a major step because, at that time, most Catholic schools shunned such an idea. Today, the faculty of twenty one is totally composed of lay teachers. With the constant growth of our parish, Father Anthony Chrusciel was appointed as pastoral associate on July 6, 1957, to serve long was Father Siedlecki. Since that time, our church has always had a staff of three priests, a pastor and two associates.
By late 1950s, the parish had grown to 1100 families. Since enrollment number 506 pupils. Once again, the existing facilities no longer were adequate for the needs of the prospering parish. About four years before the current church was built, Father Dampts told the parishioners that there was slightly more than $16,000 in a fund for the new structure. He asked only those parishioners accordingly to their ability. There were to be no fund drives, pledges, or memorial plaques. As one parishioner recalled, Father Dampts spoke, " Who builds a church for faith and not for fame, wants not in marble etched his name". In 1958, plans are underway to construct a new church for St. Thecla. The cornerstone was laid on July 26, 1962.
Father Dampts celebrated the first mass in the present church on the Feast of Saint Thecla October 25, 1962. His eminence, Albert Cardinal Meyer presided at the dedication ceremonies, which were held March 31, 1963. At that time, the parish was composed of 1,150 families with 613 children enrolled in the school.
With the new church built, the former sanctuary in the church/school building was converted to school use. In space, four classrooms, a library, and school office were built. These changes increased the number of classrooms on the first floor to six. In January 1964, Father Chrusciel was replaced by Father Ed Maraczewski. On June 25th of the same year, Father Ed Mika was assigned to Saint Thecla, when father Siedlecki was reassigned. Father Mika served our parish for two years, until March 1966. On April 12, 1966, Saint Thecla welcomed the addition of Father Robert Darow to the pastoral staff. In 1963, Father Dampts had been named a Domestic Prelate with the title Right Reverend Monsignor. By 1968, he had served as pastor of St. Thecla for 33 years. He had expanded the school, built the convent, erected a modern church, and gained the love and respect of every parishioner. Through his humanity, devotion, and wisdom, he made St. Thecla a community of interacting, involved Christians. Because he reached the age of retirement established by the Archdiocese of Chicago, Monsignor Dampts left active service at Saint Thecla on December 15th 1968. He continued to live within the parish serving as a pastor emeritus until his death on March 13, 1987.
Father Matt A. Bednarz was named St. Thecla's fourth pastor in 1968. In July 1969, Father Joe Curtis was assigned to our parish, replacing Father Ed Maraczewski as associate pastor.
While Father Bednarz was pastor, St. Thecla continued to grow. Under his direction, a new rectory was constructed immediately west of the church on the southeast corner of Devon and Newcastle Avenues (6725 W. Devon). In February 1973, shortly before the new rectory was completed, fire swept through the existing rectory (6708 W. Palatine), which was also used as a gymnasium for the school children. The fire occurred in the early morning hours. When the flames were finally extinguished, the building, once St. Thecla's first church, was destroyed. No one was injured and some of the parish records were saved, but most of the personal possessions of our priests were lost.
Father Bednarz was responsible for keeping St. Thecla current with the changing times. He in introduced changes proposed by the Second Vatican Council into our church including Deacons and Extraordinary Ministers. Organizations such as the School Board, Liturgy Committee, and Leisure Club are off springs of Father Bednarz's ideas. To improve our church building and comfort for parishioners during summer months, Father Bednarz added air-conditioning. To enhance our liturgies, a new organ was purchased. In the summer of 1974, Father Darrow was reassigned and Father Kyle was appointed to the staff of St. Thecla. Staff changes continued in the winter of 1975, with Father Curtis being transferred, and a seminarian Jim Balija became a resident at our parish. In the summer of 1975, Father Ralph Strand and Father James Joslyn were appointed to St. Thecla, succeeding Father Balija who was ordained and reassigned. Father Kyle was also transferred. St. Lydia Mary Yokuel, C.R., became the new school principal.
During 1975, St. Thecla Church and School were redecorated in anticipation of the Golden Jubilee. A coat of paint and new carpeting ware added to the school. Several major changes were mad e to the church. The altar rail, old permanent altar, and portable altar were removed. A new altar with a carved Last Supper on its front side, new lecterns, and carpeting were installed. Bishop McManus presided at a Mass of Thanksgiving on November 2, 1975. By the late 1970s, St. Thecla parish numbered approximately 1,600 registered families, most lived in the area bounded by Milwaukee Avenue and St Adalbert Cemetery to the north, Northwest Highway on the south, Nagle Avenue on the east and Harlem Avenue on the west.
A little more than half the parish membership is composed of second and third generation Poles. About one-fourth of the parish is Irish with the rest of the membership divided between Germans and Italians. Since the early 1970s, new parishioners have included the families of policemen and firemen who have moved into the neighborhood. In 1978, 428 children were enrolled in the school under the direction of six Sisters of the Resurrection and 11 lay teachers.
Active parish organizations include the School Board, Liturgy Committee, Leisure Club for Senior Citizens, Adult Education Committee, Pro-Life Committee, Theater Group, Guitar Group, CCD Committee, Parish Choir, and Boys' Choir. A scouting program, Junior Great Books, and a sports program involving football and wrestling have been established for the youth of the parish. The gym program at St. Thecla school is one of the best in the city. The parish is involved in interfaith projects such as the annual Church Unity Octave Service, World Day of Prayer, and the Good Friday Stations of the Cross service. (Rev. Msgr. Harry C. Koenig, ed. A History of the Parishes of the Archdiocese of Chicago (Chicago, 1980), p. 922).
The Third Generation
The late 1970s and early 1980s saw great chances in Church Leadership. The world mourned when Pope Paul died in 1978. His replacement, Pope John Paul I, also died in 1978. A Polish Cardinal, Karol Wojtyla, became Pope John Paul II, the second new pope within several months. This Polish pope has been a favorite among Poles of Chicago and St. Thecla. In fact, as a personal friend of Father Matt Bednarz, our parish was particularly excited. An unprecedented event occurred when Pope John Paul II visited Chicago, and on his way from O'Hare Airport to the Archbishop's Residence, drove through Norwood Par. His Motorcade traveled along Nagle, Haft, and Milwaukee Avenues, amidst cheering observers.
The Chicago Archdiocese lost John Cardinal Cody who died in 182. Joseph Bernadin was named the new Archbishop and elevated to cardinal in 1983. He remained in this capacity until his death in November 1996. The new Archbishop, Francis George, O.M.I., originally from St. Pascal Church, a nearby northwest side parish, was appointed in 1997 and elevated to cardinal in 1998. Fund raising has always been an important source of revenue for the parish, and organizations became very creative. During this time period, new events joined old favorites Some of the diverse events included ice cream socials, bake sales, pasta dinners, dances, such as a Square Dance and a "Come as You Were" Sock Hop in 1983, and Rock around the Block in 1986, a talent Show in 1986, Christmas Craft Bazaars, paper and aluminum can drives, flea markets, car washes, Atlantic City Nights, Speakeasy Nights, Burger King, tradition which has continued. In 1982, they served 13, 423 pancakes.
In 1978, Partners in Education (P.I.E.), was formed to help improve communications between parents and school faculty, a perceived need at the time, as well as to assist in raising funds for the school. Currently, known as the Family School Association (F.S.A.), this organization started one of the more popular and very successful fund raisers, the Pizza Factory. In 1978 alone, volunteers made 2,300 pizzas for which the children had taken orders. The biggest of all fund raisers, the Carnival, began in 1985. Many were skeptical, but it proved to be a huge success. Who could resist local parish celebrities in a dunk tank, bumper cars, rides that turned you upside down, jar games, food and beer tents, live entertainment, and cotton candy? The carnival continues to be a major source of funds for St. Thecla School and fun for everyone from near and far. In addition, there were other forms of fun and social activity. In 980, a teen Club was formed, the first Parish Fest and the first Spring Band and Choir Festival were held. The year 1986 was ushered in with a New Year's Eve dance sponsored by the Parish.
St. Thecla also expanded its community involvement through such efforts as blood drives and participation in local issues. On August 3, 1980, and enormous meeting was held in Church Hall to discuss the proposed condominium complex on the site of the Lilac Farm grocery store. Community residents expressed their adamant opposition. On August 25, 1980, the Henry Rincker House, built in 1851 and a designated Chicago landmark, which was part of the same large site, was "accidentally demolished". Despite large signs indicating its landmark status, alert neighbors called police upon arrival of the first bulldozer. The fight went on for some time. In April 1982, St. Thecla Parish organized buses to transport community members to a City of Chicago City Council Committee on Zoning meeting to voice their continued opposition to the proposed condominiums, outrage at the so-called "accidental demolition", and desire for a quality grocery store. The situation was eventually resolved. Lilac Farm was demolished, the Butera Grocery store was remodeled into a Walgreen's drug store and several smaller shops were built, a Dominick's grocery store and several smaller shops were built. A plaque was installed to commemorate the Rincker House.
Natural phenomena also had their effect of the community. The infamous blizzard of 1979 began in January and seemed to go on forever. Chicagoans shoveled, shoveled and then shoveled some more until there was no place to put the snow. Front-end loaders came down streets to remove piles of snow. Day after day, dozens of semi-trucks loaded with snow parked in the median along Milwaukee Avenue waiting their turn to dump the snow into Caldwell Woods and the Chicago River. When spring came and the snow finally melted, all kinds of "treasures" were found in the parks, forest preserves, and other available spaces where the snow was deposited. It took several years for the parks to recover.
Two "hundred year" floods occurred within a year. The first in September 1986, was the result of two weeks of continuous rain. Water rose well over the banks of the Des Plaines River, which was sandbagged. Many backyards became ponds, and many basements took in great quantities of water from seepage, as the water table rose, or from sewer backups when they became overloaded. The second flood, on august 13-14, 1987, was the result of approximately nine inches of rain falling in approximately twelve hours. Again, the ground became saturated and sewers could not keep up creating backyard ponds and basement pools. Streets were flooded. The Kennedy Expressway at Addison Street was under water and the "L" in its median stopped running. Canoeists had a rare opportunity to paddle through Norwood Parks. As residents cleaned, the alleys were filled with personal and household items ruined by water.
A number of parishioners celebrated special events in 1986. Sr. Timothea Reinert, C.R., who attended St. Thecla between 1925 and 1931, celebrated her Golden Jubilee. Cara Dunne won a Silver Medal in the Women's Giant Slalom in Sweden, at the World Championship for the disabled, where she represented the United States on the Totally Blind Women's Alpine Team. Lt. Col. (Ret.) Edward S. Michael, a WWII Medal of Honor winner, returned to Norwood Park to be the Grand Marshall in the Memorial Day Parade. The residents of Schreiber Avenue watched, along with hundreds of their closest friends, while their homes and front yards became Cleveland for a Michael J. Fox and Joan Jett movie entitled, "The Light of Day".
Meanwhile, the spiritual life of the parish was evolving. The first Polka Mass and the First Christmas Eve Family Mass were celebrated in 1975. During the 1980s, girls were invited to become altar servers, the Lay Ministers of Care were created (1982), and the Sunday schedule included four masses. St. Thecla Parish hosted several events including the Conference of the Laity (1981), Apostolate of the Handicapped (1982 & 1987), and Marian Year Celebration (1987-88). Personal spiritual growth was fostered through the three year RENEW program (1984-87), a parish retreat at Villa Redeemer (1988), and a Lenten Program where parish priests visited small groups of parishioners at their homes to discuss the Bible and Church of today (1989). The sick and elderly were ministered through such annual liturgies as a communal anointing of the sick and distribution of Easter baskets at the Regency Nursing Home. Rainbows for All God's Children (1989) provided support for children who had suffered significant losses. Two priests celebrated their first Mass at St. Thecla, Father Austin Collins in 1982 and Father Michael Zaniolo on June 5, 1988.
During this period, the challenging job of school principal was still being filled by the Sisters of the Resurrection. Sr. Elaine Tworek became principal in 1979, replacing Sr. Lydia Mary Yokiel. Sr. Carolyn Sniegowski replaced Sr. Elaine in 1980, staying until 1983. Sr. Andela Zimney served from 1983 to 1987. Sr. Jane Siciliano, I.B.V.M., who has the distinction of being St. Thecla School's last religious principal, served until 1990. Fr. Ralph Strand, who had come to St. Thecla in 1975, was transferred to St. Francis Borgia in 1981. He was replaced by Father Edward Hoover, who served as our associate pastor from 1981 to 1982. Father Thomas Moran replaced Father Hoover and served our parish from 1982 to 1988. In 1988, Father Thomas Campanile replaced Father Moran. He was reassigned to Our Lady Mother of the Church in 1990.
On December 31, 1987, Father Matt Bednarz retired as pastor and took up residence at St. Hillary Parish, where Father Robert Darow was pastor. Prior to the retirement of Father Matt, the church was redecorated, a new organ was installed, and the roof was re shingled. Father Gerald E. Rogala, finishing his term as pastor of St. Josaphat Parish in Chicago, was appointed the fifth pastor of St. Thecla Parish on January 1, 1988. Father Rogala, a native of Waukegan, was ordained at St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in 1966. Prior to coming to Norwood Park to serve as pastor of St. Thecla, he served as associate pastor of St. John Brebeuf in Niles, as a member of the faculty of Niles College, as associate pastor of St. John Berchmans, and as administrator and then pastor at St. Josaphat.
This was a period when the reforms of the Second Vatican Council were continued and the functions of the parish were updated and extended. One of the most important directions of the Council was the call to holiness. "All Christians in a state or walk of life are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of love" (Constitution on the Church #40). This direction of the Church encouraged Catholics to deepen their own life with God and more deeply involved with the mission of the parish.
One important decision reached by the Pastoral Council was the reinstatement of the Mass in Polish. Originally, St. Thecla served Polish-speaking Catholics, in addition to all Catholics within its boundaries. The Polish Masses were discontinued because subsequent generations of parishioners were fluent in English. A new wave of Polish immigrants arrived in the 1970s and 1980s. The parish responded to their religious needs by hosting weekend Masses, devotions, and special events conducted in Polish. Other groups such as the welcoming committee and the Polish Mass Committee, were formed to meet the changing needs of the parish and to better carry on its mission.
In the 1990s, the Archdiocese of Chicago began to experience a serious shortage of religious sisters and priests. Sr. Timothea Reinert, C.R., the last religious sister to teach at St. Thecla School, retired in 1992. Ms. Deborah McCloskey became the first lay principal in 1990, serving until 1996. Mr. Michael Ritchie served as principal from 1996 to 2000.
Father Leon Rezula arrived to serve as associate pastor in 1991, replacing Father Campana. In 1999, Father Kenneth Budzikowski replaced Father Rezula.
The pastoral needs of the parish were augmented by visiting and non-Archdiocese priests. These included Father Patrick Rugen, who served as weekend celebrant for many years beginning in 1982. A number of priests from Poland have ministered to all the members of St. Thecla Parish. Although the priests struggled with the English language and many parishioners did not always understand them, both groups benefited greatly from the experience. The Polish priests who served St. Thecla included Fathers Waldemar Kilian (1991-95), Miroslaw Kiwka (1995-96), Wojcieh Zieba (1996-98), Adam Galek (1998-99), and Slawek Mankowski (1999-2001), Andrzej Bartosz (2001-07), Robert Pajor (2007-09) and Pawel Komperda (2009-Present). In 1998, the Sunday schedule was reduced to three masses. The two Saturday evening Masses, one in Polish, were retained. Later, the Polish mass was moved to 12:20pm on Sundays and in 2007 it was changed to ten minutes later.
The permanent deacons who served St. Thecla included James Belanger, Robert Cnota, Nicholas Kob, Edmund Tryba, and William Vastine. Eugene Bates is still active. Michael Zaniolo served as deacon in residence in 1988. Currently, our deacons are John Rottman, Steven Wagner and Robert Cnota. The parish was also served by a number of lay pastoral associates, religious education directors and secretaries. Mrs. Louise Hanley is our current Director of Religious Education. Michelle Bukowski replaced long-time Parish Secretary Ann Brady in 1998. A new position of Parish Coordinator was created in 1995. Mrs. Joan Czerlanis pioneered this position and has contributed much to the smooth functioning of the parish. In 1998, Robert Shack, Director of Music, celebrated his 50th anniversary of serving St. Thecla as organist and choir director.
During the 1990s, St. Thecla was the site of many special events. Some were spiritual or social, while others were personal accomplishments. In 1994, the Feast of the Corpus Christi was celebrated outdoors with a procession, prayers, and songs at four altars. It also commemorated the sesquicentennial of the Archdiocese of Chicago. In 1996, members of St. Joseph Ukrainian Catholic Church celebrated the Eucharist in the Eastern Rite at St. Thecla, and Father John Szmyd celebrated his first Mass. St. Thecla hosted the World Day of Prayer (1997) with a South Korean theme and the centennial celebration of the Knights of Columbus Lafayette Council #361. The National Catholic Educational Association Distinguished Graduate Award for St. Thecla was given to Father John Szmyd in 1997. In 1998, Cardinal Francis George blessed Easter baskets. The Women's Council, which had evolved from the Altar and Rosary Society, held its 25th Fashion Show in 1995. The Leisure Club celebrated its 25th anniversary in 1998. The Niles Concert Choir and Symphony performed at St. Thecla in 1995, 1996 and 1997. The choir form our sharing parish, Transfiguration of Our Lord, performed in 1995 and 1997. A post-Christmas dance and buffet dinner were sponsored by the Polish-speaking community, led by Father Galek.
A variety of changes were made to the parish's physical plant. In 1992, the convent was converted to parish offices and meeting rooms, complete with handicapped access. In 1998, the church tower was cleaned, a new center aisle across the church was created, and the piano was moved out of the sanctuary to create a more intimate musical space amidst the worshipers. Through the decade, the school was tuck-pointed, received a new roof, boiler, doors, widows, window treatments, and an adequate electric power upgrade to bring in internet access.
As the average age of parishioners rose, there were fewer children in the community. Tuition rates increased as the number of children declined and the number of lay faculty grew. In 1998, 240 students were enrolled in the school. It provided a computer laboratory, a kindergarten, and programs for three-year old and four-year-old children.
The school athletic program was expanding and teams were winning city-wide championships. For many years, school parents lobbied for a bigger gymnasium so that the physical education program, conducted in the church hall, could have bigger, more appropriate space. Basketball and football games were held at the hosting schools or at rented facilities. Very fortunately, in November 1998, representatives of an anonymous donor approached Father Rogala with a very generous offer to help the parish. This made possible many of the improvements to the school cited earlier and the St. Thecla Falcon Hall.
The construction of St. Thecla Falcon Hall was, by far, the biggest improvement to the parish plant, since the completion of the new church in 1963 and the new rectory in 1973. It was made possible by anonymous donation of $1.5 million and contributions from parishioners. The ground breaking occurred on June 27, 1999. The 14,000 square foot multi-purpose building features a new gym complete with an auditorium stage, meeting space with 180-person occupancy, a kitchen and storage areas. Also, students now eat their lunch in the new building which has been connected to the school. It opened in May 2000. As visitors approach Falcon Hall from the parking lot, they are greeted by a statue of an angel which was erected as a reminder of the gifts we received from the parishioners, both past and present, generous donors, and especially from the Lord. Father Rogala initiated a Parish Endowment Fund which is intended to provide for the care of all parish facilities.
On October 25, 2000, Cardinal Francis George, O.M.I, presided over a special Mass of Thanksgiving commemorating the 75th anniversary of St. Thecla Parish. Immediately after this Mass, the Cardinal officially dedicated the St. Thecla Falcon Hall. Five hundred ninety parishioners and friends continued the celebration with a banquet and formal dance at the White Eagle Restaurant in Niles, Illinois. It is located directly across Milwaukee Avenue from the entrance to St. Adalbert Cemetery, whose workers organized in 1923 to petition for the formation of a new parish, Saint Thecla.
In 2001, under the guidance of Fr. Kenneth A. Budzikowski, the church interior was remodeled for a modern and serene feel. The interior was completed in 2005. I n 2008, Fr. Robert Pajor introduced a Wednesday novena and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament from 6pm to 7pm in the Polish language. In 2009 the parish extended the adoration to a trilingual adoration in Polish, English and Latin from 1pm to 7pm every Wednesday.
With God's grace, the leadership of the priests and lay staff, and the support and cooperation of the parishioners and friends of St. Thecla, our parish continues to advance into the fullness of Christian life and the perfection of love. The people and priests of St. Thecla Parish look forward to entering and living in the third Christian Millennium with renewed faith, hope and love.
Parish Statistics 1976-1999
Baptisms - 1,400
First Communion - 1, 261
Confirmation - 1, 330
Marriages - 800
Funerals - 2, 243
September 5th, 1925
Victor Tabisz and Mary Paduch
Saint Thecla Church
Dedicated: March 31, 1963 by Albert Cardinal Meyer
Tower: 70 feet, 7 inches
Extends from tower down Devon Avenue 205 feet
Seating capacity: 1,042 main floor, 87 in choir loft
Made possible by an anonymous donation of $1.5 million and contributions from parishioners
Groundbreaking ceremony: June 27, 1999
14,000 sq. ft. multi-purpose building
Gymnasium, Auditorium Stage, Meeting Space with a 180-person occupancy, kitchen and storage
Dedication: October 15, 2000 by Cardinal Francis George
Written By: The Saint Thecla Church Diamond Jubilee History Committee in 2000
Revised by: David Szmigielski