PREHISTORY OF ST. MARY OF THE ANGELS
The founding of St. Mary of the Angels is linked to immigration to our area of Chicago called Bucktown, which in the 1830s was mostly open fields used to pasture goats (the local people called male goats “bucks”). Many people fled war-torn Poland in the 1830s to come to the United States, the first settled in Jefferson Township, then Holstein, until Bucktown became the focus of the Polish Community. Germans and Irish also settled here.
In 1864, Polish families formed the patronage of St. Stanislaus Kostka and in 1869 bought land for a church—about a mile towards downtown from St. Mary of the Angels. The pastor of Holy Name Cathedral, Fr. Joseph Roles, approach Fr. Jerome Kajsiewicz, C.R., superior general of the newly founded Congregation of the Resurrectionists, to supply Polish priests for Chicago’s Polish and Bohemian emigrants. Until then, a Polish diocesan priest, Fr. Joseph Juszkiewicz, administered the parish. Fr. Kajsiewicz finally visited Chicago in 1871 and met with Bishop Foley, who formally agreed to entrust the Polish missions in Chicago to the Resurrectionists for the next ninety-nine years. They then took over St. Stanislaus Kostka parish.
The bishops of Chicago established more Polish churches as immigrants continue to pour into Chicago: St. Josaphat (in 1884), St. Hedwig (1888), St. John Cantius (1892), Holy Trinity (1893), St. Stanislaus Bishop-Martyr (a mission church from 1893–1901), and St. Hyacinth (1894); Holy Innocents (1905), St. Wenceslaus (1912), St. Helen (1913), St. Ladislaus and St. James (1914), St. Constance (1916), St. Thecla (1925), St. Fidelis (1926)—not to mention many other parishes on Chicago’s south and west side.
Fr. Francis Gordon, C.R.
St. Mary of the Angels was founded in the middle of this explosion of Polish parishes entrusted to the Resurrectionists. St. Stanislaus Kostka and St. Hedwig became so crowded that Fr. Barzynski, C.R., pastor of St. Stanislaus Kostka, asked Archbishop Feehan, in 1898, to carve out a new parish between the other two: the parish of St. Mary of the Angels was formed with Fr. Francis Gordon, age 39, as its first pastor. They broke ground for the church and school on April 21, 1899. The school was on the first floor, church on the second, and the priests’ residence in the back. Fr. Gordon celebrated the first Mass here on December 11, 1899.
The school began operations in 1900 with four Sisters of the Congregation of the Resurrection: Sister Ann Strzelecka, Sr. Casimira Szydzik, Sr. Sophie Podworska, and Sr. Mathilda Surej. These four are depicted with Fr. Gordon in the large painting on the side of the St. Joseph’s chapel.
With great fidelity to Catholicism and dedication to Polish immigrants, Fr. Francis Gordon, C.R., became a great figure in Chicago. Before becoming the founding pastor of St. Mary of the Angels, he headed the Polish newspaper, Dziennik Chicagoski, and founded the Polish Alma Mater in 1897, which served more than 10,000 youths in those years. He was called to be provincial superior of the Resurrectionists from 1918 until 1928. In 1924, Pope Pius XI award Father Gordon with the papal medal, Pro Ecclesia et Pan, for his extraordinary service to the Catholic Church in Chicago. The Archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal Mundelein, presented the medal to him at St. Mary of the Angels church.
Father Gordon resided at St. Mary of the Angels until his death on February 13, 1931. Let us thank God for his vision and generosity.