Formerly St. Mary Assumption in Joliet, Illinois and St. Mary in Chicago and Oak Lawn, Illinois
The Joliet Parish
At the beginning of the 20th century, the only Eastern Christian parish in Joliet, Illinois, was St. Nicholas Greek Catholic Church located on Joliet's
ethnically populated east side. This parish eventually came under the administration of the Russian Orthodox Church. Greek Catholics of Slovak, Rusin and
Ukrainian descent who were attending St.
Nicholas parish gathered in 1903 to lay plans for their own Greek Catholic Church.
It was not until 1915 that a new Greek Catholic church edifice was built on the east side of Joliet by these individuals. Carved into the keystone of this
new parish in the original Slavonic language was the name, "Dormition of the Mother of God, Uhro-Rusin Greek Catholic Church." For convenience
sake, and as a result of the process of Americanization of these original immigrant founders, the parish became known as "St. Mary Assumption, Greek
Catholic Church." A small Hungarian Greek Catholic contingent in this largely Carpatho-Rusin parish eventually became members of a neighboring Hungarian
Roman Catholic parish. The Hungarian Greek Catholic presence at St. Mary's faded.
The original cornerstone document makes mention of two Apostolic administrators at the time of the dedication of St. Mary's on August 20, 1917: Fr. Gabriel
Martyak for the Uhro-Rusin people and Fr. Peter Ponyatishin for the Ukrainian people. The first priests to serve St. Mary's during this time were Michael
Balog, Joseph Dzendzera and Myron Volkay.
During the next several decades St. Mary's parish grew in size and strength. Eventually, the parish established its own "Mt. Calvary" cemetery
on 20 acres of land. In 1959 an elementary school was built. Later a convent and an auditorium for the school and other multi-purpose facilities were added.
Throughout a long period of St. Mary's history, the Byzantine Catholic Benedictine Orders of nuns and priests were of invaluable assistance to the school
and to the parish itself. Much of the building occurred during the pastorate of Benedictine Father Gregory Petruska. Throughout the years the Benedictine
monks of St. Procopius Abbey in Lisle, Illinois, not only assisted St. Mary's parish in Joliet but also offered the use of their college chapel for outreach
efforts on the part of the parish.
Major demographic changes began to occur in the complexion of American society especially in the 1960's and 1970's. The once proud and tightly-knit ethnic
neighborhoods began to dissolve, and the younger generations of the original Greek Catholic Rusin founders of St. Mary's became more and more dispersed.
An upshot of the changes that St. Mary's witnessed during this period was the closing of the parish school in 1988 and a change of pastors. Fr. Bruce Riebe,
a newly ordained priest who was native to the region, was assigned as pastor to St. Mary's during this difficult transition. In October, 1993, Fr. Thomas
J. Loya was assigned as pastor of St. Mary's and the parish entered into a period of serious discernment about its future. It was this process of discernment
that gave rise to the a new parish which would be located in Homer Township, Illinois.
The Chicago Parish and Oak Lawn Mission
On June 11, 1903, a group of faithful Carpatho-Rusin Greek Catholics organized into a parish. By 1905 a new church was built on the corner of 50th Street
and South Seeley Avenue on Chicago's renowned south side. It was near the area fondly known as the "Back O' the Yards" (stockyards.) The members
referred to their church as the "First Greek Catholic Church of St. Mary's of Chicago."
The "First Greek Catholic Church" was formally dedicated On October 14, 1906, on the Feast of the "Protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary."
However, the church building was destroyed by fire on February 14, 1909. Rebuilding the church was completed nearly one year later on February 1, 1910.
The parish's first pastor was Fr. Victor Kovaliczky who was assigned to St. Mary's in 1905.
The 1910 church eventually became a school for the parish. In 1926 a new and much larger church structure was built at the South Seeley Avenue location.
The new church was built for an approximate cost of $140,000 and dedicated on Labor Day 1926 by Bishop Basil Takach.
Holy Protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary (St. Mary's) parish began to realize a period of great growth and dynamism. During the twenty-two year pastorate
of Fr. Eugene Bereczky, the parish saw the construction of a convent and a parish grade school. By 1955 the grade school had an enrollment of 93 students.
During the 1960's and 1970's, St. Mary's parish began to feel the impact of the dramatic demographic changes occurring across America's once proud ethnic
neighborhoods In an attempt to reach out to the increasing diaspora of its younger generation, Pastor Fr. John Kurty and the members of St. Mary's purchased
a building and property in 1978 on the corner of 90th Avenue and Oak Park Avenue in the nearby suburb of Oak Lawn. The building was a former Methodist church,
but for St. Mary's, it would now become known as their "Mission parish."
The establishment of Annunciation Parish, Homer Township, IL.
In response to the major demographic changes and rapidly changing urban profile impacting both parishes and mission, the Eparchy of Parma, during the time
of the administration of Bishop Andrew Pataki, initiated the Midwest Development Project. Through the medium of this new Project the Eparchy took a hard
took at how the demographic changes of recent decades had impacted the Byzantine Catholic community in the Northern Illinois region. Three principle resources
were also evaluated: available clergy, number of Faithful and financial assets of the two St. Mary parishes and the Mission in Oak Lawn.
There were, however, other dynamic forces and changes occurring in the life of the Church both East and West during this same time. Through the implementation
of new Statutes, Codes of Canon Law, Vatican Council documents and Papal Letters, the Eastern Catholic Churches were being called to a new era of self-discovery
With all of the factors considered, the process of discernment lead the Eparchy into what was deemed to be the direction that would provide for the strongest
future for Byzantine Catholics in the Northern Illinois region. It was decided that the Chicago parish, the Oak Lawn Mission and the Joliet parish would
combine their resources and together build a new parish in the heart of one of Northern Illinois' most rapidly developing suburban areas. The far flung
Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic Community would be called together to a new home. From that new home, Byzantine Catholics of Northern Illinois would prophetically,
creatively and courageously respond to the call of the Byzantine Catholic Church in the new Millennium.
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