St. Camillus Parish in Garfield Ridge, located at 5426 South Lockwood Avenue Chicago, IL 60638, is even closer to Midway Airport than St. Bruno’s Parish in Archer Heights. It was founded in 1918 as a Polish mission of St. Joseph Parish in Summit, Illinois. The parish was founded as such in 1921.
The Garfield Ridge Community Area, which is Community Area #56 on the map of Chicago. [I profiled the Garfield Ridge Branch of the Chicago Public Library and Garfield Ridge in “The Garfield Ridge Branch Library” and Summit-Argo and the Summit Public Library District (SPLD) in “What is the Summit Public Library District? Parts I-III.”] Beginning in 1918, Fr. Thomas P. Bona, Pastor of St. Joseph Church, and his assistant, Fr. Maximillian Warkocki, celebrated Mass for Polish Catholics in an empty store at 5228 South Archer Avenue.
Two Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth opened a school in a hall at the northeast corner of Archer Avenue and Lockwood Avenue. They commuted each day from St. Joseph School, which was then located at 7438 West 61st Place in Argo, Illinois.
In 1919, the property was purchased at the northwest corner of 55th Street and Lockwood Avenue directly across the street from Meadows Golf Course (which later made way for Midway Airport). Here a one-story brick building was constructed in 1920 and this structure served as a combination church and school for the mission, which was then known as St. Florian’s Mission.
In other words, originally it was named in honor of the same martyr as St. Florian’s Parish in Hegewisch (profiled in Part IV). The mission initially served seventy families.
In October of 1921, St. Florian Mission was reorganized as the ethnic parish of St. Camillus, and Fr. Leo Sychowski became the first resident pastor. He came to Garfield Ridge from St. Casimir Church at 22nd Street and Whipple Street where he had been assistant pastor. Fr. Sychowski resided in a house at 5218 South Lockwood Avenue, which had belonged to the Walkowicz family.
The next year, construction began on the present St. Camillus Church. It was joined to the existent combination building at 55th Street and Lockwood Avenue, and in order to achieve symmetry, a wing was added to the west side of the church. These wings became classrooms.
In 1924, the parish acquired an apartment building at 5430 South Lockwood Avenue for use as a rectory. By the next year, St. Camillus School had 300 children.
Under the supervision of Fr. Boleslaus J. Kasprzyski, who had replaced Fr. Sychowski in 1927, a three-story addition to the rear of the original wing on Lockwood Avenue was built in 1928. The parish thereby gained a hall, more classroom space, and more convent space for the sisters.
By 1935, St. Camillus Parish served 320 families, with 260 children in St. Camillus School. During World War II, many parishioners worked in defense plants, including a Studebaker plant at Archer Avenue and Cicero Avenue, and a Ford Motor Company plant at 76th Street and Cicero Avenue. In 1944, a 2:30 a.m. Sunday Mass was inaugurated to serve these defense workers. This Mass proved so popular that it continued to be held for about twenty years.
Cardinal Stritch celebrated a Solemn High Mass to celebrate the parish’s silver jubilee on October 20, 1946. In November, 1953, Fr. Kasprzycki was named a Domestic Prelate with the title Right Reverend Monsignor. Following Monsignor Kasprzycki’s death on May 17, 1957, Fr. Stanislaus J. Gruchot served as Administrator of St. Camillus Church. He had been an Assistant Pastor of St. Camillus Parish for five years.
In July of 1957, Fr. Joseph J. Mackowiak became pastor. He came to this parish from Bridgeport, where he had been an assistant pastor at St. Barbara Church (profiled in Part II).
Fr. Mackowiak continued Monsignor Kasprzycki’s plans to enlarge the parish’s physical plant. On August 17, 1958, ground was broken for two new buildings.
A new rectory was constructed at 5426 South Lockwood Avenue and a combination building at 5434 South Lockwood Avenue. The latter had eight classrooms and accommodations for twelve sisters.
Bishop Hillinger dedicated both buildings on October 25, 1959, at which time St. Camillus School had 600 students. Fr. Gruchot was transferred in July of 1959, and the newly ordained Fr. Walter Koszut and Fr. Leo Bogdan were assigned to St. Camillus to assist the pastor. Fr. Koszut was transferred in July of 1964 and Father Robert Byczybski was assigned to St. Camillus.
Fr. Mackowiak initiated negotiations with American Airlines to purchase its parking lot on 55th Street between Lorel Avenue and Long Avenue. The Archdiocese of Chicago purchased the property for $50,000 in 1965. It would provide parking space for a new church building.
In February, 1965, Fr. Mackowiak was named Pastor of St. Wenceslaus Church (profiled in Part II). His successor was Fr. Stanislaus J. Kwiek, a former assistant pastor at St. Valentine’s Church, a Polish ethnic parish in west suburban Cicero that closed in 1990.
Fr. Kwiek’s needed to change the sanctuary of St. Camillus Church so the priest could face the congregation while celebrating Mass (one of the more ill-advised decisions to come out of Vatican II).
Cardinal Cody celebrated the Mass of Thanksgiving for St. Camillus Church’s Golden Jubilee on October 17, 1971. More than 650 parishioners and friends attended a parish dinner dance at the Manor Ballroom.
The parish’s first deacon, George A. Swindells, was ordained on December 10, 1972. Bishop Abramowicz co-celebrated Mass to dedicate an enlarged church on Sunday, September 22, 1974.
Fr. Kwiek continued to serve as pastor until his death on February 2, 1977. Soon after his death, Fr. Charles Osowski, former Associate Pastor of St. Blasé Parish in Argo, was appointed pastor of St. Camillus Church on March 30, 1977.
He had also served as an Assistant Pastor of St. Camillus Church from 1966 to 1974. Fr. Osowski died on March 9, 1988.
On August 26, 1992, Fr. Stanley Drewniak blessed a newly opened classroom. Third floor renovations reopened two classrooms that had been closed for over twenty years. Also, the parish hall was named in memory of the late Al Kacprowski, a parishioner for more than forty-three 43 years.
Today parish membership numbers approximately 1,000 families. While most parishioners are ethnic Poles, families of other nationalities also belong to the congregation. Rev. Waclaw Lech, OCD of the Discalced Carmelite Fathers Order is Pastor of St. Camillus.
Cardinal George appointed him to the post of pastor in 2004. Fr. Lech was born in Karsy Duze in the parish of Pacanow, Diocese of Kielce, Poland in 1948.
Having studied theology and philosophy at the Major Seminary of the Discalced Carmelite Fathers, he was ordained in Krakow on June 21, 1974. Fr. Lech studied canon law at the Catholic Academy in Warsaw and graduated in 1980.
After spending a few years as a high school catechesis teacher, ministering to college students, and a pastor for a parish in the Archdiocese of Krakow, he emigrated to the U.S. in 1988 to join the Discalced Carmelite Fathers monastery in Munster, Indiana. He is chaplain of many Polish-American organizations in Chicago and vicinity and worked in pastoral ministry at St. Bruno’s Parish (profiled in Part IV) from 1989 to 1990 and St Priscilla’s Parish from 1994 to 2003.
St. Camillus Parish is also the home of four Sisters from the Albertine Order. They serve the poor by working in the Catholic Charities Soup Kitchen at St. Blasé. Sister Cecylia Madon is the Superior. St. Blasé Parish is another parish where Masses are said in English, Polish and Spanish.