A HISTORY OF SAINT GERTRUDE PARISH
Although Saint Gertrude parish was organized in 1900, the Franklin Park community had been in existence for more than fifty years. The beginnings of this community can be traced to the westward movement following the Black Hawk War in 1832 when the land relinquished by the Indians was offered by the government in public sale at $1.25 an acre. In the 1850's and 1860's, many families settled in this region. They and their followers heard the ring of the sledge and spike as the rails of the Atlantic and Pacific (later known as the St. Paul railroad) and the Chicago and Wisconsin (Soo Line) linked the Chicago area with the West.
The community owes its name to Lesser Franklin who purchased many parcels of land in the area. After lot sales exceeded one million dollars, the residents voted to incorporate themselves as a village in 1892 with Charles Martens as its president. Grand Avenue was then a wagon road that followed an old Indian trail. Railroaders and farmers traveled the ribbons of steel out from Chicago, settling in River Grove, Schiller Park, Bensenville and Itasca, as well as Franklin Park.
As the Catholic community in this area increased in size, its members petitioned Archbishop Patrick A. Feehan for a parish of their own. On June 30, 1901, the New World reported that Father Patrick J. Scanlan, a former assistant at Nativity of our Lord Church in Chicago, had been appointed pastor in Franklin Park. The decision to form a new parish was made following a visit from Chancellor Francis J. Barry who was sent "to investigate the request for a priest." He examined six lots at the intersection of Franklin and Belmont that had been donated by Lesser Franklin for a new parish.
The first Mass was offered in a store at the corner of Franklin Ave. and Calwagner Street. Mass attendance averaged thirty five people and the total offering amounted to about $1.25 each Sunday. Some traveled to Mass via horse and buggy, while hardier souls made the journey on foot from Bensenville and Schiller Park for the 9:00 a.m Mass. On July 28, 1901, the New World commented that Father Scanlan had been "engaged for the past few weeks in soliciting subscriptions for the new church, and he has the hearty cooperation of all, irrespective of creed or nationality." The diocesan paper reported that Mass was then being held on Sunday at the Palm House, at the corner of Franklin and Belmont Avenues. An attempt was made to coordinate the Sunday Mass with the arrival of trains from Bensenville.
In October 1901, Father Scanlan was named pastor of SS. Peter and Paul (now St. Joseph) Church in Libertyville, Illinois. He later served as pastor of St. Dominic and St. Brendan parishes in Chicago.
The task of building a church and rectory fell to Father M.B. Krug, a former assistant at Our Lady of the Angels Church in Chicago. Under his leadership, a frame church was erected at the corner of Ruby and Franklin Avenue with a rectory adjoining. St. Gertrude Church was dedicated on December 1, 1901. In this account of the ceremony, The New World noted that: "As there is no church for a distance of thirty miles - clear to Elgin - und the country sparsely settled, this parish may, which seems almost impossible to believe, be called a missionary one. But as the past few months have been so fruitful we may well be assured that its future may be still more prosperous und that in the lapse of a few years it may prove to become the mother of many new parishes."
In April 1906, Father Krug was appointed pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Elizabeth, Illinois. His successor at St. Gertrude was Father Nicholas J. Ott, a former assistant at St. Francis of Assisi in Chicago. During his short pastorate, a steeple was erected on St. Gertrude Church and bells were installed in the tower.
In the fall of 1907, Father Ott was named pastor of St. Mary Church in Buffalo Grove, Illinois. Father Frederick J. Weber served as pastor of St. Gertrude Church from November 1, 1907 until his death on March 7, 1911 at the age of forty- eight.
Father Louis J. Maiworm began his work in Franklin Park in 1911. In the fall of that year, the School Sisters of St. Francis opened the parish school. They commuted each day to Franklin Park via the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul Pacific railroad, from their convent quarters in the German parish of St. Philomena Church at Cortland and Kedvale in Chicago. The ground floor of the church building served as the school. Mass was celebrated on the second floor.
In August 1912, Father Maiworm was appointed pastor of St. Bernardine Church in Forest Park, Illinois and Father L.P. Hurkmans took charge of St. Gertrude's Parish. Father Hurkmans directed the construction of a combination church-school building at a new parish site at the southeast corner of Schiller and Gustave. The cornerstone was laid on Palm Sunday, April 5, 1914 and Archbishop James E. Quigley dedicated the edifice on August 30, 1914. St. Gertrude Parish then numbered sixty-eight families. Despite the small membership, the parish was well organized and it supported many religious and social activities. On Sundays and Holy Days, High and Low Masses were celebrated and Vespers and Benediction were held in the afternoon.
The silver jubilee of St. Gertrude Parish was celebrated on November 15, 1925. According to the New World, "St. Gertrude's parish serves the people of Franklin Park, River Grove, Bensenville and Itasca." The sisters of St. Joseph were in charge of the parish school.
Father Hurkmans was instrumental in forming new parishes in Bensenville and River Grove. The mission of St. Alexis in Bensenville was recognized as a parish in April 1926.
Beginning on February 28, 1926, two Masses were celebrated in Senf's hall in River Grove. Father Hurkmans directed the construction of a combination church-school building. On September 12, 1926, the corner stone was laid on the mission of St. Cyprian. The mission of St. Cyprian was reorganized as a parish in January 1927.
Father Hurkmans was appointed administrator of St. John Berchmans in January 1927 and Rev. Peter Lieser was named pastor of St. Gertrude. Under his leadership, the parish facilities were improved. During his short pastorate, the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis of Assisi were placed in charge of St. Gertrude School.
In April 1930, Father Lieser was appointed pastor of St. Anthony in Chicago and Father Ferdinand J. Kalvaledge was named pastor of St. Gertrude. The depression years were times of hardships for families in Franklin Park. High unemployment left families in dire need and the majority of parishioners could contribute little to the support of the church. Parish debts piled up and interest multiplied. Father Kaivaledge and his parishioners struggled to keep the parish going. Due to lack of funds, needed repairs on the church and school could not be made.
In September 1932, a commercial high school was inaugurated for the giris at St. Gertrude parish, but this program was discontinued after about a year because of the growing number of grammar school pupils.
In the winter of 1936, Father Kaivaledge was named associate pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Hubbard Woods, Illinois. He later was appointed administrator of St. Nicholas in Chicago.
Father Robert E. Stoeckel began his work in Franklin Park on January 9, 1936. St. Gertrude Parish then numbered 210 families with 156 children enrolled in the school. The Depression was beginning to lessen but the financial picture of the parish looked bleak indeed. The weekly collection of $37.00 was hardly enough to cover the $60.00 per week interest on the parish debt. As times improved, members of St. Gertrude Church were able to contribute more money. Father Stoeckel revived the Holy Name Society and the women's Altar and Rosary Society and he also formed a Young Ladies' Sodality. These groups worked hard to improve the financial condition of the parish and the Young People's Club and Parent's Club aided them in the later years. By the 1950's, the parish debt was liquidated.
In 1941, Father Stoeckel established a Mission in Northlake Illinois. Approximately 145 families formed the nucleus of St. John Vianney Mission, which was reorganized as a parish in 1942.
Father Stoeckel's ingenuity for doing so much with so little slowly restored the parish property to fine condition. Just about the time things were in good order, a new problem arose. Franklin Park was beginning a new era of growth and the parish facilities were no longer adequate. Although the convent had been improved in the early 1940's, it was too small to accommodate the number of nuns on the faculty at the school. Enrollment in the school increased to such an extent that in 1945, two classrooms were added. Four more were added later.
The "suburban boom" that followed World War II had a profound effect on Franklin Park and St. Gertrude Parish. In 1949, the pastor and his congregation embarked on an ambitious building program. In the spring of 1950, the rectory was enlarged to provide living quarters for another assistant and construction was started on a new convent. Samuel Cardinal Stritch dedicated the two-story structure, located at 2926 Rose Street, on May 25, 1952.
Originally, the plans called for a lower church to be constructed with the upper portion being completed as funds became available. However, St. Gertrude Parish was growing so rapidly that it was decided to construct the two portions of the church at the same time. One of the first modern churches in the Archdiocese of Chicago, St. Gertrude Church was completed at the southwest corner of Schiller and Rose Street according to the plans of the architectural firm of Belli & Belli. Cardinal Stritch dedicated the imposing brick structure on September 19, 1954. The church quarters in the former combination building were converted into classrooms. By 1955, 1046 children were enrolled in the school.
On September 29, 1957, Father Stoeckel was invested as a Domestic Prelate with the title of Right Reverend Monsignor.
In 1958, the old rectory was raised and in its place was constructed a brick structure that contained living quarters for the parish priests, counseling rooms, meeting rooms, a parish library and the Center for Religious Education.
Following his appointment as pastor emeritus in January 1968, Msgr. Stoeckel continued to reside in the parish rectory. He celebrated the 50th anniversary of his ordination on March 21, 1976. Monsignor Stoeckel resided in St. Gertrud’s rectory until his death on March 30, 1982.
Father Norbert E. Randolph, former pastor of St. Anthony Church, was named pastor of St. Gertrude on January 15, 1968. One of the pioneers of the liturgical movement in the 1940's, Father Randolph gradually implemented liturgical reforms authorized by the Second Vatican Council. He had a deep love of the Church and much concern for the formation of God's people. Under the direction of the Franciscan Sisters and lay teachers, St. Gertrude School was recognized as an upgraded, departmental basis so that students could be given individual attention. These pioneering efforts made St. Gertrude School one of the outstanding grammar schools in the Archdiocese. Sister Dorita served as principal of the scheel.
Named as pastor emeritus on October 1, 1975, Father Randolph resided in Wheaton, Illinois. He lived there until his death on March 28, 1989.
Father William T. Hock, a former associate pastor of St. Isaac Jogues Church, was named pastor of St. Gertrude Parish on October 8, 1975. Among his distinguishing characteristics was his willingness to share authority. In addition to his administrative duties at St. Gertrude, Bather Hock served as moderator of the Council of Catholic Women and the parish's Italian Catholic Federation. Of the 2,300 families who belonged to St. Gertrude Parish in 1978, Italians formed the largest group followed by Poles, Germans, and Irish.
Over the years, the church and other facilities needed repairs and improvements. Extensive repairs were done to the church during Father Hock's pastorate.
Under the guidance of Mrs. Catherine Karlson, principal of St. Gertrude School, a pre-school Religious Education program was inaugurated in September 1976 with an enrolment of 50 students. Sister Florence Fertig, and Karen Paul were co-directors of the Religious Education Program. Sister Rose Marie Lorentzen, Nancy Stolfe and Mary FioRito also served as directors of religious education under Father Hock's pastorate.
The active parish organizations included the Parish Council, Finance Committee, Maintenance Committee, School Board, Senior Citizens, Young Adult Club, Teen Society, Holy Name Society, Council of Catholic Women, Italian Catholic Federation, and the St. Vincent de Paul Society.
During Father Hock's pastorate, the average enrollment of children in St. Gertrude School was two hundred students. The Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis of Assisi and ten lay teachers staffed the school.
Father Hock retired in 1987 and then lived in St. Benedict's Home in Niles, Illinois.
Father Alfred P. Corbo, came to St. Gertrude in July 1987. Father Corbo was born in Elmwood Park, Illinois and attended St. William's grammar school. He went on to Quigley and was ordained from St. Mary of the Lake Seminary on May 1,1956 and served as associatipastor at Our Lady of the Angels Parish from 1956 - 1964. He was assigned to Holy Rosary Parish as an associate from 1964 - 1971. He also served as principal of Holy Rosary School form 1964-1973. Because of the death of Father Marc Monico, he served as administrator of that parish from 1971 - 1974. In 1974 he became pastor at Holy Rosary and served in that capacity for thirteen years.
The organization of the Parish Pastoral Council at St. Gertrude was a high priority for Father Corbo. Following the mandate set forth by Cardinal Bernardin, the Parish Pastoral Council was established in 1988 with its focus on the spiritual growth of the parish. Its main goal is to give direction to the parish community, under the leadership of the pastor, as it strives to carry out the work of Jesus.
One of Msgr. Stoeckel's wishes was to complete the effect of the stained glass window in the back of the church by erecting stained glass windows along the sides of the church. The firm of Conrad Schmitt, the company responsible for the stained glass window in the back of the church, was commissioned to design the stained glass windows for the sides of the church.
The school remained a part of the parish under the direction of Lorraine Gaeke, Joyce Zemba, Mary Jane Lane, and Susan Dzikas from 1987- 1997. Because of declining enrollment and the financial drain on the parish, the Archdiocese decided to close the school in 1997. The many memories and lasting treasures of the school and all those who passed through will continue to be a legacy to the history of St. Gertrude.
Once the school had closed, the emphasis in the parish turned to the School of Religion. What was begun as a secondary program for the parish youth, had now taken on a primary aspect. Kay Fenlon took the position of Director of Religious Education in 1988. Her main goal was to comply with and implement the directives of Vatican II. Marlene Barnes became coordinator of religious education in 1994.
Starting in year 1999 an annual parish picnic called “Taste of St. Gertrude” has been organized every summer. The 2-day event became now a great, parish family-oriented festival, that gathers hundreds of parishioners, who share their regional food, music, entertainment and joy. It’s always been also a big fundraiser for the parish financial needs.
Another concern has been Evangelization aimed at all Catholics. Neo-catechumenal Way as a profound Christian initiation into faith for the adults has been a part of the pastoral work of St. Gertrude Parish since 1990. Its aim is to follow the admonition of Vatican II to deepen and renew the baptismal faith of Catholics so that they might become the "salt, light, and leaven" of Christianity. Today we have 11 communities in three languages: English, Spanish and Polish. Every community meets two times every week: once on Tuesday or Wednesday, for the celebration of the Word and once on Saturday night, for Sunday Eucharist. They carry on an active evangelization both in the church and on the streets.
Our Hispanic brothers and sisters know well the importance of evangelization as is evident in the number of people involved in the Spanish ministries such as the prayer group, Charismatic Renewal group, bible study, parish choirs. Their presence here has been truly an inspiration to everyone.
For 100 years, St. Gertrude Parish has served the residents of Franklin Park and Leyden Township. Since 1988 the Hispanic community has been actively involved in the parish. Since 1998, the Polish community's presence has been on the rise in our parish. To serve the needs of these parishioners, the Literacy program was established.
In 2005 the “Family in Mission” from the Neo-catechumenal Way was sent by the Pope Benedict XVI to live and work in the parish of St. Gertrude. Piotr and Beata Wojtasik came to the parish with their seven children. They live in the neighborhood, actively participate in the parish life and serve for the new evangelization. Piotr works in the Parish as a business manager and Beata volunteers for the Religious Education program. Their ten children – Sara, Tomek, Maciej, Kasia, Ela, Zuzanna, Szymon, Piotr, Mateusz and Jakub belong to various parish activities like CCD, Post-Cofirmation program and Neo-catechumenal Way. All of them are witness of being a Christian family living in a secularized society.
In July 2008 Rev. Alfred Corbo retired and Father Eryk Czarnecki was appointed as a new pastor of St. Gertrude. Fr. Czarnecki was born in Warsaw, Poland on August 28, 1965. He was ordained in Poland in 2001 and was sent to United States as a missionary priest in 2004. His first assignment was an associate priest at St. Gertrude Parish, when Fr. Corbo was a Pastor. After his retirement Fr. Corbo continues helping the parish, saying some of the Sunday and daily masses and helping with confessions. By his presence and dedication as a priest he is for all of us a true witness of faith and joy.
Several international missionary priests were working at St. Gertrude Parish as associates during past few years. Among them was Rev. Aldo Pozza (Comboni Fathers, Italy), Fr. Julian Herrera (Colombia), Fr. Enrique Lozada (Mexico), Fr. Fernado Sanchez (Mexico) and Fr. Krzysztof Pankanin (Poland). Father Pankanin was ordained in Poland in 2002 and came to our parish in 2013.
After the retirement of Mrs. Barens in 2009, Mrs. Diane Wishmeyer took the position of the Coordinator of Religious Education. Working together with Mrs. Beata Wojtasik, a volunteer assistant, they build on the program established by Kay Fenlon and Marlene Barens. The inclusion of parents, sponsors and the parish community in the process of preparing the young children and adults for each of the sacraments is a priority for the success of the program. With the special liturgies, celebrating the reception steps of Baptism, Reconciliation, First Communion and Confirmation, the aim has been to pass on the best catechesis and practices to our parishioners. A dedicated team, who strives to inspire others to grow in their Catholic faith, staffs the School of Religion.
In 2012 the Parish has opened a post-confirmation program for young adults. The program focuses on Christian life and is guided in small groups by the volunteering couples formed in the neo-catechumenal communities. They organize every year a summer camp for the youth, either in Colorado or in Wisconsin. Right know we have in the program about 40 young adults in the age between 14 and 17, divided in 5 groups that meet on weekly basis.
The Charismatic Renewal became here an integral part of Hispanic ministry of the Parish and an indispensable tool of the evangelization. The leaders of the “Circulo de Oración” with enormous devotedness carry on various retreats an seminaries that gather hundreds of participants practically every month.
The Neo-catechumenal Way has grown to 11 communities in three languages that catechize and evangelize both in the Parish and on the streets of Franklin Park.
In 2017 a new mission of the Parish has been inaugurated. A small chapel in the apartment rented on 3037 Bright Street in “Villa Allegre” was blessed by Bishop John Manz during the mass, celebrated on the street on the day of Corpus Christi, June 18, 2017. The Chapel serves for the Hispanic immigrants that live around the neighborhood. The mass during the week, prayer of the rosary and classes of RCIA are provided there on weekly basis.
St. Gertrude has been a very active parish tor the past 115 years. Today the active organizations and ministries include: The Parish Pastoral Council, Finance Committee, Ushers, Extraordinary Ministers of the Holy Communion, Music Ministry, Spanish Choir, Spanish Liturgy, Children's Liturgy of the Word, Ministers of Care, Consolation Ministry, Neo-Catechumenal Way, Spanish Prayer Group, Polish Prayer Group, Religious Education, Spanish RCIA, Post-Confirmation Program, Altar Servers, Baptismal Preparation, Saint Vincent de Paul Society, Brownie Troop 4458, Daisy Troop 4111, Cadette Girl Scout Troop 4011, Senior Girl Scout Troop 4100, Finance Committee, Guadalupana Committee, and the Cursillo.
This parish is our heritage, given to us through the efforts of the past generations. Thanks to the Church we have all received freely a new life in Christ. Now it is on us to pass that gift to the generations to come.