Rev. Frantisek J. Hrejsa
1st Czech Methodist Minister - Chicago and the World


Established First Czech Methodist Churches in Chicago

Robert Otto Uher was a member of the Czech and Slovak American Genealogy Society of Illinois.  He was a frequent contributor to the society journal, the KORENY.  Robert, in the Summer 1998 KORENY, wrote an article on the First Czech Methodist Minister in America.  That Czech was Frank J. Hrejsa.

The article was based on a summary of an article in the Memorial Book of the Czech Protestant Churches of the United States (Pamatnik Ceskych Evanjelickych cirkvi (ve Spojenych Statech) published in Chicago in 1900.


The article describes Rev. Hrejsa and the beginnings of the Czech Methodist religion among Chicago Czechs.  The article has additional interest in that it also describes that founding another faith group among Chicago Czechs was not an easy task.


The article, from the 1998 KORENY is below.  Some additional materials were found in Chicago newspapers and that has been added and noted.

Robert Otto Uher died in 2001.  He is interred in Chicago’s Bohemian National Cemetery.

Summer 1998 Koreny
Robert O. Uher
Early Czech Methodist Missions and Churches
The First Czech Methodist Minister in America

Among those in 1868 who saw a fifteen-year-old boy (along with his older sister) step ashore on the dock at Baltimore, Maryland, no one could have imagined that he would someday be called "The Father of Czech Methodism". The boy himself could not have expected that he would someday become the first Czech Minister of the Methodist Church and that before the Lord called him away there would arise from a small and insignificant beginning a number of churches throughout the cities of America.

This youth was none other than Frantisek J. Hrejsa. From Baltimore he went to Chicago where thru diligence and good behavior he soon earned the respect of his employer who promoted him after a number of years to foreman over the workers. The young man got along well, had a home, and among his family circle it seemed that no joys would be lacking to him. However, on the horizon clouds were gathering which would alter his present life's course. The first cloud appeared when the second child of his marriage, a little son, was snatched by inexorable death from the loving embrace of his mother and father.

The second cloud came soon afterwards and flung the young man onto a sick bed from which he could not rise for half a year.  These two events, the death of his mother and father. These two events, the death of a beloved child and a long painful illness, led Mr. Hrejsa into a different life's track. Up to this time of his life, alike hundreds of other Christians in name only, he forgot to implore God for help. However as most everyone when in a problem or difficulty is inclined toward God, even he in his illness sought and found God. He was helped in this quest by Rev. Gottshalk, a German Methodist minister who during the entire period of his illness visited him, consoled him, prayed with him and led him closer and closer to God. Now during his illness, he recognized that his Christian life had not been as God expected of him and he decided that as soon as he regained his health he would make up for this deficiency.

His resolution was soon placed into effect. As soon as he recovered, he went to the German Methodist Church on Maxwell near Halsted St. where Rev. Gottshalk was the minister, He enrolled as a member and after completion of a six-month trial period he was accepted as a full member. Here he became acquainted with those people known as "Methodists". His previous prejudice against them disappeared as he recognized more of their religious life. He found that the Methodist Church was closely related to the "Czech-Brothers Church". He saw that church ceremonies and furnishings were plain and understandable. The people got along well together and worked energetically to spread the gospel of Christ. This pleased him very much and from that moment he decided to become an active member in the church, seeking to make up for what he had missed in his younger years. Until now he had never thought of becoming a minister.

Many Chicago Czechs at this time were under the leadership of some disorganized students and especially under the leadership of Frank Zdrubek, a leader of the non-believers who also took over Protestant churches in Racine and Caledonia, Wisconsin where he preached for a time. Considering themselves "Liberators", they held anti-religious meetings and hurled abuse toward those who still adhered to their religion. Indeed they did everything to lead unthinking people away from religion and to steal their honor for the success of some miserable rascals.

The greater part of these poor deceived people, while beginning to lose their religlon, nonetheless sent their children to Protestant Churches and Sunday Schools so that in this way the children would be led to God. For this reason, some English-speaking churches and especially Sunday Schools were filled with Czech children. The Sunday School of the Methodist Church at Wabash Avenue and 14th Street was full of Czech youth. This was also the case at the Methodist Churcht at Halsted near 20th Street.

This spacious wooden church on Halsted St. (later sold, 1875, to the Czech Benedictines of the St. Procopius Parish, and moved to 18th Street and Allport, and housing the print shop of the "Narod" (Nation) newspaper) was soon inadequate for their growing enrollment. Work proceeded on a larger brick church which would accommodate a larger number of adults and youth of various nationalities. The church was completed but a new problem arose since the children attending knew little English or none at all. The only solution was to seek a Czech worker. This was the burning question for a number of churches and particularly the Halsted Street church where twelve to thirteen hundred Czech children attended and still attend. But God would assist. It appears that He had a plan, but awaited the time when the people would declare "We are at the limit of our strength and can go no farther”.  That momemt arrived and the work of the Lord God began.

It happened one Wednesday evening in 1884 at the Halsted Street church when a certain man came to an English speaking prayer service. The heartfelt song and earnest prayers of those present aroused his heart. Then at the end of the service after each of the members gave witness and told of what God had done for them, the stranger stood up. The gaze of all turned to him as he began to speak: "Your faces and names are unknown to me. Until lately I did not understand your language, but your God whom today you celebrate in this place and to whom you pray is also my God. He has done a great benefit for me. Not long ago I was seriously ill with no hope of recovery, at least from the human standpoint, but the Lord God helped me arise from my sick bed. During my illness I promised Him that when I recover, I will become an exemplary Christian and will serve Him heart and soul. I rejoice that I recognized Him, that I experienced His love and feel His presence day and night. Pray for me so that I get enough strength to lead many of my countrymen, of whom thousands now live entirely without God and to bring them to the correct path.

At the end of the service Dr. W.C. Willing the pastor of the church took the hand of the stranger, Mr. F.J. Hrejsa, and learning that he was a Czech would not release him until he agreed to take over a Sunday School class of Czech children who did not understand English. This he readily agreed to do. From this point on his religious work began. At first, he taught two hundred Czech children in the Sunday School. From that first Sunday the children’s attendance increased and the classes under the direction of Mr. Hrejsa succeeded wonderfull.

However, for the Czech adults nothing yet was being done. The church's minister, Dr. W.C. Willing, considered what could be done to gain the parents of these children. He did not like seeing them fall deeper and deeper into unbelief, vice or sin. From time to time he heard how Czech spiritual traitors catch up some unfortunate, ignorant people and lead them away from the true light and into darkness and error. Feeling sympathy for these descendants of a great nation, Dr. Willing, on Monday evening, July 21, 1884, invited Mr. Hrejsa to his home to discuss how he might work among the older people. Mr. Hrejsa's advise was to write to Bohemia to seek a minister who agreed with the Methodist doctrine. This required funds which the church did not have. The majority of the members of the church, like many others, were poor people who thru great sacrifice afforded what was necessary for themselves but could not afford paying for another pastor.

The result of this discussion was that Mr. Hrejsa would carry on church services in the Czech language as the leader and preacher. Futile were his excuses that he was not educated, that he didn't have time, that people would not come to the services etc. Dr. Willing insisted that Mr. Hrejsa should do this work for the present-time until a Czech preacher could be found. Mr. Hrejsa agreed and on the following Sunday the first Czech language services were to be held in the English-speaking church on Halsted Street. A church room was loaned to the Czech group for this purpose. That evening Mr. Hrejsa sat with his family and his parents long into the night discussing how best to proceed with this work. Finally, all fell to their knees before the Lord God asking His blessing, strength and courage. Day followed day that week until Sunday July 27, 1884, when this first Czech Methodist service was held. During the week, Mrs. Hrejsa Sr., called upon all of the families and friends of her acquaintance and invited them to the Czech service. Of those invited, 25 adults and a number of children gathered that first Sunday. After a hymn which was somewhat discordant, and a sincere prayer, Mr. Hrejsa informed the group that the English church would provide a Czech minister as soon as possible. He invited all present to remember God, pray for the success of the work of the church and further, they should regularly attend the services and bring another person with them. His words pleased everyone since he spoke heart to heart with the people. They left for their homes, feeling encouraged and with delight, promising to meet again the next Sunday.  (Newspaper article below, not part of Uher's summary)

The Bohemian Methodists - Svornost, September 30th, 1885

The Bohemian Methodists yesterday celebrated their anniversary in the Church on Halsted Street corner of 20th Street. Many members of this new organization were present as well as many invited guests of other nationalities. This church is under the leadership of Reverend Frank Hrejsa, who is authorized to preach to the Bohemian members; their services are held in the same church where yesterday's anniversary was celebrated. At the time of its founding the congregation numbered twenty-five members, and now is one-hundred members strong.

(Uher's summary continues below)

The next Sunday more people attended and week after week the attendance increased until the group numbered 150 persons. However some came only out of curiosity. One person, (a student of Mr. Zdrubek) came to the church with a cigar in his mouth and behaved so badly that he had to be warned that he would be ejected from the church. Some persons enrolled as members but their lives were so unclean and unnoble that they were cast out of the membership. These Brothers and Sisters meeting in the English-speaking church began to see a need for their own church affiliation. It was decided on September 21, 1884 that everyone would meet and establish a proper church. On that date an impressive number of countrymen attended the meeting and after discussing the idea adopted the plan for a church under the name First Czech Brothers Methodist Church. It was also known as the First Mission or the First Czech Methodist Episcopal Church.

The officers of this newly formed congregation met with Dr. Willing to discuss the availability of space on the second floor of the English-speaking church. Space for a meeting every Sunday was granted and the young church began to conduct worship services for themselves using borrowed facilities.

From that time almost a year passed and the congregation numbered almost a hundred members. The church work increased but still no Czech minister had been located for the job. Mr. Hrejsa was employed in a factory and did the church work out of devotion. Because the church work now demanded much time and supervision, he wrote Dr. Lucas Hitchcock asking him to see that the Czech church obtained a minister. He wrote thus: "From the beginning I often prayed to the Almighty for an answer as I wished to serve, but because I work 10 to 12 hours daily I do not have sufficient time to prepare for the preaching as well as other necessary work. I loved this work so much that I could not relinquish it but now the work has outgrown my strength and there is a need for you to appoint a minister who can devote all of his time to the work. "

At this time the mission committee was to have a conference in New York. Dr. Hatfield from Chicago was to attend the meeting and he was given the responsibility to seek financing for the purpose of employing a Czech minister. This was graciously granted. The next question was where such a minister could be found. Drs. Willing, Hitchcock, Hatfield and others asked Mr. Hrejsa to take over the work and to give up his job in the factory. Mr. Hrejsa, knowing that there was no other man available and no other help, agreed. Then, after a number of years when he had completed the required religious studies, he was ordained as the First Czech Methodist Minister in America and indeed in the world.

His work proceeded successfully but not without some problems. Even from this church the Devil was not expelled and could spread bad news and dissension. A number of times members suddenly left the church, joining another church, and others moved away so the church suffered constantly. However, in spite of all the storms and obstacles the church grew in spirit and numbers until it became the largest Czech Methodist congregation in America. After four or five years the Brothers and Sisters of the First Czech Brothers Methodist Church (First Mission) along with Rev. Hrejsa began to think of having their own church building. On two or three occasions a site was selected, and a down payment made but then withdrawn because sufficient funds could not be secured. At last, however a site was bought and a fine church built on the corner of Fisk (Carpenter St.) and 19th Place. The cost of land, building and furnishings totaled $25,000. At the consecration of this church on September 30, 1898 many ministers from various churches were present. Bishop Merrill, conducted the services and turned the church over to the hands of the Almighty.

The Second Mission

Another Mission service was started June 12, 1887 on DeKoven Street near Desplaines among the many Czechs settled in that locality. The work began with a Sunday School attended at first by 32 children. The first preaching was done on the following Sunday to a capacity filled room. Perhaps many came out of curiosity but an even greater number of people stood outside on the street led by a Catholic Priest. The disturbance during this meeting defies description. Stones, sand, burning embers and similar things were hurled among the people in the room so that finally there was no choice but to end the meeting. The preacher himself with an escort of friends fled through the rear entrance to  escape bodily injury from a crowd of fanatics.

One might wonder why the unruly group formed but who could blame ignorant people who blindly and willingly followed the instruction of their priest who called from his pulpit, "Do not tolerate this work of the Devil among your midst." Further meetings did proceed peacefully after two policemen were stationed to prevent anyone from rash actions or to keep out any who did not understand the purpose and good of the work. In September 1887 this mission rented a new space at 447 Des Plaines Street. Adjacent to this location was a tavern and they were separated only by a thin wooden partition thru which everything said in one part was heard in the other part. However the tavern keeper managed to maintain peace and quiet when the religious services were held. What was best about the location was that Catholic people who were forbidden by their priest to attend these meetings gathered in the adjoining tavern and listened quietly to the preaching. In 1889 this Mission was moved to 12th and Halsted streets and a kindergarten was opened, perhaps the first of its sort among Chicago Czechs.

The Jan Hus Methodist Episcopal Church, The Third Mission

Czech California is the name of the settlement where the Third Mission was founded. The history of this work begins in 1891. At that time a young minister named Vaclav Vanek was sent to this youngest Czech colony of about 4000 residents. He was to build up interest in Christian work. For the first two years, until August 3, 1893, only Sunday School work was done. A church was then organized and a site was bought at the corner of 24th Street and Sawyer Ave. The lot measured 125 x 90 feet and cost $3,200 and the cost of the church would be $12,000. In spite of the small number of church members the money for this church, named the John Hus Methodist Episcopal Church,was gained from the English Methodist Church ($2400), the Church Extension Society ($1000) and numerous other friends. On Sunday Feb. 25, 1894 the completed lower rooms of the Church were consecrated. Dedication ceremonies were done by Bishop Merrill, English preaching by W.H. Burns, chairman of the event, and Czech preaching done by Rev. F.J. Hrejsa, minister of the First Mission. By September of 1894 the entire church was completed except for the tower. At this time (Sept. 2) the upper rooms of the church were dedicated again by Bishop Merrill. The attendance was huge at a three o'clock P.M. Czech service. The entire service along with a sincere prayer, Hymn and Scripture reading were done by Rev. Hrejsa.

The lower church rooms were used for the Sunday School and prayer meetings and the upper rooms for the chapel. The lower rooms held 350 children and the upper rooms 300 people. The chapel windows of the church depicted the likeness of Jan Hus, Jan Amos Komensky and John Wesley. Rev. Frank Tauchen from Iowa spoke at the consecration saying 'Today in this honorable building we honored Jan Hus the greatest Czech martyr. Now we have our own monument to Jan Hus. They would not allow us to erect a monument in Douglas Park, however we have put up our own and a better one. In Douglas Park there would have stood a silent monument with only an inscription. Passersby would read only the name of Jan Hus but here stands a living memorial which will honor our great man who spoke the truth and for which he suffered a martyr's death in Constance (Switzerland)."  Image Left - Jan Hus Building in 2024 (Google Maps)

On May 4, 1899 the sad news of the death of Rev. Frantisek J. Hrejsa, at age 46, spread thru Chicago and elsewhere. He died after only a few days illness. The news saddened all who knew him but the grief of the people did not help. He had completed his work and the Lord had summoned him. A great number of people gathered for his funeral along with all the Czech Methodist ministers and the bishop. The remains of Rev. Hrejsa were laid to rest at the Bohemian National Cemetery.

The orphaned First Czech M.E. Church (First Mission) could not remain long without a minister. His replacement was Rev. Frantisek Pelikan the minister from the Fourth Mission church in Chicago. The new minister found sufficient work and also many obstacles in his duties since some of the people saw many of his innovations not to their liking. Others were inclined toward him with great love. However, before the year ended the minister gained the love of all members and today (1900) the entire congregation moves forward in the greatest accord. During the winter months the Sunday School has an attendance of 600 to 700 children and the youth group numbers 42, the Christian Women's group has a large membership and is developing a benefit association. The Sunday church services are attended by about 250 people. In November 1899 classes were started in both the English and Czech languages, math, shorthand and bookkeeping. The goal of this program was to keep young people off the streets where they might learn bad habits and instead lead them to better and more noble pursuits. This is something new among the Czech people but it is hoped this work will soon be valued and found worthy. A sewing school for girls was also started with Miss Margaret Slezak the teacher. Boys were not forgotten and a cadet corps was opened for them with a regular training class every Thursday evening. They must not use rough language, tobacco, alcoholic drinks, and at all times they must behave properly. The discipline is a difficult one for lively boys but they observe it well. The church has only one aim which is to raise the youth to be good people to which the mighty Lord God will give assistance.


Note: This translation is taken from the Memorial Book of the Czech Protestant Churches of the United States (Pamatnik Ceskych Evanjelickych cirkvi (ve Spojenych Statech) published in Chicago in 1900. The complete book was written by the Czech committees of the Presbyterian, Independent, Reformed, Congregational Methodist and Baptist Churches. The material was arranged by Rev. Vilem Siller, Rev. Vaclav Prucha, Rev. R.M. DeCastello and published by the "Christian Messenger. f' (Krestanskeho Posla).

Frantisek Joseph Hrejsa was born 3-2-1853 at Humpolec #154.  The record is from the Protestant Faith Archives for Humpolec.

He and his parents Matous and Victoria arrived in the USA.  (Gustav and Emily appear to have been his siblings)

Franz Heise 15, Emilie 20 Bremen to Baltimore aboard the ship Baltimore, arriving 9-18-1868. (Heisa on record, Husa on ancestry)


Anna Fishman, age 20, born in Chicago, married Frank Joseph Hrejsa on August 16, 1877 in Chicago.

Johann Fishman 35, Anna 29, and Johanna 6 Departed Bremen and arrived an New York City on June 28, 1854, aboard the ship Juno.

Census 1870 Illinois Cook Chicago Ward 9 Page 167
John Fishman 51, Anna 45, Anna 13, Mary 9, Lizza 6

Census 1880 Illinois Cook Chicago 085 at 446 S. Jefferson
Frank Hrysa 27, Anna 22, Oscar 1, Clara 2
Victoria Hrysa 66
Anna Fishman 55, Mary 19
Bohumil Cizkovsky 25, Lizzie Fishman Cizkovsky 17

Anna Zeleny Fishman 1826 - 1892 Lot 5 Block 6 Section H adjacent to daughter Anna and her Hrejsa family.  Find A Grave 194539175

Husband John Fishman 1819 - 1879 Lot 5 Block 6 Section H adjacent to daughter Anna and her Hrejsa family.  Find A Grave 194539198

Census 1900 Illinois Cook Chicago Ward 10 D0286 Page 16 at 1033 S. Spaulding
Anny Hrysa 42, Anna 16, Frank 13, Joseph 11, Olive 8
Joseph Cizkovsky 43, Mary 39, Joseph 17, Mary 10, John 4

Census 1920 Ohio Mahoning Youngstown Ward 9 D 0244 Page 12 at 447 Delason Ave
Anna Hrejsa married George Frank Holly 9-4-1907 in Chicago
George Holly 37, Terrie (Annie scrawled on record) 35, George 11, Dorothy 5
Anni Holysa 62 (Hrejsa)