Saint Procopius Catholic Church

The article below is an excerpt from the website of Saint Procopius Catholic Church of Chicago:


The First Years (1863-1883)

The following list describes important highlights of this period:

Immigration of Czech Catholics

In 1863 the Czech Catholics who immigrated to Chicago formed their first parish, St. Wenceslaus, at 11th and De Koven Streets. In 1871 they organized themselves in the Bridgeport area at St. John Nepomucene.

Growth of the Pilsen neighborhood

Pilsen experienced great growth after the Chicago Fire of 1871 because the new fire codes did not prohibit inexpensive frame construction this side of the river. Many of today’s neighborhood buildings go back to that period of construction and population growth. When Czechs moved from other neighborhoods into Pilsen, the need for a parish became clear.

Fund raising for a school and parish

Fr. William Coka, pastor of St. John Nepomucene, helped to organize a committee of Pilsen residents to raise funds for a new school and parish. In the summer of 1875, the committee bought three lots at the corner of 18th and Allport Streets for $3,600. The Methodist Church at 19th and Halsted wanted to build a brick church and would sell their old frame church for $2,000. Consequently, this frame structure was purchased and moved to 18th and Allport–the upper part to be used for worship and the lower part for a school. St. Procopius, a tenth century Benedictine monk, was chosen as patron saint of the new parish.

Establishment of St. Procopius Parish

St. Procopius was organized as a parish in 1875 with Fr. Coka as its first pastor. The first Mass was celebrated there on Easter Sunday, April 16, 1876, by Fr. Gerst, chaplain at nearby Alexian Brothers Hospital.

St. Procopius School began in 1876 with Mr. John Petru, a professional teacher and organist, as its first principal. School enrollment grew very rapidly. Two Franciscan sisters from Joliet joined the growing school. The sisters lived in a small house on the north side of 21st Street between Racine and May before they moved into the church building. Within a few years two more buildings and part of a third were acquired for the school. In the building at 1714 S. Racine, seven Franciscan sisters established their convent on the second floor with classrooms on the first floor.

Construction of a new church

To keep up with the parish’s growth, Fr. Coka decided to build a new church. The old church was converted entirely to school use and relocated closer to the alley to make room for the new church. Mr. P. Huber was the principal architect of the Romanesque church. Ground-breaking took place September 28, 1881. Archbishop Patrick A. Feehan blessed the church on September 23, 1883. The celebration attracted many visitors, including Czech clergy from other American cities.

The Benedictine Years (1884-1986)

The following list highlights key points and accomplishments during this period:

Frs. Nepomuk Jaeger, OSB, and Václav Kocárník, OSB, two Benedictine priests from Latrobe, Pennsylvania, preached a mission at St. Procopius during Lent, 1884. Both had previously been doing priestly ministry in Nebraska. Fr. Coka took this opportunity to ask Arch-abbot Wimmer, OSB, to found a Benedictine community at St. Procopius and to take over the parish ministry. On March 2, 1885, the archabbot established a Benedictine community at the parish. With the Benedictines established in the parish, Fr. Coka accepted a new ministry in Nebraska. The ministry of the Benedictine priests and brothers at St. Procopius lasted for over 100 years.

Early Benedictine pastors

The Benedictine community consisted of Fr. Jaeger, Frs. Wenceslaus Kocárník, Xavier Traxler, and Sigismund Singer. Fr. Jaeger was St. Procopius’s first Benedictine pastor (1885-1894). He built the rectory in 1886 and the grade school in 1890. When the Benedictines established St. Procopius Abbey at St. Procopius Parish, Fr. Jaeger was chosen as its first abbot. The rectory served as the abbey until it was moved to Lisle, Illinois in 1914.With Fr. Jaeger as abbot, Fr. Valentine Kohlbeck, OSB, became pastor (1894-1897)

Fr. Neuzil, OSB, became the next pastor of St. Procopius (1897-1914).

In 1912 the empty lots on 16th and Racine were bought for $18,207 as a school playground.

St. Procopius College

In 1887 St. Procopius College Academy (destined to become Benedictine University in Lisle, Illinois) began classes in the building immediately to the east of the rectory.

The first issue of the CSAGSI journal, Koreny, included an article on Saint Procopius Catholic Church.  Edited by Dolores Benes Duy, it is an excerpt from My Brothers: A Century of Benedictine Life, Prayer and Work 1885-1985:

“In the latter half of the 19th century, many Czech Catholic immigrants to the United States settled in large eastern cities and then moved west, principally to Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Minnesota, Oklahome, Wisconsin, the Dakotas and Texas.  These immigrants and their offspring received limited religious instruction and religious leadership due to the few Czech speaking clergy in the United States.

St. Procopius Church, located at 18th and Allport Streets (1641 S. Allport), was organized in 1875 to serve Czechs who had settled in a low income area south of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy railroad tracks and west of Halsted Street, on Chicago’s near West Side.  The neighborhood subsequently became known as Pilsen.  On April 16, 1876 the first building was purchased from the former Methodist Church at 19th and Halsted Streets and moved to 18th and Allport Streets.

By the 1880’s an estimated 45,000 Czechs lived in the area bounded by 16th Street, Halsted, 20th Street (Cullerton) and Ashland Avenue.  So quickly did the membership of St. Procopius grow that within eight years, they were able to build and dedicate the massive Romanesque church which stands today at the northeast corner of 28th and Allport, a link with the neighborhood’s Czech past.  It became the “mother church” of Chicago’s West Side Czech parishes.  More than just a neighborhood church, St. Procopius was the largest Czech congregation in the United States in 1888.

In Marh of 1884, a watershed event occurred at St. Procopius Church.  Its pastor, Rev. William Coka, invited Benedictines of St. Vincent Arhabbey, Latrobe, Pennsylvania, to conduct a parish mission.  Two monks, Rev. Wenceslaus Kocarnik, and Rev. John Nepomucene jaeger, preached so effectively at Sunday Masses opening the mission that great numbers of Czechs attended weekday evening mission services.  Soon after that, on March 2, 1885, the Benedictines assumed the care of St. Procopius parish.

Father Wenceslaus and Father Nepomucene, along with Brother Godfrey Stibr founded the Priory which later became St. Procopius Abbey.  In 1886, a brick priory was built at 1641 S. Allport Street to house the community, which by then had grown to six monks.

When the Benedictines founded St. Procopius Abbey in 1885, there were about 160,000 Czechs in the United States.  Only fourteen Czech speaking priests were available in all of the United States to serve those 160,000 Czechs.  The Chicago colony was described as the third largest Czech urban settlement in the world; only Prague and Vienna had larger Czech populations.  The Czech Benedictines, therefore, had a gigantic task ahead of them.  They had 50,000 Czechs right in Chicago and within ten years this number doubled.

Besides St. Procopius, there were only two other Czech parishes in the City, St. Wenceslaus and St. John Nepomucene, to provide services for these people.

Elementary education began in 1876 at St. Procopius School.  The school was operated by the Sisters of St. Francis of Mary Immaculate of Joliet, Illinois from then into the 1980’s.  In 1887, however, the monks began offering classes to prepare boys for high school.  A high school was incorporated and names St. Procopius College.  Rev. Procopius Neuzil was the first instructor, later assisted by Rv. Lidephonse Witman.  In addition to providing student education, the school also prepared young men to enter the Benedictine community.  Many monastic vocations were introduced to St. Procopius Abbey through its educational work.

The Procopius monks gave religious leadership through the press, reaching Czech Catholics in Chicago and elsewhere.  Among these publications, in 1889, a small youth weekly began.  Pirtei Ditek (Children’s Friend), regularly published until World War II.  In 1883, Katolik began, published until the mid 1970’s.  Remarkably, all the publishing activity was the output of the monastery’s own Benedictine Press which also gave employment to neighborhood residents.  Other publications, Hospodarske Listy (Farmer’s Journal) began in 1898 and Vudce (Leader), in 1916.  Other bilingual works and textbooks were published by the Press, which became known as the Bohemian Benedictine Press.

Monks from the growing community began to staff more parishes.  They included St. Vitus, and Our Lady of Lourdes, Chicago; St. Mary of Celle in suburban Berwyn, St. Joan of Arc in Lisle, Illinois, and several in Wisconsin, in Nebraska, and the Dakotas and Texas.

Chicago’s densely populated Pilsen neighborhood offered little space for the expansion of educational ministries.

Consequently, the monks purchased 104 acres of prime farmland southwest of Lisle, Illinois on April 1, 1896.  The monks purchased the property, which included a stone house that continues as a landmark on the camput (now over 250 acres) of Illinois Benedictine College today.

St. Procopius parish continues at 18th and Allport Streets where the Benedictines served Czechs, Slovaks, and in recent years a Spanish speaking community.  The parish was transferred to the care of the Chicago diocesan clergy in 1980 and is currently being served by the Jesuits.

The Founding of St. Procopius Catholic Church in Chicago - Article - CSAGSI Journal - Koreny - Summer of 2000 - Paul Nemecek

In 1875 there were about 25,000 Czech settlers living in Chicago in what was then the 6th, 8th, 9th and 16th wards.  Most of them, however were living in the 6th ward, the Pilsen district.  These settlers, due to very unfavorable conditions that prevailed in the Czech lands before their emigration, were in very sore need of spiritual guidance.  There were only two parishes in Chicago that were ready to give Czech immigrants this guidance: St. Wenceslas, founded on Dekoven and DesPlaines streets in 1863, and St. John Nepomucene, established in the fall of 1871 at 25th St. and Princeton Ave., now Lowe Street.

A very sore need for a third Czech parish was occasioned by the great Chicago Fire in 1871 that destroyed over 17,000 frame houses in the densely populated section northeast of St. Wenceslas Church.  Many of the Czech immigrants were living in this section.  Deprived of their modest homes and all their belongings, they moved to the sparsely inhabited prairie lan southeast of St. Wenceslas Church.  There was plenty of work in rebuilding the burnt section of the city.  This enabled them to accumulate enough money to build their own homes that grew up as "mushrooms after rain."  However the distance of the two parishes from the new settlement made attendance at religious services very trying and difficult.  There were no sidewalks, the streets were not paved and there was no public transportation.

In the spring of 1875 the Rev. Vilem Coka, founder and pastor of St. John Nepomucene parish, paid a friendly visit to a few people on May Street.  They met at the houose of Mr. Jan Sulc.  There, among others, Father Coka suggested that it was advisable to start instructions and eventually to build a schoolhouse for the local children in the Pilsen teritory because these children had to walk very far for their instructions.  His plan met with hearty approval not only of Mr. Sulc but also of his friends.  It was decided to meet again later in the little wooden school building on Evans and Johnson Streets (later site of St. Stanislas Hall).

The first general meeting took place on the first Sunday in June, June 6th.  The following men were present: martin Holec, Jan Farafiat, Vojt Martinek, Jan Novotny, Frant. Slad, Frant. Syrovatks, Mat. Stepanek, Jan Sulc, Jan Turek and Fr. Vistajin.  They all agreed to call another meeting to arouse public interest in the matter and post printed circulars inviting the general public to the meeting.

The second meeting was held June 13th, under the presidency of Mr. John Kalal, foreman of the planing mill and lumberyard at 22nd and Morgan where many residents were employed.  All were in favor of starting a school, yet they could not agree about the kind of school they desired; a freethinkers school or a a Catholic school.  When Father Coka put the proposition about the school to a vote, the freethinkers lost by a significant margin.  Therefore a Committe of Eight was selected to solicit subscriptions for the building fund of the proposed school.  another meeting was called for the next Sunday in the same place.

The third meeting took place on June 20th.  The committee reported subscriptions of over $1000 and the crowd present was overjoyed at the prospect of their undertaking.  The meetings were transferred to the house of Mr. Prokop Hudek at 113 West Luke Street, (19th Street).  The committee continued soliciting pledges or contributions every day, and soon $1400 was subscribed.  Mr. Jan Novotny, from Zion Street (18th Place) was elected treasurer, subsequently becoming the first treasurer of St. Procopius Parish.

The greatest difficulty was experienced in finding a suitable location for the proposed school building.  President Hudek selected a nice lot at Zion and Morgan Streets, but he also was in favor of May and 20th Streets.  Mr. Puta thought a corner at May and Evans (18th) woud be more suitable.  Mr. Kakuska, however, found other lots on Evans and Allport, Evans and Throop, and on Laflin Street.  The lowest priced lots were those on Allport and Evans.  They formed a small undeveloped farm belong to a Scotch Irishman living in New York.  On one of the fields stood a small house belonging to a Danish family.  But there were several lots adjoining this property, and so it seemed that this would be the best location for a growing community undertaking.  All were in favor of the place, and a special committee was selected to close the deal with the realtor, Mr. Kerfoot.  The members of the committee were the following: President Prokop Hudek, Jakub Jachym, Vojt. Kakuska, Vojt. Martinek, Treasurer Jan Novotny, Valcal Puta, Frant. Ruzicka, Frant. Slad, Jan Sven and Jan turek.

On the 29th of June, the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, a visit was paid to Mr. Kerfoot.  He promptly informed the committee about the price of these selected parcels of real estate.  The price of the two corner lots on Allport and Evans was $2600 and the adjoining third lot $1000.  Mr. Kerfoot agreed to write to New York to ge some reduction from the price, although he knew in advance it would be in vain.  He would not accept any down payment on the land, being satisfied with a declaration made by the committee for an option on the three lots.  He furthermore, promised not to sell the other four adjoining lots to anybody except the committee.  This was good news for the Catholic settlers in the Pilsen district.  it became the topic of daily conversation among them and occasioned their frequent visits to the lots and the small frame house on Allport and 18th streets.

The problem now was to collect the pledged sums of money.  This was not an easy task, and the committee accomplished this business only after several weeks of constant and arduous work, trying to overcome organized opposition practically everywhere.  With the help of a loan obtained from the Building and Loan Society of St. Wenceslas Parish the first installment of $750 for the three lots was paid.

The little house of the Danish family soon was bought at Public Auction for $17050.  This house was provided with benches for children, made from boards donated by Mr. Harvey.  Rev. Coka promised to visit Pilsen each Wednesday afternoon and to start instruction here himself.  Thus the school became a reality.  Major difficulties gradually disappeared, and the school soon proved to be a success, with 20 children enrolled.  This schoolhouse later became the first parish house of St. Procopius Parish.

The day of August 5th, 1875 became memorable in the annals of the parish for on that day it was decided, at the suggestion of Mr. Jan Turek, to give to the parish the name of St. Procopius because the festival of St. Procopius takes place on the same day as the Fourth of July holiday.  Thereupon the Parish Society of S. Procopius was founded.  Its members pledged themselves to pay 25 cents monthly for the building fund of the church.

The founders of this society were the following.  Fr. Bambas, Fr. Bartik, Vaclav Becka, Joseph Beranek,  Fr. Bilek, mat. Brichacek, Fr. Burianek, Fr. Cerny, J. Cervenka, Joseph Danek, Vaclav Dlouhy, Fr. Dvorak, J. Dusek, Tom. Hasek, Tom. Havlatko, Martin Holec, J. Holubovsky, Vojt. Hudka, Jakub Jachym, Mat. Jenicek, vojt. Kakuska, J. Kalal, Martin Kesl, Joseph Klimes, Mat. Kopecky, Fr. Kosobud, Fr. Kotnour, Joseph Kouba, Vaclav Kvidera, Vaclav Lala, Dr. mat. Lorenz, Jos. Mayy, Vojt. Martinek, J. Mraz, Vaclav Necada, K. Novak, Fr. Novotny, J. Novotny, Fr. Prokop, Vaclav Puta, Fr. Radous, J. Roubik, Mart. Ruzicka, Fr. Slad, J. Slepicka, J. Straka, Fr. Svitak, Fr. Syrovatks, J. Sima, J. Sindelar, Joseph skarda, Jakub Stastenka, J. Stastny, M. Stepanek, Jos. Svec, Anton Sulc, Vaclav Trantina, J. Turek, J. Vales, Joseph Vancura, Fr. Vavricek, Vojt. Vavrinec, Joseph Vodik, K. Salabak, Joseph Zabransky, Vaclav Zeman and Rehor Zak.

It was at this time that the Methodists intended to build a new brick church on Halsted at 19th Street, and Mr. Kakuska was informed that they were willing to sell their old, room, nicely equipped wooded church for $2000.  The lower part of the building served for community purposes and the upper part was used for church services.  Mr. Kakuska investigated and promptly informed the Rev. Coka about his find.  Rev. Coka visited Mr. Kean several times negotiating the sale of the church and at last the church was bought for $1500.  This was good news for the members of St. Procopius Parish.  The transaction proved to be a profitable one, for the Methodists sold the church on one condition: they would use it for their services during the time of construction of their new brick building.  They agreed to pay rental for the use of the church at the rate of $50 per month.  The church was promptly moved for $500 from Halsted to its new location facing Allport at 18th Street, and when the moving was finished the city Schoo board too, rented three rooms from the parish for $50 monthly.  The building was now yielding $100 monthly and that stimulated the collection of the pledges.  The Methodists used the church until March 1876.  The the church was fitted for Catholic services.  All vestments and other necessary equipment were furnished by the ladies Society of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

With due permission obtained from the chancery office, Father Coka had religious services in the building, at first once a week and later more often.  For several weeks on Sunday afternoon he delivered a sermon, recited prayers with those present and concluded with Benediction.  He had religious instruction for the children every Saturday morning.

After much running about in search of a priest, Father Coka succeeded in having a priest of German nationality (Rev. Gerst) who was convalescing in the Alexian Brothers Hospital, come to have Mass in the church.  The first Mass was celebrated on Easter Sunday, April 16, 1876.  The first service was solemn.  When Father Gerst was approaching the altar, he was greeted with joyous fanfares of the musicians under the direction of Mr. Dusek.  Miss Tercl, who loaned the instrument, was at the organ.  Father Gerst continued his services every Sunday until July 20, 1876.  Rev. Coka read Mass regularly on Wednesday.  He continued teaching in school, and on Sunday he would come in the evening t preach a sermon and to conduct the vesper services.  The first baptism here by Rev. Gerst were conferred on Ant. Mares, Adolph Teucer, Bernard Zelenka, Jan Steiner and Rose Polcar, which took place May 21, 1876.

The school attendance continued to increase. It became evident that an experienced teacher would be required to take charge of it.  Several teachers were recommended, but the popular voice was in favor of Mr. Jan Petru, an excellent musician from Dlouha Lhota near Tabor, Bohemia.  He agreed to take charge of the school and of all church music and he developed a high standard of excellence too.  The meeting of the Parish Society now took place in the house of Mr. Slepicka at Nutt Court and 20th Street.  There, already in 1876, the matter regarding the introduction of a Religious Order into the parish was discussed.  it was argued that such an Order in charge of the parish would be an excellent thing, for then there would be several priests available always to devote time to the needs of the growing parish.

Father Coka at last took full charge of St. Procopius Parish in October 1876.  He moved to the little house on the third lot.  From then on matters began to shape themselves in a more satisfactory manner.  For the steadily increasing school population, Father Coka secured some Irish and German Sisters of the Order of St. Francis from Joliet, and Father Coka instructed them in teaching Czech to the children.  The Sisters learned the Czech language admirably well.

New parish societies were organized and the members started to think very earnestly about building a new church.  They arranged many fairs, entertainments, theatrical performances and concerts to raise the necessary funds.  One fail along brought in $6000.  In January 1877 an Evening School for adults was inaugurated to teach commercial subjects and English.  In addition to this a Sewing Circle was organized, a Loan Library instituted, and the church was repaired with many improvements on the property of the parish.

The Rev. Leo Suchy used to come from Milwaukee to assist Father Coka in his labors.  At another time five clergymen had to come to hear confessions, and at last an eight day Mission was conducted by Father X. Sula, S.J.  The pastoral work during the first year was really extensive and required all the attention of the pastor who at times was obliged to ask for outside help.

The second school year of the parish school opened on August 26, 1877, and on July 14, 1878, the first confirmation class received the Sacrament.  On September 2, 1878, a new term of the school, the introduction of the German language was inaugurated, and the same year an Orphanage was founded in LaSalle, mostly from offerings obtained from the parishoners, one of the largest in Chicago at that time.  In August 1879, a music school enlarged the educational facilities of the parish and was a marked success.   Within two years enough money was raised to move the old wooden church to the adjoining lot facing Evans Street (18th).

When the famous architect P. Huber had made sketches and a tentative plan of the proposed new church the building of a new house of worship was approved by the Building Committee and on September 8, 1881, the festival of St. Wnceslas, ground was broken for the foundations of the new church.  Contractor Holpuch built the foundations during a most severe winter and finished them in the Spring of 1882.  The brickwork was done under the supervision of architect Lay and Mr. Benes was in charge of the carpentry.  The solemn laying and blessing of the corner stone took place July 23, 1882.  During the Fall of 1882 the building operations were finished, and the church was under roof.  The cost of building the church amounted to $39,644,42, but after further expenses it grew to $45,000.  The building of the new church was completed during the Summer of 1883, and on September 23, 1883, the church was solemnly blessed.  The festival attracted many visitors, especially clergymen from 83 cities.

In the month of November 1883, the City Council ordered an elevation of the street grade of Evans (18th St.) Street, which raised a serious financial problem for the parish.  Another successful fair n February of 1884 provided the funds for this assessment.  Yet Evans Street remained for a long time without pavement.  After a rain many pools of water and much mud remained on the street.

On the other hand, 19th Street was paved up to Center Avenue (Racine).  Throop Street still remained a "planked street", by way of which cattle were driven from the CB&Q railroad tracks to the stockyards through the night.  A kind of social center existed on McMullen Court, popularly called Kocandova Street.

With permission of their superior, Rt. Rev. Archabbot Boniface Wimmer of St. Vincent's archabble, Latrobe, Pennsylvania, Fathers Wencelas Kocarnik and John Neopmucene jaeger, Czech Benedictines, conducted a mission in St. Procopius Church during the Lenten Season of 1884.  As the mission progressed the number of participants increased continually, to the joy and also to the fear of Father Coka.  He foresaw an increase of the enormous pastoral work he already had before the mission.  Then the assistant pastor at St. Procopius was sent to take over a parish in Detroit, Michigan.  Father Coka was again stranded with work.

Unable to get another assistant in Chicago, Father Coka traveled to St. Vincent's archabbey, presented his desperate need of an assistant, and begged at least for some help.  The abbot could spare a priest, so he sent Rev. Zigmund Singer.  Since Father Coka could get no further help, he presented a plan he had in his mind for a long time.  He would resign his parish and have it transferred to the Benedictines, provide the supposed Benedictine monastery would be founded at the colony of St. Procopius rather tha a small town in Nebraska.  Archabbot Wimmer promised Father Coka wholeheartedly and gave immediate attention to his offer.

Archabbot Wimmer approved the proposition.  Father Coka would resign, and replace Father Kocarnik in the diocese of Omaha, Nebraska and Fathers Wenceslas Kocarnik, John Nepomucene Jaeger and Zigmund Singer would be assigned permanently to St. Procopius parish in Chicago.  this decision went into effect on march 2, 1885.  On the following Sunday during solemn Mass, in the presence of all the church societies and the faithful who occupied the church, Archbishop Patrick Feehan of Chicago formally introduced Father John Jaeger as head of the St. Procopius community of Benedictines.

Notes: 1. Information for this article was obtained from 1964 and 1975 issues of the Catholic newspaper Narod Supplement.  Reproduced copies are available at the CSAGSI library for further review.  2. An additional article about St. Procopius by Dolores Benes Duy appeared in the August 1996 issue (Special Inaugural issue) of Koreny.

Newspaper Articles Related to Saint Procopius Catholic Church

Chicago Tribune – July 24, 1882 “Corner Stone Laying”

St. Procopius Roman Catholic Church.  The laying of the corner stone of the new Bohemian Catholic Church, St. Procopius, corner of Allport Avenue and West Eighteenth Street, occurred yesterday afternoon at 3 o’clock.  A procession composed of all the civic and military Bohemian societies in the city was formed about 2 o’clock on West Randolph Street to Blue Island Avenue, to Allport Avenue, and to the church.  The procession was a very creditable affair and a large number of men were in line.  The streets along the line of march were crowded, and the best of order prevailed.  The church is situated in the heart of the Bohemian settlement, and almost every house exhibited the red and white flag and the stars and stripes.

The old church is a large modern structure, situated on the north side of Eighteenth Street, midway between Allport and Centre avenues, and the new structure, situated at the northeast corner of Allport and Eighteenth Street, is to be of white stone, elegant and commodious.  A platform had been built over the foundation, and around this were flag staffs bearing the red and white colors.  The streets in the vicinity were densely packed with people and many of the housetops were crowded.  The exercises were conducted by Archbishop Feehan, assisted by the Rev. William Coka, pastor of the church, and a number of attending clergymen.  The clerical procession marched to the corner of the new structure, and the usual ceremony attending the laying of a corner stone was gone through with in an impressive manner.  Archbishop Feehan made a few remarks, after which the Rev. Father Choka delivered the sermon in Bohemian.  A large number of Choristers and acolytes participated in the exercises.  The work on the new structure will be rapidly pushed, and it is expected that it will be dedicated in the spring.

Svornost -- July 24, 1882

Bohemian Catholics Celebrate

Yesterday, was a day which is indelibly impressed into the memoirs of our Catholic countrymen; it was a most significant day for them.

The corner stone was laid of the new St. Procopius Church, which is being built by the community, under the leadership of their Pastor the Rev. P. V. Coka, 18th Street corner Allport Street in the midst of our largest Bohemian quarter.

Plans for the structure are the work of the eminent architect Paul Huber. The Church will be in the style of the Roman period. A steeple 164 feet high and visible for a long distance is to be the outward decoration of the building. At the front will be three portals, the central one finished in polished granite. The building will be 64 feet wide and 140 feet long, it will accommodate comfortably one thousand people and is to cost in the neighborhood of $45,000.00.The Church is to be completed this year.

Svornost – September 24, 1883

The Bohemian Roman Catholics yesterday held a celebration at the consecration of the new Catholic Church, corner 18th and Allport Streets. At 7 A.M. there was already a big crowd of people around the church. Many scouts and members of the church societies came. Early in the morning there arrived the delegates from St. Louis, and the St. Vaclav Knights went with the band to the railroad station to meet them. At 8 A.M. the procession started from the church on Center Avenue, then from 19th to Halsted Street, where the societies of St. John from 25th Street joined the march, which then proceeded on Halsted Street to 12th Street. Here the societies of St. Vaclav Church from De Koven Street and the Knights from St. Louis and Milwaukee, joined the crowd of celebrants.

The parade formed this way was splendid, because besides all Catholic Societies, which arrived even from the country, and Polish Knights, twenty-three Bohemian Clubs and Societies participated in the celebration. The procession proceeded on Halsted Street, and Blue Island Avenue, to the new church, which was consecrated by the Archbishop. Father Suchy from Milwaukee preached a sermon outside the church, and, inside, Father Hestoun from St. Louis preached. After 1 P.M all marched again to 19th and Halsted Streets and back again.

This celebration can really be called a splendid one, and our Catholic countrymen should be proud of it.

Svornost – March 2, 1885

Archbishop Feehan has transformed the Bohemian church of St. Prokop, at the corner of Eighteenth and Allport streets, into a monastery of the order of the Benedictine friars. Abbot Wimmer of St. Vincent, Pennsylvania, has named Father Nepomuk Jaeger as prior of the convent and two other friars as his assistants. The present parson, Vilem Coka, will take care of the precious lambs in the western part of the country. The parish of St. Prokop thus has the first convent of Benedictine friars in the United States, and we Bohemians may congratulate ourselves. Our Pilsen district will have one more ornament and a new joy.

Svornost -- 1 September, 1890

New Catholic School

Yesterday was a day of rejoicing and celebration for Bohemian Catholics of our city. They became the possessors of a beautiful new school building, of which they can well be proud, especially the members of St. Procopius Parish, who unafraid of the task, set about to build this beautiful refuge for their youth, a school such as we "Liberal minded" (Free thinkers) would not be able to provide so easily.

The school is located behind the church, on Allport St. near 16th St.  It is a building four stories high and well arranged for the purpose it is meant to serve. The erection of the building was under the supervision of the very conscientious and upright builder, F. C. Layer.

This new Catholic institution of learning was dedicated yesterday and will be given over to its purpose in a few days. Various societies of the community attended the Catholic celebration. A parade was formed and at 2:30 P. M. the massing of people in the vicinity of the school and church was immense.

Archbishop Feehan, in the company of the Priests and Trustees, went to the school building. With customary rites the building was consecrated, the keys to the building accepted and given to the Procopius community for the purposes indicated. After these rites the gathering returned into the church for blessing.

For the evening there was arranged a theatrical, a concert, and a large tablet in honor of the St. Procopius parishioners.

llinois Staats-Zeitung -- 2 July, 1900

A Bohemian Church Celebration

The Bohemians of Chicago yesterday celebrated St. Procopius' Day and also the silver jubilee of St. Procopius' parish. The day marked also the silver jubilee of the abbot of St. Procopius' abbey, the Reverend Nepomuk Yaeger. The six-day celebration began with a high mass in St. Procopius' Church yesterday. The Reverend Father Fritchy of the New Prague diocese of Minnesota delivered the address.

An imposing parade, arranged by the Bohemian societies of the city, added color to the celebration in the afternoon. The marshals of the procession were Messrs. Charles Dufek, Frank Sewky, and John Cermak. The program for today includes the dedication of orphanage at Lisle, Illinois, and the laying of the foundation of the Bohemian college in the same city.

Chicago Tribune -- April 15, 1901

Bohemians Object to Proposed School Laws Large Meeting Held in St. Procopius Hall, Resolutions Adopted, and Committee Appointed to Lobby.

A meeting of Bohemian Catholics was held in the school hall of St. Procopius Church, 18th and Allport streets, yesterday to protest against the bill for free text books to the public schools, and the bill denying to Colleges with small endowment the right to grant degrees.

Resolutions were adopted and a committee was appointed to call on members of the Chicago Board of Education and members of the Legislature and ask the defeat of the bills.

There was a large attendance at the meeting. It was called by a committee composed of the Rev. Procopius Nauzil, the Rev. John Ocenasek and the Rev. Charles Kohlbeck. Among the speakers were Theodore B. Thiele, Albert Janda, Casper Stech, the Rev. Valentine Kohlbeck and Theodore Thiele.

The speakers contended that if the school Board could furnish the rich people with free text books, the money should be used to equip school buildings where the Bohemian children would be benefited by them. At the present time, a number are unable to attend school on account of the limited accomodations. The bill, restricting the right to give to colleges having $100,000 or more endowment, would destroy several Catholic institutions, it was stated.

The committee appointed to work against the bills was composed of ex Alderman Frank Meek, J. Joseph Malcak, and Frank Suhrada.


Chicago Daily Tribune – September 29, 1901

Gallery of Local Celebrities

At this time, when the attention of the English speaking press and clergy is being directed on the efforts of the police to toward the plans and stamp out the organizations of Anarchists, little is said about one of the strongest local agents steadily at work combating these same plotters against law and order. Yet, few factors have been greater in minimizing the influence and spread of anarchy in Chicago and the country tributary to it than the journals printed in the language of the Slavic peoples, among whom are the most Anarchists, and especially those conducted n Bohemian under the direction of Abbot John Nepomuk Jaeger of the Order of St. Benedict.

For nearly a score of years Abbot Jaeger has labored in Chicago, and in all that time he has placed himself in opposition to the enemies of government.  He has fought them with their own weapons, establishing printing presses and daily papers for the purpose, and today is recognized as the greatest power for good among the Bohemians, not only of Chicago, but of all America.

Although there are Bohemians to be found in many sections of Chicago, the real Bohemian settlement is south of Sixteenth street and west of Halsted, centering along West Eighteenth.  In that vicinity are theaters, music halls, stores, hotels, and thousands of homes in which no tongue is spoken but that of Bohemia.

In the center of the district, at the intersection of Allport avenue and West Eighteenth street, is the Church of St. Procopius, and in the rear of it is the Benedictine Abbey of St. Procopius, the home of Abbot Jaeger.  From this he rules over the Benedictines of the West, over the Churches of St. Procopius and St. Vitus, the parochial school near his abbey, the Bohemian orphanage at Lisle and the College of St. Procopius at the same town, and the Benedictine Sisters in the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Chicago.  Beside his church is his printing office, whence are issued his four journals in the Bohemian tongue, which furnish the news of the world to Bohemians, not only in Chicago, but in all America – the Nation, a daily; the Catholic, a semi-weekly; the Children’s Friend, Sunday school paper; and the Agricultural News, a bi-weekly.

All that time St. Procopius Church was the largest Bohemian congregation in Chicago.  It was in charge of the Rev. William Coka.  There was a strong desire among the Bohemians for a regular establishment of a Bohemian religious order here, and for many years they had been saving funds to be able to support one.  In 1883 Father Coka resigned his pastorate in order to allow this plan to be carried out and St. Procopius Church was turned over to the Benedictines.  Father Jaeger was sent here as first pastor under the new regime.

He found the church heavily in debt and the people worshiping in an old wooden edifice, which he at once pronounced unsafe.  He set to work to build up the church and the order here, and at this he is still laboring, having now the largest Bohemian congregation in the United States, numbering 2,100 families and having erected a parochial school costing $100,000, a new church, an abbey, a college costing more than $100,000, a convent, and several other buildings, including the handsome new St. Vitus Church on Paulina street.

When he began his labors among the people here, Father Jaeger found that there were a number of atheistic Bohemians having a steadily growing influence among the colony through newspapers published in the home tongue.  These papers were all anarchistic and declared for the overthrow of the government, the clergy, and the police.  For a long time the clergyman found it impossible to overcome their influence.  They went into the homes with subtle arguments, which could be read over and over again and with passionately worded appeals against which the best words of counsel could not entirely prevail.  He determined to drive them out by their own means, and having saved enough money for the purpose, established the Narod, or Daily Nation, to furnish all the news, both of the church and the world at large, and to show up the false reasoning and the false hearts of the anarchistic editors.  Its success was beyond expectation and led to the establishment of the other papers to reach out even more broadly.

Today the abbey has $40,000 invested in the most modern printing machinery for turning out these papers.  They are the recognized organs of the Bohemians and have driven their rivals back until but three of them remain and these with scanty circulation.

As the Church of Saint Procopius grew in magnitude and in influence the head of it grew in importance, and in 1888 he was raised to the dignity of canonical prior. The local band of Benedictines by that step becoming a self governing priory.  In 1894 he was again elevated to the office of Abbot by Pope Leo XIII, after election by the brotherhood.  At his benediction of July 4 of that year the consecrator was Archbishop Feehan and the master of ceremonies the now Bishop Coadjutor, Peter Muldoon.  He now has but one superior in America, Innocent Wolf of Atchison, Kas., President of the order.

The latest enterprise of the Abbot of Saint Procopius and the one which is dearest to his heart has been the establishment of a college at Lisle, Ill.  Slowly he has saved money out of the church collections, stinting himself and living in his abbey as closely as might be, sparing money for nothing but the presses, until he was able to make a beginning on a building.  Slowly the fund and the building grew, until today the school is open for its first term in a fine new structure that is almost paid for.  There are eleven pupils this first year, and no more can be cared for, for the abbey has but nine brothers, and these must attend to two churches and teach in the parochial school as well as the college.  A modest beginning in the classics has been made, another course will be taken up next term, and in a few years the Abbot expects to have a strong school in which the youth of his nationality may secure free education whether or not they design themselves for the church.

Abbot Jaeger celebrated his jubilee last year, the twenty fifty anniversary of his consecration to priesthood.  He has laid aside the active duties of the pastorate, having ben succeeded in that by the Re. Procopius Neuzil, the present prior.  He still finds time; however, to devote himself to the cultivation of music among his people, and the music loving Bohemians are quick to respond to his call.

Denní Hlasatel -- August 06, 1913

Dedication Celebrations in Lisle

Some twenty-five miles southwest of Chicago in a very handsome, undulating part of Du Page County, surrounded by deep forests, green meadows, and picturesque rural scenery, lies the little community of Lisle, Illinois. This small settlement might have remained forever without any significance if it were not for the Chicago Bohemian Order of Benedictines. It was they who made a community of it now known throughout Bohemian-America--a community which, it may be justly said, should, for all non-Catholic Bohemians in America, serve as a splendid example of enterprising spirit, kindness, and self-sacrificing helpfulness. These qualities can be appreciated more thoroughly because here they are devoted to scholastic purposes, to the building of Bohemian young men--our future leaders in this country--and finally to the benefit of our orphans and old people.

How was this accomplished in Lisle? By establishing the College of St. Procopius, which is the only Bohemian institution of higher learning in the United States; and by building a large orphanage and old people's home which was endowed with a huge tract of fertile soil. Little wonder that these two institutions put life into Lisle! Both the College and the orphanage prospered right from the start, and soon it became necessary to build an addition to the College in order to accommodate the steadily growing number of students who are being sent to Lisle from Bohemian and Slovak settlements all over the United States.

The original College building was paid for by the Chicago Bohemian Order of Benedictines with the help of contributions from Bohemian citizens of Chicago and Bohemian Catholics in the whole country. The addition was paid for by the Order alone, just as the Order alone paid for the building of the Sacred Heart Convent in Lisle, which is the first Bohemian nunnery of Benedictine sisters in the United States. The initiative for the building of the Convent, which now has sixty sisters, was taken by Abbot Jaeger of Chicago, now the head and moving spirit of all three institutions in Lisle. The abbess of the nunnery is his own sister, Mother Superior Kepomucena Jaeger. The principal purpose of the convent is to educate teachers for all Bohemian Catholic schools under the supervision of the Benedictine Order, and to train nurses for the orphanage and the old people's home.

The building of the convent and the addition to the College was completed a short while ago, and, after a solemn dedication, both were opened yesterday. A large number of people from the whole district came to Lisle to attend this double celebration, and Catholic Bohemians of Chicago went so far as to organize a special expedition in which over eleven hundred people took part. If it is remembered that there were more than five hundred participants from the vicinity of Lisle, it is easy to understand that the normally quiet and peaceful community witnessed a day of unusual activity.

A special train left Chicago Union Station around 9:30 A. M.

It consisted of twelve cars and took additional passengers at the 16th Street and Western Avenue station and also in Hawthorne. There were no official delegations of organized bodies, but many Chicago societies were well represented by individual members. Likewise the members of Catholic organizations of Lisle participated in large numbers. The main body of visitors arrived at Lisle at 11 A. M., some of them walking, some driving the additional two miles to the convent. The visitors passed through one festive, beautifully decorated gate placed at the depot at Lisle and another such gate in front of the College. Shortly after their arrival, the first ritual, the dedication of the nunnery, took place. It was performed by His Grace J. Ed. Quigley, the Archbishop of Chicago, with the assistance of a large number of priests of lesser rank. After the dedication, a mass was celebrated by Reverend Gerl, at which the sermon was delivered by the most Reverend Jos. Koudelka the first Bohemian-American bishop, who was recently elevated to this post. After the mass the audience was addressed in English by Archbishop Quigley.

The convent itself is a four-story brick and stone building harmonizing in style with the older structures. It is divided into several sections, all the rooms of which are spacious, light, and airy. An enclosed passage connects the main building with an addition housing the laundry and engine room, from which the convent is supplied with heat and light. All appointments in the building are modern and practical. The convent stands in the midst of a large garden, and, as the reader will see from the picture, it makes a very pleasant impression. The building cost approximately $65,000. It includes a chapel, the main altar of which was donated by Mrs. Siroky.

After the dedication ceremonies, a pleasant lunch was served in the large dining room and the visitors were given a rest until 3 P. M., when the dedication of the addition to St. Procopius College started. By that time the addition was filled with people who had attended the morning ceremonies. The solemn procession started from the old building, and the ceremony took place on the top floor of the addition, which how houses the College chapel. The chapel has one have, and its main altar is situated in a vaulted apse. The altar was made by the Benedictine monks themselves from drawings by Reverend Nouza. There are two side altars and two more to the left of the entrance, with the confessionals on the right. In front of the main altar there is a pulpit and four rows of pews for the clergy. The pews were donated by Mr. Vaclav Lalla. The murals were done by Brother Josef Pondelicek of the Order, the pews in the have by our countryman, Mr. Svoboda of Wisconsin.

The dedication of the addition in general and the consecration of the chapel was also performed by Archbishop quigley, assisted by a large number of clergymen. After the ceremonies a sermon was preached by monseignear Fr. Tichy of Silver Lake, Minnesota, who stressed the fine and eminently successful work of the College, as a result of which it had been necessary to erect the addition, and he also paid his compliments to Abbot Jaeger on this achievement.

After the sermon Archbishop Quigley pronounced the benediction which concluded the ceremony.

The benediction was followed by a reception given by Archbishop Quigley for the clergy who were present. It was his special purpose to meet the Bohemian clergymen, whose number, in addition to those already mentioned, included almost all Bohemian Catholic priests of Chicago. Of these we would like to mention a few chosen at random: The Reverend Fathers Kohlbeck, Neuzil, Rebec, Mergl, and Jedlicka. There were many priests from rural districts who came to Lisle also for the purpose of attending the convention of Bohemian Catholic clergy which will last until Friday.

No doubt our readers will be interested in the two photographs which grace our article. One of them shows the addition, which is almost as large as the main college building itself. Its plan and elevation was made by Architect Layer, and the contractor's work, which was started by J. Strnad, who died recently, was finished by his son. The addition cost approximately $85,000, which raises the total cost of the St. Procopius College to almost $250,000. The addition is built in the same style as the old structure and contains classrooms, lecture halls, dormitories, and refectories. The College will now be able to house 250 students.

Chicago visitors remained at Lisle until 7 P. M., at which time they boarded their special train and returned home. The priests, of course, stayed in Lisle where they will remain until Friday, by which time it is expected that the convention will have finished with its work.

Naperville Sun – June 28, 2015

Diane DiVall – St. Procopius Abbey provides peaceful setting for reflection

Nestled beyond an immaculately landscaped and inconspicuous entrance stands the home of 25 Benedictine monks who live in community with each other and the surrounding neighborhoods that they have contributed greatly to for the past century.

St. Procopius Abbey began in 1885, according to The Rev. James Flint, who serves as its historian, librarian, procurator, archivist and vocation director. That's when several Benedictine monks came from Pennsylvania to the parish of St. Procopius in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago.

There, they founded a monastic community that served eastern European immigrants, especially of Czech and Slovak descent.

The Rev. Odillo Crkva lived in Czechoslovakia as a young boy and joined an abbey before the Communists occupied his native land. He still resides at St. Procopius Abbey today as one of the oldest residents.

When his homeland was taken over, he was studying to be a priest in Rome and was effectively exiled from his home country. Crkva said that is how he and many of his fellow Czechs came to the United States and got to know each other at St. Procopius church in Chicago.

The Rev. James Flint says St. Procopius thrived in the Pilsen neighborhood where Czech and Slovak immigrants sought a place to feel at home and observe their faith without consequence. "The Czech immigrants coming over here would find clergy who would speak their language," he said "They were part of a community again."

Over time, that community dissipated and St. Procopius moved to its current location at the southeast corner of College Road and Maple Avenue in Lisle.

The Abbey property came to encompass what is now Green Trails subdivision, Benedictine University and Benet Academy (whose present campus began as an orphanage). Much of the property was farm land that the monks worked to support their schools. The farm land was eventually sold as the monks moved away from farming. However, now, as well as then, the monks follow what is called the Rule of St. Benedict, which counsels "seeking God by a life of prayer, obedience and personal conversion."

Austin Murphy is abbot of St. Procopius Abbey and holds the distinction of being the youngest abbot ever to serve at St. Procopius.

James says Murphy was only 36 when he was elected abbot. Asked about the honor of being elected while so young, Murphy said, "It's very humbling. I don't know. It's a disadvantage, lacking years of experience. But, St. Benedict says the young can have good ideas." While attending the University of Chicago, where he earned a bachelor's degree in economics, he learned of St. Procopius Abbey through a girl whose father was a cook at the Abbey.

After graduating, he attended a retreat there. Murphy says, "During the retreat I felt God calling me." The Abbey still hosts vocation retreats. The next, Come & See Discernment retreat, will be held July 31 to Aug. 2.

Contrary to what popular culture portrays, not all monks are cut off from the outside world. While praying, living a relatively simple life and not seeking the things of this world still apply to the men living in community at St. Procopius, they are as varied and individual as most groups of men.

The Rev. Edward Kucera is a perfect example. He joined the monastery in 1947, following World War II. He spent 20 years in the United States Air Force as a chaplain and 15 years in the U.S. Army.

He brought the lessons of fellowship, humility, gratitude and appreciation of life with him to his classes, which he taught at Benet for many years.

Before that, he attended Benet as a young man and graduated from the school in 1943. He still makes frequent visits to the nearby campus to visit the students in his motorized cart. Kucera also served as Athletic Director at both Benet and Benedictine Academy and was in charge of St. Joseph's Orphanage when it existed on the property that is now Benet Academy. "I was planning on being a civil engineer and getting married. While the girl I was going to marry said, 'Are you sure you don't want to be a priest? Why don't you try it out?'"

Edward urges young men who may have an inner voice urging them to consider the religious life to give that voice strong consideration.

As he puts it, "If you just stand under the marquee, you'll never understand the picture."

So, he encourages taking part in a retreat at St. Procopius and then taking the needed time to discern whether the religious life suits you.

Abbott Austin said he feels blessed to be living the life he is living at St. Procopius.

"It's a beautiful life and I'm grateful for it."

But, he acknowledges it's not for everyone. "It's a different way of life. Our way of life is counter cultural. In a noisy world, we keep times of silence. It's even difficult for us to do at times, since we are affected by the noise in our culture."

Nevertheless, Kucera, like so many other priests and religious brothers at St. Procopius, has devoted his life to God and this community. James explains it is the Benedictine way to find out what the community needs and then to serve that need.

It all echoes back to St. Benedict's rule of stability.

"Life has ruts," James said. "Ruts have a bad reputation. But, they keep you out of trouble."

Additional Resources

  • Family Search, through its Chicago Catholic Church Records, has Saint Procopius Baptism, Marriage and Death Records.
  • CSAGSI has a set of Saint Procopius Death Records that are not available elsewhere.
  • Saint Procopius Church has additional information -
  • Saint Procopius Church provides genealogy look up service
  • The Allen County Public Library has a good collection of materials related to Saint Joseph's Bohemian Orphanage in Lisle -
  • Flickr has a nice set of images -
  • This web site also has a nice set of images -

Web page background image - Chicago Historical Society -