Saint Wenceslaus Catholic Church - Chicago
1866 - 1955
The Winter of 1999 KORENY contained two articles written by Paul Nemecek, previous editor of the KORENY. One article described Saint Wenceslaus Catholic Church of Omaha, Nebraska. The other article described Saint Wenceslaus Catholic Church of Chicago. We have used many references to Paul Nemecek's article and also included some additonal information on the Chicago church (1)
"In 1916 the Bohemian Catholics of Chicago have eleven congregations. Nine are exclusively Bohemian, the other two are mixed congregations. They are as follows : St. Wenceslaus, DeKoven and Desplaines Streets; St. John's, Thirtieth Street and Lowe Avenue; St. Procopius, Eighteenth and Alport Streets ; St. Vitus, Eighteenth Place and Paulina Street ; SS. Cyrill and Methodius, Fiftieth Street and Hermitage Avenue ; Our Lady of Good Counsel, 916 North Western Avenue ; Our Lady of Lourdes, Keeler Avenue and Fifteenth Street; St. Ludmila's, Albany Avenue and Twentyfourth Street ; Blessed Agnes, Central Park Avenue and Twenty-seventh Street ; Marie Celle, 1428 South Euclid Avenue, South Oak Park, Illinois; Mary, Queen of Heaven, Fifty-third Avenue and Twenty-fourth Place, Cicero, Chicago, Illinois. Each Bohemian parish has its parochial school. There are at present 8200 children in these schools. The Bohemian Catholics are fully cognizant of the importance of a thorough training in Catholic schools, for experience has taught them that children who have not received a thorough Catholic education in our own schools are, as a rule, lost to their faith."(2)
Located in what is sometimes nicknamed "Praha or the Praha District", Saint Wenceslaus opened its doors before the Chicago Fire, a devastating event, which would come to alter this area and see many Bohemians move to newer Bohemian settlement areas of Chicago. What is significant is not only is Saint Wenceslaus the first Bohemian Catholic Church to be established in Chicago, but also that it survived the Chicago Fire of 1871, along with the church's various early records that are used by many of us to discover bits and pieces of our family genealogy.
Those records are part of the Family Search website, available free, to all of us (Registration, free, is required to use Family Search online resources.) (3)
Before Saint Wenceslaus, Catholic Bohemians would use other nearby Catholic churches. St. Peters, on Polk and Clark, and St. Francis, on Clinton and Mather, were nearby and Family Search online records reveal Bohemian surnames among the early records. The difficulty of this was the existing local Catholic Churches did not have clergy who spoke Bohemian, making confession and other religious activities an obstacle to overcome. (4) This would change when activity began in 1863 to lead to Saint Wenceslaus opening its doors in 1866.
"On. August 14, 1863, they called a meeting at which it was decided to buy the property of W. W. Washburn, on De Koven and Des Plaines Streets for $1,100, and began to build a church as soon as possible. Eighty five families subscribed as parishioners and promised to help build the church and support the parish. They began building the church in 1865, and finished it the following year. It was a wooden combination building, comprising a church, school and living quarters for a priest. When the building was completely finished and the church furnished, Mr. John Kalal and Anthony Svoboda asked Bishop J. Duggan for a Bohemian priest, but the bishop had none to send. At the request of the parishioners and with the permission of the bishop, Rev. A. Lang of Dubuque, Iowa, came to Chicago and attended the parish for two weeks. After his departure, the Jesuits from Holy Family church said Mass in the new church every Sunday, but not knowing the Bohemian language could not hear their confessions until Rev. F. X. Sulak, S. J., came in April and attended to the parish regularly. Rev. F. X. Sulak, S. J., was born and studied in Kromeriz, Bohemia, and spoke the Bohemian language fluently. Rev. F. X. Sulak stayed, however, only two months, when he was recalled to give missions to the Bohemians and Poles scattered throughout the United States. (Saint Wenceslaus Image - (5))
After Rev. F. Sulak 's leave the parish was again without a pastor or an attending priest. During this time St. Wenceslaus Society took charge of the parish, and tried to get a priest for the parish. A day of great importance and an occasion for much rejoicing was October 28, 1866, when Rev. Joseph Molitor, the lately appointed priest, came to take charge of the parish. From that time on the parish made marked and steady progress. In 1867 a new organ and church bell were bought, and in 1869 more property, with a Baptist church was bought. The newly acquired church building was made into a school, which was given to the charge of the Franciscan Sisters, and a rectory was built on one of the vacant lots. The old church was also enlarged and remodeled." (6)
Saint Wenceslaus, by a shifting wind, or some other manner of good fortune, escaped destruction during the Chicago Fire. The Great Fire began very close to the church but the fire moved away, not toward, the church itself. (Map - Fire area, location of Saint Wenceslaus - (7)) The fire would change the composition of the neighborhood surrounding Saint Wenceslaus. While Saint Wenceslaus church and its parish area would continue to prosper and grow, the rebuilding of the neighborhood would bring change. A portion of this early area of Bohemian settlement would not be rebuilt with many of the original Bohemians, who first lived there, returning. Bohemian settlement would move outward coinciding with the development what woud become to be known as the Czech Pilsen district. (8)
"In 1877 the number of attending school children was so great that the five school rooms could not accommodate them, and more rooms had to be built. It was decided to raise the church and arrange school rooms and a home for the sisters on the ground floor.
In 1881 a church tower was erected and many improvements were made on the property. In 1887 the church was again remodeled, and beautiful new stained-glass windows set in, and in 1893 a fine new brick school building was erected on De Koven Street. During the following years many minor improvements were made on the property and buildings." (9)
In 1906, Father Joseph Molitor died.(Summary below)
The Fiftieth Anniversary of Saint Wenceslaus:
Bohemian Church Has Jubilee
"Bohemian Catholics yesterday celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the first Bohemian church and school in Chicago. Exercises were held at St. Wenceslaus church, where Archbishop Quigley and Bishop Paul Rhode celebrated solemn high mass. Judge Kickham Scanland and Charles Vopicka were among the speakers at the banquet held in the evening. The church was founded by the late Rev. J. Moliter." (10) (Image Katolic 11)
"The Catholic community of St. Wenceslaus Church at De Koven and Desplaines Streets held a significant celebration yesterday. It commemorated the golden anniversary of the St. Wenceslaus Church and of the founding of the community itself. The prevailing beautiful autumn weather was an inducement to large crowds of our Catholic countrymen from other parts of Chicago to assemble around the historic church and help their local friends celebrate the festive event. Both the streets mentioned, as well as Bunker, Canal, and also, to some degree, Halsted Street, had put on a holiday garb for this occasion: From the roofs of our countrymen's houses waved American and Bohemian flags, and many also carried garlands and festoons of fresh greenery and flowers. The school, the church, and the parish, in addition to all such decorations, were also adorned with flags of papal colors. The inside of the church made a surprisingly beautiful impression with its profuse decoration of fir tree branches and thousands of lights. Its pews and all standing room were filled to capacity long before the ceremonies started, and the doors had to be closed in order to stop the multitudes.....
The celebration consisted of a festive sermon preached by the Right Reverend Bishop Josef. M. Koudelka of Superior, Wisconsin. He spoke in Bohemian and his discussion centered around the golden jubilee of the church and the life of St. Wenceslaus, whose church celebration took place yesterday. After the sermon, Reverend Havlovic, with the assistance of Reverend Kohlbeck and Reverend Zenisek, celebrated a High Mass which was also attended by Archbishop J. E. Quigley and his chancellor. The Archbishop gave a short address in English in which he complimented Bohemian Catholic communities on their loyalty and progress. The music and choral singing were directed by our well-known conductor, Mr. Jan Geringer." (12) (Denni) (Note - additional information on Jan Geringer - https://csagsi.org/john-geringer/)
"In 1932 Saint Wenceslaus was lifted up and moved across the street. "St. Wenceslaus' Roman Catholic church, which was six years old when the Chicago Fire started in 1871 a block from its site at De Koven and Des Plaines streets, is being moved to a new location. Workmen yesterday were engaged in moving the old structure from the northeast corner of the intersection, where it was erected in 1865 to the northwest corner. The Rev. T.M. Sampolinski is pastor of the church." (13)
St. Wenceslaus Church To Hold Special Service - "Next Sunday morning at St. Wenceslaus church, De Koven and Des Plaines streets, special services will commemorate completion of the remodeling of the historic edifice following its removal across the street. Final touches have been made in repairing the tower of the church which was build in 1865.
It is recalled that, although hungry flames lapped about the church during the Chicago Fire, heat blistered its paint and sparks were blown against its roof, the edifice was spared.
This little church that withstood the terrible flames is still standing, a stanch symbol of the efficacy of faith, says the Rev. Thomas M Sampolinski, pastor." (14)
Saint Wenceslaus (church, rectory, school, and convent purchased by the Chicago land clearance commission) was demolished in 1955 "as part of the 52 acre blighted area being cleared by the Chicago land clearance commission for redevelopment by private capital. The project is called the West Central Industrial district." The school once had eight classrooms. The last graduating class had six students, and only two rooms had been currently used for thirty eight students when the purchase was made.
On June 12, 1955, "Senior Rites Set Last Time At Old School" - St. Wenceslaus grade school De Koven and Des Plaines sts., will hold its last graduating exercises in the parish church at 3 p.m. today. The church built in 1865 is one of the few remaining church buildings that survived the Chicago fire of 1871.
Church and school will be town down July 1 to make room for an industrial center and the Congress superhighway project. Only six students will be graduated at the exercises. Other students in the school will be transferred to Holy Guardian Angel school."
Father Joseph Molitor - Pastor of Saint Wenceslaus - 1866 to 1906
Father Joseph Molitor would be the pastor of Saint Wenceslaus from 1866 until his death in 1906. Father Molitor's name appears on many of the early birth / baptismal and marriage records for Saint Wenceslaus found at Family Search.
"Rev. Joseph Molitor was born in Valasske Mizirici, Moravia, March 14, 1842. After attending the village school he attended college, and for two years the seminary of Olomouc. At the request of Bishop Duggan he went to Louvain, where he finished his theological studies, and was ordained in 1866. After a short visit to his parents in Moravia he left for Chicago, where he was made pastor of St. Weneeslaus parish, where he worked energetically and unselfishly for forty years." (15)
One story that does not appear in many references is Father Molitor's influence in the establishment of a second Catholic Church. That church was Panna Marie Dobre Rady (St. Mary of Good Counsel). A newspaper article published in the Denni Hlasatel, on the 25th anniversary of the founding of that church provides the information.
".....The parish of Panna Marie Dobre Rady was formally founded September 4, 1889, although one of the associations which founded the settlement had been in existence for a year prior to that date. A great deal of help and many suggestions were given to the founders by the late Reverend Father Josef Molitor of St. Wenceslaus Parish. Upon his initiative a large piece of real estate, in fact, all the land bounded by Western Avenue, Campbell Avenue, Walton Street, and Iowa Street, was bought by the original settlers. The original church stood on Walton Street and was moved to its present site later on. Next to the church there is a large school building. Some of the lots in the block have been sold to members of the parish. (Image Molitor 16)
The first pastor of the church, at that time not yet quite ready, was the Reverend Father J. F. Jedlicka, who was followed by the Reverend Fathers Hodyc, Hynek, J. Kestl, Keclik, Kolar, and, finally, F. W. Jedlicka. The church and the school were built by the late Jos. Strnad. It is important to mention that the original settlement was not Bohemian only; there were also Slovaks there. There are many children in the school, and the settlement, or community, is rather a strong one....." (17) (Read entire article, in Czech, from Denni Hlasatel newspaper in PDF Format)
Father Molitor is also mentioned in the establishment of Saint Adalbert's Catholic Church in 1873. "St. Adlabert's parish was organized in 1873 by Polish residents, who lived in the then sparsely settled territory on the southwest side, extending from Taylor Street to the Town of Lake......... In the preliminary work of organization, the advice and guidance of the late Rev. Joseph Molitor, pastor of St. Wenceslaus' Bohemian church, proved invaluable......." (18)
The earliest church helped by Father Molitor seems to be St. John Nepomucene. "In February, 1871, when the population of Bohemian Catholics seemed to be strong enough to start a parish for themselfves, on the advice and with the help of REv. Jos. Molitor, pastor of St. Wencesalus church, they bouth four lots on 25th Street and Portland (now Princeton) avenue and the same year they decided to build a frame church......" (19) (A new St. Ludmila was built in 1913 at 30th and Lowe)
Another story references Father Molitor as having a connection the development of Catholic newspapers and perhaps to the publishing of Catholic school books in Chicago.
Father Molitor is listed on incorporation news as one of the founders of the Bohemian Catholic News Company, in a notice published by the Tribune in 1888. Another article has been found describing the numerous publishing projects by Bohemians. "The Bohemian Catholics of Chicago have a daily paper, the "Narod" (Nation); a semi-weekly, the "Katolik" (Catholic); a weekly the "Pritel Ditek" (Children's Friend) and a semi-monthly, the Hospodarske Listy" (Agricultural News). These papers are published by the Bohemian Benedictine Press, which is owned and controlled by the Bohemian Benedictine Order. These papers are bit established for any pecuniary gain, but in the interest of religion and morality. The Bohemian Benedictine Press likewise publishes all the Bohemian school books, prints the organs of several Bohemian Catholic benevolent organizations, publishes books of a religious nature, etc. Its plant is one of the most modern and up to date Catholic printing plants in the country......" (20)
A newspaper article published after his death lists not only the newspaper "Katolik", but also the "Cesky Literani", a publishing organization, Molitor founded in 1876, for publishing Czech books for Czech Catholic schools. He eventually also gave this to the Benedictines. (21)
Father Joseph Molitor had a role in the establishment of two of the earliest area cemeteries commonly used by Czechs.
One, known by several nicknames, including, "Old Bohemian", and "Bohemian Catholic", Saint Adalbert's Cemetery in Niles had its beginning in 1872.
"In October 1872 Father Adolph Bakanowski, C.R., pastor of the first and largest Catholic parish, St. Stanislaus Kostka, serving the newly arriviing Polish immigrants to Chicago, and Father Joseph Molitor, pastor of St. Wenceslaus Bohemian Parish, joined forces in purchasing 21 acres of land for the purpose of a common cemetery in Niles, Illinois, at a cost of $5,500. Father Bakanowski delivered a Polish sermon and Father William Coka gave an address in the Czech language." (22)
Information on the other, the creation of Bohemian National Cemetery, is credited as being developed in response to actions of Father Molitor which displeased many Bohemians.
The references vary, but they all involve the death of Marie Silhanek of Saint Wenceslaus parish. She died in July 25,1876 and was not allowed burial in Saint Adalbert Catholic Cemetery as Father Molitor indicated she had not made her last confession before her death. In response, numerous Bohemian community leaders and organizations worked together and in 1877 the Bohemian National Cemetery in Chicago was established. (23) Marie Silhanek, listed with a death date of 1877 is buried in Graceland Cemetery. (Section P, Lot 367, S 1/2, Grave 1) The memorial has a short summary. (24)
He is interred at the cemetery he helped found, Saint Adalbert's Catholic Cemetery in Niles, Illinois. Find A Grave Memorial #125242277.
Dziennik Chicagoski, Polish Language newspaper, Chicago, Illinois, 25 August 1906, Saturday Page 1 (Google Translate)
"Yesterday morning Fr. Jozef Molitor, pastor of the Czech Church of St. Wenceslaus, on the corner of Desplaines and DeKoven streets. He died from an attack of apoplexy; he was sick from Wednesday evening and every moment was expected to be death. S.ps. Rev. Jozef Molitor was born on March 14, 1842, he studied in Bohemia and in his home country; as soon as he was ordained a priest, he was called to Chicago in 1865 to take over the priestly protection of Bohemia here, and from that year he was pastor of St. Wenceslaus until his death. He was also a great friend of Poles, he also took care of them in Chicago, until their heads had no parishes, and he helped them in establishing a parish. He was active in founding almost all Czech parishes in Chicago. For several years he held the office of the diocesan counselor. The funeral of Sr. Józef Molitora will be held on Monday morning; J.E. Fr. Archbishop Quigley, Rev. Fr. Bishop Muldoon, as well as almost all of the Chicago clergy, and unbelievably many clergy from other cities."
(Image Right: Death Notice Joseph Molitor Bureau County Tribune Princeton Illinois 9-7-1906 Page5)
The Chicago Tribune, Tribune Publishing, Chicago, Illinois, August 27, 1907, Page 14:
"Hundreds of Bohemians filed in a continuous line through St. Wenceslaus' Catholic church, at Taylor and Desplianes streets, yesterday afternoon and evening, where the body of the Rev. Joseph Molitor, pastor of the church, lay in state. The priest died on Thursday.
Father Molitor, who was 64 years old, was the founder of the Bohemian Catholic parishes in Chicago. He became pastor of St. Wenceslaus' the oldest Bohemian church in the city, at the time of its establishment, thirty-nine years ago. For many years he was a member of the archbishop's council."
1. The Winter 1999 KORENY is available at the CAGSCI Collection at the Riverside Public Library in Riverside, Illinois, or online to current CASGSI members.
2. "Illustrated Souvenir of the Archdiocese of Chicago" - Commemorating the Installation of the Most Reverend Archbishop George W. Mundelein, D.D., February 9, 1916, R.H. Fleming Publishing Company, Chicago, Page 99.
3. Family Search web link (Chicago Catholic Churches online records): https://www.familysearch.org/search/collection/1452409
4. "Diamond Jubilee of the Archdiocese of Chicago", St. Mary’s Training School Press, Des Plaines, Illinois, 1920, Pages 355 - 357.
5. "Illustrated Souvenir of the Archdiocese of Chicago" - Commemorating the Installation of the Most Reverend Archbishop George W. Mundelein, D.D., February 9, 1916, R.H. Fleming Publishing Company, Chicago, Page 100.
6. "Diamond Jubilee of the Archdiocese of Chicago", St. Mary’s Training School Press, Des Plaines, Illinois, 1920, Pages 355 - 357.
9. "Diamond Jubilee of the Archdiocese of Chicago", St. Mary’s Training School Press, Des Plaines, Illinois, 1920, Pages 355 - 357.
10. "Bohemian Church Has Jubilee" - The Chicago Tribune, newspaper, Chicago, Illinois, Tribune Publishing, 9-29-1913, Page 16.
11. "Big Saint Wenceslaus Day Celebraton" - "Katolik" - Catholic Czech Language Newspaper, Chicago, Illinois, Neuzil, Kvitek, Koldbeck Publishers,1-9- 1930, Page8.
12. Denni Denni Hlasatel – Chicago Foreign Language Newspaper, Chicago / Cicero, September 29, 1913.
13. The Chicago Tribune, newspaper, Chicago, Illinois, Tribune Publishing, 1-14-1932, Page 8.
14. Ibid,, May 15, 1932, Page 59.
15. ("Diamond Jubilee of the Archdiocese of Chicago", St. Mary’s Training School Press, Des Plaines, Illinois, 1920, Page 354.)
16."Katolik", Catholic Czech Language Newspaper, Chicago, Illinois, Neuzil, Kvitek, Koldbeck Publishers, 8-29-1906, Page 1.
17.Denni Hlasatel – Chicago Foreign Language Newspaper, Chicago / Cicero June 28, 1915 Page 2
18. "Diamond Jubilee of the Archdiocese of Chicago", St. Mary’s Training School Press, Des Plaines, Illinois, 1920, Pages 433.
19. "Illustrated Souvenir of the Archdiocese of Chicago" - Commemorating the Installation of the Most Reverend Archbishop George W. Mundelein, D.D., February 9, 1916, R.H. Fleming Publishing Company, Chicago, Page 99.
20. 12, "Diamond Jubilee of the Archdiocese of Chicago", St. Mary’s Training School Press, Des Plaines, Illinois, 1920, Page 417.
21."Katolic", Czech language Catholic newspaper, Chicago, Illinois, 8-26-1906, Page 1.
22. http://livinghistoryofillinois.com/pdf_files/Village%20of%20Niles,%20Illinois%20Centennial%20History.pdf, page 32.
23. BNC http://www.bohemiannationalcemeterychicago.org/history.html
24. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/23016858/marie-silhanek (Writer assumes this to be correct person, but wrong death year) Graceland record lists: Burial 7/27/1876 Section P Lot 367 S. 1/2