St. Bronislawa Church at 87th and Colfax Ave. on the southeast side of Chicago was established in 1928 to relieve overcrowding at the Polish parish of Immaculate Conception at 88th and Commercial Ave. The Polish community in South Chicago had grown rapidly since the organization of Immaculate Conception parish in 1882: indeed, by 1925, schools in the national parishes of St. Michael, St. Mary Magdalene, and Immaculate Conception enrolled 4,124 children.
George Cardinal Mundelein was acquainted with the work of the Conventual Franciscan Fathers and he contacted Rev. Felix Baran, OFM Cony, about organizing a national parish in Chicago. Father Baran had been pastor of a parish in Elmhurst, Long Island when Cardinal Mundelein was chancellor of the Brooklyn diocese many years earlier.
On Dec. 27, 1927, negotiations were concluded for the purchase of 15 lots at 87th and Colfax Ave. at a cost of $54,000. Following the next meeting of Cardinal Mundelein and Father Baran, Rev. Cyril Kita, OFM Cony, was appointed pastor of the new Polish parish which had been named St. Bronislawa. Prior to his appointment in Chicago, Father Kita had been stationed at St. Stephen Protomartyr Church in Shamokin, PA. in the Harrisburg diocese.
The new pastor arrived in Chicago on Jan. 3, 1928. He stayed at the neighboring parishes of St. Michael and St. Mary Magdalene until a furnished apartment at 8735 5. Kingston Ave. was leased at a cost of $80 per month. Leaflets were printed and distributed throughtout the South Chicago neighborhood announcing that two Masses would be celebrated on Jan. 8, 1928 in the auditorium of Bowen high school, 2910 E. 89th St. During January, about 75 persons gathered on Sundays to attend Mass at this location.
On Jan. 29, 1928, Mass was celebrated for the first time in a prefabricated temporary structure which had been erected at 8700 5. Colfax Ave. St. Bronislawa Church was blessed by Rev. John M. Lange, pastor of St. Michael Church at 83rd and South Shore dr. According to a census, approximately 500 families lived within the new parish.
On May 3, 1928, ground at 8716 S. Colfax Ave. was broken for a combination church-school building. As part of the celebration, the Dramatic Circle of St. Josaphat Church in Milwaukee, WI presented a play, “Skalmierzanki,” (an operetta of the people of Skalmierz) in the auditorium of St. Mary Magdalene parish.
Father Kita resided on Kingston Ave. until a two story house at 8708 S. Colfax Ave. was vacated. This building, which had been occupied by the Hibza and Wroblewsid families, was remodeled for use as a rectory. Construction on the combination building proceeded at a rapid pace after the problem of quicksand was resolved and the cornerstone was laid on July 4,1928.
The Felician Sisters opened the parish school on Sept. 4, 1928 with an enrollment of 500 students. A house at 8715 S. Kingston Ave. was purchased at a cost of $17,000 and this became the parish convent.
Cardinal Mundelein dedicated St. Bronislawa Church on June 16, 1929. Leo Strelka designed the combination building which was completed at a cost of $203,000. The structure contained church quarters with a seating capacity of 900 persons, eight classrooms, and an auditorium.
In August 1942, Father Kita was elected provincial of St. Bonaventure Province of Franciscan Friars Minor Conventuals, and he left Chicago for Lake Forest, IL, the location of the order’s Novitiate. Succeeding pastors included Rev. Chester Czarnecki, OFM Cony., 1942-1947; Rev. Eugene Piasecki, OFM Cony., 1947-1954 and 1966-1970; Rev. Callistus Winiarz, OFM, Cony., 19541960; and Rev. Sigismund Grochowski, 1960-1966.
On Sept. 27, 1953, Samuel Cardinal Stritch presided at the silver jubilee of St. Bronislawa parish. At the time, parish membership numbered 1,000 families. The last building to be constructed in the parish complex was the administration center which was completed in 1959 at 8708 S. Colfax Ave. on the site of the former rectory. The old wooden church has served as the Teen Hall in recent years.
In January 1970, Rev. Ferdinand Kintop, OFM Cony, was appointed pastor, a post he retained for the next eight years.
On June 22, 1975, St. Bronislawa Church was struck by lightning. The damage was repaired and the interior of the structure was renovated. The parish’s golden jubilee was celebrated on May 21, 1978 with a special Mass of Thanksgiving. At the time, 207 children were enrolled in the school under the direction of four Felician Sisters and five lay teachers.
On Sept. 1, 1978, Rev. Anthony Labedis, OFM Cony, was appointed pastor. He was very familiar with St. Bronislawa parish, having served as an associate pastor since 1977.
Today, St. Bronislawa is an integrated parish and its 550 Polish and black families support the following organizations: School Board, Ushers’ Bingo Club, Mothers’ Guild, Mother of Good Counsel Society, Mothers of World War II, Holy Rosary Society, Holy Name Society, and Third Order of St. Francis. Over the years, the following boundaries were assigned to this national parish: North-85th St. South-South Chicago Ave. West-South Chicago Ave. East-Escanaba Ave. However there are so many national parishes in the South Chicago neighborhood that families generally attend the Catholic Church closest to their homes.
Rev. Paul Czubaj, OFM Cony, is in residence.
From “A History of the Parishes of the Archdiocese of Chicago” – 1980
Reprinted with the permission of the Chicago Archdiocese.