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Few parishes can boast of the energetic and dedicated Catholics whose efforts led to the building of St. Albert the Great Church. A number of parishioners from St. Gerald Parish living in Stickney Township went door to door collecting signatures for a request that a parish be established in the area to meet their spiritual needs. The petition was presented to Cardinal Stritch, and he responded by appointing the pastor of St. Gerald's Church, Father Loras Welch, to investigate. Father Welch noted the need and arranged for the first mass to be celebrated at the old Tobin School. Following the first mass, he delegated his associate Father Joseph Phelan to care for this new flock. From that point on, Sunday mass was celebrated each week at the school and a First Holy Communion Class received the Eucharist on May 5th at the school.
A business meeting was set for May 9, 1949. The major outcome was the decision to erect a mission church with volunteer labor. Tremendous activity ensued. A First Holy Communion Class received the Eucharist on May 5th at the school. The first parish picnic was held in Summit in September. With the increasing size of the congregation, the space at Tobin School was no longer adequate. Hence, Sunday Mass was moved to the old House of Hughes Restaurant on Cicero Avenue. At this site the St. Albert the Great Choir sang for the first time with approximately twelve members. Meanwhile, the construction of the first church was put into the hands of one hundred and thirty-one men of the parish. These parishioners literally built the church themselves. The crew worked late at night under floodlights to erect the mission church. Despite the weather, with the physical help of their temporary pastor, they poured the foundation of the parish. On December 18th the cornerstone was laid. Unbelievable as it was, on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1949, the first Mass was celebrated. The event was described in the Clearing - Stickney Bulletin:
The first service to be held in the new church took place Christmas Eve, 1949 when Midnight Mass was celebrated just three months and eight days after the excavation. On that Christmas Day the church resembled the stable in which Christ was born. The floor was only the subfloor through which one could see the raw clay in the basement below.. The hot air from the boiler had to find its own way up to the church. The grounds were muddy and rough, with a walk made of planks. Yet the parishioners and their friends filled the church with some standing outside on the front steps that Christmas Eve.
The church was completed in 1950 and was named St. Gerald's Mission. It had a seating capacity of 250. the building included a few rooms at the back for a rectory and a hall downstairs. The next year the mission was canonically erected as St. Albert the Great Church. Father Joseph Phelan, the acting administrator was appointed the first pastor. Most Revered Samuel Cardinal Stritch formally dedicated the new church on April 29, 1951. The boundaries were established as: Cicero Avenue on the east the railroad facilities on the north, 87th street on the south and "somewhere beyond the sunset on the west". The congregation now registered 450 families. A dinner - dance was held to celebrate the birth of the new parish and to honor its founder.
Sunday catechism classes and other parochial activities became part of the vibrant congregation's many exercises. The first annual carnival was inaugurated to finance the beginning expenses of the three-year-old parish. The event was held at 79th and Cicero Avenue.
With six hundred and fifty young families registered in the parish, the need for a parish school arose. The response was to build. The northern half of the present school was constructed. Monsignor William P. Long blessed eight classrooms on April 8, 1953. A temporary convent home was purchased at 8025 S. Linder on August 9, 1953. Three Adrian Dominican Sisters arrived on August 11, 1953. The group was composed of Sister Eileen Patrick, superior, and Sisters Albert Therese and Patrick Ann. These were the first of many that followed the white-robed trio. The school opened its doors to 200 students September 9, 1953 with the three sisters and a lay teacher, Nancy Murray.
Growth continued. To meet the needs of the rapidly increasing congregation, the original church was enlarged in 1954 and again in 1955. This growth necessitated the need for another priest. Father Leo J. Hanley was assigned as the first associate to the parish. Just one example of this increase was the large number of candidates for Confirmation that year, two hundred and forty-one. In 1956 religious instruction for public school students was begun. The Chi-Rho Club for public high school students was established. Among those who taught these latter classes were several volunteers from the Knights of Columbus.
Two thousand families in the parish and 800 students in the school demanded more space. Twelve additional classrooms were built in 1958. To meet parking needs the property was expanded from one and a half acres to eight acres. On October 31st, twelve Adrian Dominican Sisters moved into the new parish convent at 8000 S. Linder. Sister Rose Louise became the second principal. The rectory also added rooms at this time for a second associate, Father Francis McGrath.
The year 1958 records phenomenal spiritual activities in the parish: 350 Baptisms. 270 First Communions, and 437 Confirmations. Three Sunday Masses were moved from the lower church to the new St. Laurence High School Cafeteria. September of 1960 records a school of 1338 students taught by 15 sisters and 11 lay teachers in twenty-five classrooms. The parish boasted of 2906 registered families.
Due to tremendous growth in the area, two new parishes were being established within St. Albert's confines. Both were to the west, St. Fabian's and St. Louis de Montfort. With the new arrangement, St. Albert the Great lost 1300 families, 1000 to St. Fabian's and 300 to St. Louis de Montfort. The parish's new western boundaries were:
Narragansett Avenue from 75th to 83rd and Austin Avenue from 83rd to 87th Streets.
Yet despite this reconfiguration of the parish area, St. Albert's Parish continued to grow. By 1964, 13,000 Catholics lived within the boundaries. Plans for a large, permanent church on the corner of State Road and Central Avenue were presented to the congregation and accepted. The groundbreaking ceremony was held on April 19, 1964. The cornerstone was laid on November 15, 1964, the feast of the patron, St. Albert the Great. Though the interior lacked some furnishings and finishing touches, Mass was offered for the first time on Ascension Thursday, May 7, 1965 by, then associate, Father Joseph Lynch. The sixteen-year-old dream for a permanent church became a reality with the Concelebrated Mass of Dedication on October 3, 1966. Most Reverend John Cardinal Cody presided. The first pastor, Father Phelan, concelebrated the Mass together with ten priests who had formerly served the priest.
The contemporary church structure is symbolic of the hill on which Christ was crucified with its steps that lead to a freestanding altar. The church has a marble background for the figure of the Crucified Christ with wood paneling on either side. Seats are arranged so that all may feel part of the liturgy. Light from the stained glass windows produces a soft, inspiring atmosphere.
Aside from a new church, the year opened with a new principal, Sister Rosemary Ingersoll. Sister served for eight years, celebrating her silver anniversary as a religious during this period.
The fortieth anniversary of the parish was commemorated with a Mission preached by Fathers Pat Brennan and Mike O'Connor. The Jubilee Mass was celebrated on April 23, 1989 followed by a reception in Rogers Hall. A more formal anniversary dinner was held that evening at Niko's Restaurant.
During the next past ten years many additional programs were initiated, some of which are still active in the parish: SPRED, Choir Concerts, Medical Mission, Christmas Sharing, St. Joseph's Table, Prayer Network, Pro-Life, Phoenix and Good Friday Ecumenical Services. Other activity groups include Bingo, Carnival, Scout programs, Las Vegas Night, and Blood Drives. Important support groups such as Ladies Guild and Holy Name Society together with St. Vincent de Paul Society have performed outstanding service for the parish.
The parish planned many varied activities for the 50th Anniversary celebration. Among these; a mission, a parish picnic, a vintage style clothing show featuring WGN TV anchor Robin Baumgarten (a St. Albert the Great School alumna) as master of ceremonies, choral concert and a parish quilt. In July of the Jubilee year the parish welcomed its newest associate, Fr. Marek Grzela. A Jubilee Mass was offered on September 19, 1999 and a reception followed in Rogers Hall. The celebration culminated with a glamorous dinner dance at Niko's Restaurant.
As the new millennium dawned in the year 2000, the parish continued the celebration of its jubilee. In April, St. Albert's hosted the world-renowned Harvard Glee Club. Our generous parishioners took the Glee Club members into their homes and provided overnight accommodations for them. In May, we were privileged to host the thirty foot tall stainless steel statue of the Blessed Mother known as "Our Lady of the Millennium." For a full week, devotions were held consisting of various prayer services, the rosary prayed in English, Polish, Spanish and Italian, music, an outdoor mass, and procession.
In January of 2001, the Harvard Glee Club in its "Lite" version returned for a concert in church. Again our parishioners hosted the members in their homes. In May, pastoral associate Sr. Michael Mary Madden initiated the weekly Thursday Holy Hour that continues to this day. Infrastructure improvements continued including re-surfacing of the main parking lot, a new sound system in the church and a makeover of the kitchen in Rogers Hall.
Father Joseph Lynch celebrated the 50th anniversary of his ordination on May 4, 2003 with a Golden Jubilee mass followed by a reception in the parish hall. The Parish Pastoral Council sponsored a Ministry Fair and Recruitment weekend to get more parishioners involved in the many organizations and ministries that do so much good for the parish. Many parishioners participated in the Catholic Festival of Faith at Soldier Field.
The current decade has brought many changes to the parish. The Polish population increased, a second Mass in Polish was added each weekend, and bi-lingual masses were introduced for Holy Saturday and other special occasions.
The Lenten Fish Fry Friday's were followed by Soup and Salad Saturdays, and several parish picnics. The parish carnival of 2005 was the last for a couple of years as Oktoberfest and Summer Fest replaced it. The annual St. Joseph Table made a comeback in 2006 after several years, and the carnival returned in 2007.
The spirit of those energetic, dedicated Catholics whose vision and hard work built the church of St. Albert the Great is still felt in this 60th Jubilee Year. May the Good Lord continue to shower us with His Blessings.
Faith and hope prevail and the future of St. Albert the Great Parish is secure.