Some 20 parishes grew out of St. Viator’s boundaries


Aprovechando el 125 aniversario de la fundación de la parroquia de San Viator de Chicago, Catholic New World publica el siguiente artículo:

Happy Birthday, St. Viator! The Northwest Side parish located at 4170 W. Addison St. celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2013, a remarkable journey that spans the transition of its Chicago patch from farmland to thriving urban parish serving a revolving array of immigrant groups across three different centuries.

“As committed as we are to living in the present and planning for the future, this history is a real gift to us,” said Viatorian Father Charles Bolser, currently in his fifth year as pastor at St. Viator.

There have been two constants at St. Viator Parish: the Viatorians’ presence and a shifting urban demographic that compelled the parish to evolve and adapt to changing societal needs.

Established in 1888 by the Clerics of St. Viator, who relocated their novitiate from downstate Bourbonnais to Chicago at the urging of Archbishop Patrick Feehan, St. Viator Parish represents the first Viatorian presence in the Chicago area. Originally located near Belmont Avenue and the present-day Pulaski Road, St. Viator’s initial boundaries encompassed 25 square miles of land spanning the Northwest Side.

With only eight families in its opening year, St. Viator’s population exploded in subsequent years, particularly in the early decades of the 20th century as Chicago’s residents pushed outward from the city’s downtown core and new immigrant groups flooded the emerging city. In fact, more than 20 Northwest Side parishes were birthed from St. Viator’s original boundaries, including St. Edward, St. Hyacinth, St. Wenceslaus, St. Bartholomew and St. Pascal.

“The growth of parishes within St. Viator’s boundaries is a real testament to the life and vibrancy of the parish and the spiritual community it fostered,” said Viatorian Father Robert Egan, who served as pastor of St. Viator from 2002 to 2005.

In 1910, St. Viator moved to its current spot on Addison Street and in 1929 Cardinal George Mundelein dedicated the presentday church, a $300,000 construction project featuring a Tudor Gothic edifice. At the time, St. Viator served about 1,000 families, while its parish school enrolled 800 students.

As its local community continued to evolve and new needs arose, the parish’s Viatorian leadership frequently moved with mission and purpose. In the 1950s, for instance, St. Viator expanded its school, adding a social hall, kindergarten, library, new classrooms and a recreation center.

The parish consistently received some of the Viatorians most talented men, many of whom brought visions for what the parish could be and then crafted the plans to fulfill even the loftiest of those ambitions.

“The Viatorians who came to the parish tried to be men of the time and adapt to changes in each era,” said Father Thomas von Behren, provincial of the Clerics of St. Viator.

Shepherding that evolution, however, wasn’t always easy. Throughout its history, St. Viator has served a number of immigrant groups, including Poles, Irish, Italians as well as numerous ethnic groups from Southeast Asia. Most recently, the parish has catered to a growing Hispanic demographic. St. Viator’s diversity is part grace and part challenge. Throughout the parish’s history, leaders have been tasked with incorporating various cultures into one fulfilling spiritual community — and more often than not, they’ve been successful.

“St. Viator has always been and remains a pluralistic community,” Bolser confirmed.

For all 125 years, the Viatorians have guided the parish, a sustaining element that has held the parish together from one generation to the next. In fact, von Behren said one cannot speak of the Viatorians’ history in the United States. without speaking of St. Viator’s role.

“These are histories that have melded together and defined each other,” von Behren said.

Today, St. Viator serves about 1,000 families, while the school’s enrollment sits just shy of 300. The Viatorians, who were founded to be educators of the Catholic faith and challenged to build communities in which faith was lived and celebrated, continue guiding the parish and promote education as an integral part of life at St. Viator.

“From the parish school to strong religious education programs for both children and adults, we bring a firm commitment to catechetical programs for educating in the faith,” Bolser said.

While the milestone 125th anniversary is surely one worth celebrating, Bolser remains most energized by the parish’s future. Recently, St. Viator completed a $1 million capital campaign to finance facility improvements.

“We have a number of people in the parish, including many new parishioners, committed to bringing new life to the parish. With that energy and dedication in hand, good things can happen,” he said.

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