A History of St. Pius V Parish
In 1874 St. Pius V was founded as a territorial parish by the Jesuits at Holy Family Parish on Roosevelt Road. The original church was built at 18th Place and Paulina, next to St. Veronica’s school, founded in 1872 by the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
In 1884, construction of a new church began at 19th Street and Ashland. Starting in 1885 services were held in the basement hall until the upper church was finished in 1893, in time for Chicago's first World’s Fair and Columbian Exposition. Note: St. Pius V is the only Catholic church in the U.S. whose main stained glass window depicts Christopher Columbus.
In 1894, a parish primary school was constructed at the corner of Cullerton and Ashland, the first Catholic school in Chicago to be accredited by the city. Two years later, the school initiated a one-year commercial school for working girls.
In 1882, diocesan clergy took charge of the parish until 1925 when the Dominicans received it. By 1920, many Irish families had moved out and the parish became predominantly Polish. Father Marchant, O.P., the first Dominican pastor with a large staff of Dominican priests provided a full range of services in Polish. He instituted the Annual Rosary Sunday Outdoor Procession in October that drew people from all parts of the city.
After the stock market crash of 1929, the Dominicans founded the National Shrine of St. Jude Thaddeus, which grew rapidly, attracting thousands for special devotions to the “patron of hopeless cases” from around the world. In 1939, an addition was built to expand the Shrine.
For the next 30 years, St. Pius V became a hub of activity as parishioners worked to improve their neighborhood. In the 1960s, it was a lead parish in the recently founded, Saul Alinsky-style community organization, Pilsen Neighbors Community Council (PNCC). Parishioners organized many dances and in the summer, outdoor carnivals; men promoted boxing events, and parents renovated the basement to accommodate a roller rink that operated nightly from September through May.
In June 1959, the old school building was demolished, and a modern school and convent were constructed, which today houses the parish offices. In the early 1980s, the Sisters of Charity, B.V.M. withdrew, and Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa began staffing the school until 1997.
Hispanics began pouring into Pilsen in the 1950s. St. Pius V became the first parish in the neighborhood to offer Mass in Spanish in August 1963, but the adaptation was not easy. Ushers stood at the front door to head off Mexicans coming to church, directing them to “their parish,” St. Francis of Assisi, a mile away. The Mass in Spanish was first held in the church basement, a common practice deeply offensive to Hispanic Catholics.
Alex Kasper, O.P. was installed as pastor in 1968, assisted by two Spanish Dominicans, Juan Irazabal, O.P. and Restituto Perez, O.P., and a Mexican-American Dominican, Bartolome Joerger, O.P. to work with Hispanics. More Masses in Spanish were added, and the parish sponsored English classes, developed youth activities and social programs including a soup kitchen, sponsored numerous parish groups, such as Cursillos de Cristiandad and a Guadalupe Society to help newly-arrived immigrants to find housing, jobs, and community. Prior to Vatican II, all pastoral and liturgical ministry was performed by priests. After Vatican II, the priests prepared and involved laity in these ministries.
In 1971, parishioners formed an Estudiantina, a musical group of 25 young people. With their music, they spread Mexican culture throughout Chicago. In 1972, Fr. Joerger installed a beautiful shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe in the church. In 1974, Thomas Moore, O.P., who believed that Hispanics were the future of the parish, became the first bilingual pastor. Gerard Cleator, O.P., a fine preacher, succeeded him in 1980 and by then, most Masses and pastoral services were in Spanish.
In 1986, Charles W. Dahm, O.P. became pastor, and he significantly expanded the staff and pastoral services. The parish developed small Christian communities and a free standing youth center, Casa Juan Diego. With seven full-time pastoral counselors, the parish developed the largest parish program for women and children victims of domestic violence in the U.S., a parenting program and a marriage enrichment program.
In 1989, St. Pius V, with other Pilsen parishes, founded The Resurrection Project, a community organization and an economic development corporation that by 2008 had built 148 new affordable homes, renovated and managed 165 affordable rental units, and generated more than $100 million in economic development in Pilsen. These developments are documented in Fr. Dahm’s book on St. Pius V, Parish Ministry in a Hispanic Community (Paulist Press, 2004). In November 2006, Fr. Brendan Curran, O.P. became pastor and continued to lead the parish in the struggle for justice for immigrants.
The parish’s ministry with newly-arrived immigrants won their long-lasting affection. As the Hispanic identity of St. Pius V grew stronger, the parish developed new ways of responding culturally and pastorally to its predominantly Hispanic membership. As Hispanic parishioners move from the area, they still consider St. Pius V their parish and frequently return for services.