Events at Saint Pascal Parish mark centennial of founding


by BRIAN NADIG

A visit by Cardinal Francis George and a baptism recognition mass are among the events marking a year-long celebration of the 100th anniversary of Saint Pascal Church, 3935 N. Melvina Ave.

The celebration began on Sept. 14 when Cardinal George returned to Saint Pascal Parish, where he attended grammar school, for an anniversary mass. Parishioners also honored him for his 50 years in the priesthood.

George was ordained into the priesthood at a ceremony at Saint Pascal Church in 1963. Saint Pascal pastor Father Thaddeus Neckerman had to obtain permission for George, who was attending a seminary in Canada, to return home for his ordination.

Also in September the parish held a ground-breaking ceremony for a new "Centennial Garden" which is being planted near the parish’s statue of Saint Pascal. The garden will be dedicated on May 17, which is Saint Pascal’s feast day. It will feature a pathway of commemorative bricks which parishioners can purchase and have engraved with the names of loved ones.

The parish also hopes to attract people who were baptized at the church to a mass that will be held at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, Jan. 12. Those who were baptized before June 14, 1920, or who would like to have their baptism gown displayed are asked to contact the church.
"There has to be at least 10,000 who have been baptized at Saint Pascal’s since it started," Saint Pascal pastor Father Paul Seaman said.

Many of the early baptisms occurred at the parish’s first church building near Austin and Berteau avenues, which now is occupied by Saint Mary of Providence School for the developmentally disabled. The original church no longer exists, but it is believed that a bell on the Providence campus could be from the church, Seaman said.

Before construction the church was completed in 1916, Saint Pascal founding pastor Father George Heimsath held services in the former Pioneer Theater near Irving Park Road and Narragansett Avenue, using a table on the theater’s stage as an altar during the first mass, according to the parish’s Web site.

Heimsath remained at the parish for 45 years and oversaw its major construction projects, including construction of a second church at Irving Park and Moody Avenue in 1925. Ground was broken for the current church at Irving Park Road and Melvina Avenue in 1930, and the 1925 building was later incorporated into the parish’s school.

Seaman said that the church has a Moorish design but that the exterior also features several art deco elements, which reflect the architectural trend of the early 1930s. The church also features stained glass windows, a bell tower and a red-tiled roof.

Religious symbols in the sanctuary include grapes, which represent ceremonial wine, and a pelican, which symbolizes the sacrifices of Christ, as a mother pelican draws blood from her chest to give to her babies. "There has to be at least 100 representations of angels in this place," Seaman said.

Near the altar are pictures of Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish Franciscan friar who died in a Nazi death camp during World War II after he volunteered to take the place of another man who was going to be killed, and Miguel Pro, a Mexican priest who was executed in 1927 as part of an anti-Catholic movement in Mexico.

Seaman said that pictures of the two men are being displayed not only for their inspiration but also for the many Polish and Hispanic members of the parish, which conducts some of its services in Polish. George blessed both pictures at the anniversary mass before they were put in place.

Kolbe was declared a saint in 1982, and Pro was beatified in 1988. Under church law, a beatification is the final step before the declaration of sainthood.

One difference which a parishioner would notice today from 80 years ago is the lighting in the church, Seaman said. At one time it was believed that people attending mass would pay more attention to the service if there was less light, he said.

The parish has supported many ministries and community endeavors over the years, including a summer camp, an annual carnival, Cub Scout, Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops, and a food pantry that is operated by the Saint Pascal conference of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society. The parish elementary school, which was founded in 1916, offers a scholarship program to help families pay for tuition.

The parish is planning to create a book on its history that will be available for purchase this winter.

A schedule of the parish’s planned anniversary events is available online at www.stpascal.org.

The current Saint Pascal church was dedicated in May of 1932, replacing a church that was built in 1916. The school in the center originally was a two-story building.
Cardinal Francis George is a graduate of Saint Pascal School, and he was ordained a priest and said his first mass in the church. He is shown blessing his parents during his first mass.
(Photo courtesy of Saint Pascal Parish.)


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