St. Constance marks 100 years


Saint Constance Parish, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary, has roots that can be traced to a house at the northeast corner of Lawrence and Long avenues.

Polish immigrants Valentine and Sophia Wachowski were part of a group of 90 Polish families who left Our Lady of Victory Parish in 1916 to form Saint Constance.

The new parish’s first mass was held in the Wachowski home in the 5300 block of West Lawrence Avenue, Northwest Chicago Historical Society researcher Frank Suerth said. Wachowski was a prominent merchant and grocer, and his home on Lawrence was built in 1914, Suerth said.

While at Our Lady of Victory, Valentine Wachowski was one of the founders of the Polonia Club, which served as a cultural link to Polish traditions and heritage for members of the parish, Suerth said. However, club members felt that it was time to establish a church that would have a greater focus on the needs of the growing Polish population in the area, he said.

Members of those families met with Auxiliary Bishop Paul Rhode, and a short time later Father Alexander Knitter was appointed pastor of Saint Constance.

Knitter organized efforts to have a combined church and school building constructed near Strong Street and Marmora Avenue, and the membership of the parish grew to more than 1,000 families under his leadership. Ground was broken for the building on Nov. 1, 1916.

The parish school was formed by the School Sisters of Notre Dame, and it opened in 1917 with 72 students. From the 1930s to 1970 the school included a high school program, which had 230 students in 1942.

Over the years the parish has undergone changes, including construction of a new convent in 1956 and a new elementary school building in the early 1960s. Cardinal John Cody dedicated a new church and social center complex, which was designed by architects A.J. Del Bianco and Richard Donatoni, on May 17, 1970.

Services at Saint Constance are still available in Polish and the Polonia Club remains active in the parish, Suerth said.

As part of its anniversary celebration, the parish has launched a "tree of life" project in which the names of loved ones can be placed on commemorative leaves, starting at $250. Proceeds from the project will be used to pay for repairs to the parking lot and parish buildings.