St. Thecla, St. Cornelius parishes share similar history
by BRIAN NADIG
The history of the Saint Thecla and Saint Cornelius parishes follow a similar timeline, with each being founded in the mid-1920s and each expected to close next summer as part of a Northwest Side consolidation plan.
On Nov. 8 the Archdiocese of Chicago announced its decision to close the parish campuses and merge with Saint Tarcissus Parish, whose campus would host the newly consolidated parish. The archdiocese is in the process of consolidating parishes and schools throughout the Chicago area.
According to the archdiocese’s archives, the birth of the Saint Thecla Parish dates back to 1923 when Father Francis Rusch, superintendent of the Saint Hedwig Orphanage near Touhy and Harlem avenues was asked by a group of Polish workers at Saint Adalbert Cemetery to start a new parish in the area. Father Paul Sobota was chosen to organize the parish.
In the fall of 1924, a parcel of land at Devon and Newcastle avenues was acquired for $7,500, and construction of a church began a short time later. The first Saint Thecla Mass was celebrated on Aug. 15, 1925, and by 1926 the parish had 250 families.
Over the years, there have been several structural improvements to the campus in large part to the growing school enrollment in the 1950s. The present church, located at 6725 W. Devon Ave., was built in 1962, with a new rectory in 1973.
In 1999, construction began on the 14,000-square-foot Falcon Hall, which includes a large gymnasium.
The roots of the Saint Cornelius Parish date back to 1925 when Cardinal George Mundelein appointed Father Luke Lyons to create a new parish for the English-speaking residents of Jefferson Park. Its first Mass was celebrated on Oct. 24, 1925, in the assembly hall of Beaubien School, 5025 N. Laramie Ave.
By 1926, Saint Cornelius had its own church and school and by the 1930s the parish had 800 families and a school enrollment of 400.
In the 1960s additional land on Foster Avenue was acquired for the construction of a new church, which can accommodate 750 worshippers. It includes a lower chapel.
During the 1980s parish membership at Saint Cornelius grew to 2,500 families, and the school, located at 5252 N. Long Ave., reached its largest enrollment of 850 students in the 1960s, according to the parish’s Web site.
In 2015 its school was closed, as the parish became a sponsor of the Pope Francis Global Academy, whose north campus is housed at the former Saint Tarcissus School, 6040 W. Ardmore Ave.