Saint Victor History

A Snippet of St. Victor History

Over 80 Years

In the 1920’s Calumet City’s population was approximately 10,000 people. The Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago held that the demographics supported the notion that the area was growing rapidly and authorized that a new parish be founded for the residents of Calumet City who were currently worshipping at churches in Hammond, IN. The new church community was to be “St. Victor”. Cardinal Mundelein predicted St. Victor was surely destined to become one of the great parishes of the archdiocese.

The church was founded on April 19, 1925, and the first meeting formulating plans for the parish was held at the City Hall at State Street and Wentworth Avenues. The first Mass was actually celebrated at the Memorial Park Building on April 19, 1925, by the founding pastor, William J. Rooney. The parish was heavily Polish with strong currents of 2nd generation Italian, German, Slavic and Irish. Presently our parish population consists of Caucasian, African-American, Hispanic, and Nigerian, as well as hosting a sprinkling of Vietnamese and Bosnian refugees over the years. The ethnic flavor of our parish truly reflects the ethnic composite of Calumet City which is around 60% African-American, 20%-25% Hispanic, and the remainder a mix of Caucasian and many other ethnicities.

The first building was a humble wooden portable erected on land purchased by the archdiocese at the corner of Price and Memorial Drive. It was hot in the summer and icy cold in winter, heated by a pot-bellied stove. Fr. Rooney celebrated the first Mass in this building on May 21, 1925.

The building of a school was considered of paramount importance, and ground breaking happened just four months after the formation of the parish. The school building was completed in 1926. The first floor was a hall and a library on the south end and kitchen and dining room for the sisters at the north end. The 2nd floor was 6 classrooms, chapel, and the sisters’ sleeping quarters. The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur arrived that summer to staff the school. Sister Blandine was the first principal. School opened the Tuesday after Labor Day in September of 1926, with 340 pupils and was dedicated November 6, 1927, by His Eminence Cardinal Mundelein.

In July of 1928, the cornerstone of our present church was laid. In September a four-year high school course was inaugurated with fourteen pupils. The grammar school by this time had 452 students.

Mass was celebrated in the new church December 23, 1928. The church is a Romanesque style, which carries the theme of many old Roman churches and seats 729 people.

Fr. Rooney was transferred in 1930 and Fr. Edward Broderick was the new pastor. There was some conversion of the school building done during this time and the stained glass windows were installed in the church. The parish prospered for the next 5 years. Then the depression came. Times were so hard and the interest on the $300,000 so pressing Fr. Broderick actually spent many Sundays begging other wealthier parishes for funds. We weathered the depression thanks to the marvelous cooperation of our parishioners. Hard years they were, but true greatness prevailed.

In 1940 Rev. Thomas Bermingham became pastor of St. Victor. His first project was erection of a convent for the Sisters. In 1950 the cornerstone was laid and the sisters took up residence in 1951. The priests had always lived in a rented building a block from the church. In March of 1955 a new rectory had been completed and in 1956 a new wing of six more classrooms and administration offices were added to the school.

With Fr. Bermingham’s passing in 1956, Fr. Robert P. Doyle was appointed pastor. In 1957 Our Lady of Knock and St. Jude the Apostle were built in Calumet City and South Holland, respectively. St. Victor parish membership decreased by 500. In spite of this, St. Victor continued to thrive. In 1959 the church was completely renovated and decorated with the help of many family commemorations; Fatima statues, communion rail, chimes, confessionals, to mention just a few. In 1964, the church was newly re-carpeted for Fr. Doyle’s 40th anniversary.

In 1966 came “Project Renewal”, an archdiocesan project. The parish quota was $150,000. of which $53,000. was set aside for the general building fund. These funds refurbished the school with new desks, carpeting, washrooms, doors, paint, and closed circuit television. In 1968 Father Doyle became Pastor Emeritus and Fr. Eugene P. Sullivan became pastor.

Then came “Victorieties”, the inspiration of Fr. Kelly, the associate pastor. “Victorieties” productions were parish socials for good times as well the annual parish fundraiser. Parishioners honed their musical, singing and dramatic talents in performing Broadway style shows with the intent of having fun while generating financial profit for the parish.

July of 1975 saw the retirement of Fr. Sullivan and the appointment of Fr. Leo T. Mahon as pastor, after having spent 13 years in missionary work in Panama. Jubilee Retreat weekends, College of Ministry, Young Adult Ministry and Operation Summer, an innovative program for teens in the parish and surrounding areas, were introduced to St. Victor parishioners, with a dream to renew efforts to establish the Kingdom of God in our midst. Some of our present social services projects, such as Victor Care, were undertaken during the 13 yearsunder the direction of Rev. Leo T. Mahon and presently, continue to flourish. Fr. Leo Mahon instituted an overhaul of the church sanctuary in 1978 and engaged the sculptor, Lillian Brulc, to design a new crucifix. In Holy Week of 1979, the beautiful bronze crucifix that currently hangs above the altar was unveiled. Fr. Leo Mahon was instrumental in bringing over 12 men of the parish into service through the Lay Diaconate program. At one point, all 12 were active in the parish at the same time. The parish now has one active Deacon serving.

Beautiful services built around the Sacrament of Penance were creatively planned and celebrated at St. Victor from the early 1980’s through 2003 when, at the instruction of Cardinal George, St. Victor as well as any other parishes engaging in communal reconciliation with general absolution, were to cease celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation in that form. Our parish liturgies were enhanced with this bi-annual celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation during Advent and Lent and were attended by thousands who were touched by them beyond St. Victor’s.

The ‘70’s and ‘80s earmarked a change in the economic development of the region along with the emergence of the term “global” economy, affecting the regions steel mills, oil refineries and automakers. These changes turned the socio-economic stability of the community topsy-turvy, resulting in job losses and, in turn, many parishioners’ incomes. Steel mills closed or downsized with the import of foreign steel, countries began to compete for foreign oil driving up prices, and domestic automakers found themselves in competition for survival from foreign automakers. The “boom” and growth of the region began a decline.

In 1986, with the economic decline of the region apparent and after valiant attempts by himself and others to effect a change for the betterment of the region’s economic condition through the “Time for Twelve” program, Fr. Leo Mahon chose to depart St. Victor prior to the end of his term as pastor. Subsequently, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin requested Rev. Thomas E. Cima to consider the challenge of taking on the pastorate of St. Victor and in doing so, take it in a direction that would bring some stability to the parish in light of the changing economic climate as well as the changing ethnic diversity of the area.

In spite of declining funds and fewer staff, the parish continued to prosper under Fr. Cima’s direction. Some parish programs did change somewhat, due to dwindling staff and increasing ethnic diversity in parish embership. Jubilee Weekends and College of Ministry no longer generated the interest formerly shown. New programs and projects emerged such as the weekly Community Meal and the annual Our Lady of Gaudalupe celebration.

With the dawn of the New Millennium in the year 2000 the Archdiocese set out on another bold new renovation and cash generating campaign called Jubilee 2000, the Millennium Campaign. Under the direction of Fr. Cima, a talented renovation committee over saw a major church renovation with plastering, painting, repair of stained glass windows, refinished flooring, new electrical wiring, lighting and a dramatic refurbishing of the pipe organ. Parishioners were generous, as always, with their time, talent and treasure.

During Fr. Cima’s tenure as pastor, he assured the parish of strong religious formation for children in both the day school and Religious Education program with a number of dedicated religious sisters and lay women serving as Directors of Religious Education at St. Victor. The parish currently enjoys a program of religious education through the shared Family Faith program with St. Jude the Apostle Parish.

Our parish’s self-help and 12-step programs of A.A. and Al-anon and Ala-teen, begun under Fr. Doyle, expanded under the pastorate of Fr. Cima to include N.A., E.A. and O.A., as well as A.A. and Al-anon.

It should be noted that from the 1970’s through the present, our parish has had the privilege of enjoying beautiful liturgies and angelic concerts through the efforts of a number of hugely talented Directors of Music. The music and choirs of St. Victor are a vibrant piece of our heritage. The people of St. Victor have enjoyed the talents of three separate choirs spanning thirty + years, including the Glory, Festival (Contemporary), and Revelation Choirs. Our present choir is comprised of members from all three former choirs, still producing an incredibly angelic sound, enhanced by a wonderful pipe organ. Our liturgies and services continually reflect the varying ethnic measure of our parish.  Our musical offerings include Hispanic hymns and folk songs, along with African music, traditional Polish hymns as well as many others.

With the decline of the job market in the steel, oil and auto industries our parish has also aged from a community of young, growing families to a significant community of retirees and senior citizens. When the parish passed the 50-year mark we began seeing many more funerals than baptisms and weddings, enjoyed in younger days.

Some things have never changed. The parish continues to have a small but totally committed staff, along with many selfless, dedicated volunteers. St. Victor’s outreach to the poor and less fortunate has always remained strong. The parish’s devotion to and collaboration with Calumet City Resources for more than 20 years is still as strong as ever. Calumet City Resources had it roots at St. Victor through the efforts of Sr. Therese DelGenio and Sr. Maura Guilfoyle whose brainchild was Victor Care. Calumet City Resources evolved from Victor Care on a grander scale, with a more community oriented focus than parish slant, and collaboration between more local churches and communities.

Fr.Cima, along with the pastors of five other area parishes, saw the archdiocese make the painful decision to close St. Victor School along with five other local Catholic schools in June of 2004. It was a heart-breaking decision for pastors, parents, faculty, staff, and parishioners. However, a wonderful new, consolidated Catholic school emerged from the 6 former schools, named Christ Our Savior Catholic School. Two campuses were formed encompassing a study body from all the closed schools. The west campus is the former St. Jude the Apostle School in South Holland, IL, and the east campus is the former St. Andrew the Apostle School in Calumet City. The new school is financially supported in part by the six surrounding parishes St. Victor, St. Andrew, Our Lady of Knock, St. Jude, Holy Ghost, and Queen of Apostles. The new Christ Our Savior Catholic School continues to thrive!

Fr. Cima’s 18+ years at St. Victor came to a close in June 2005 when he departed for a well-deserved, long overdue rest and sabbatical. The parish currently is in the capable hands of our administrator, Fr. Donald J. Fenske, retired 3 years as pastor of Our Lady of Knock parish.

Our present staff, Parish Council, Finance Council and parishioners are hopeful that a new pastor will soon be named by Cardinal George to carry on the wonderful work of St. Victor begun 80 years ago in a small wooden hut on land near the corner of our present church building.

This snippet of St. Victor history is a general overview for your interest and enjoyment. Please do not mistake it for a totally precise and accurate description of parish history. There is more than likely much more history that has been overlooked and many more staff, parishioners, volunteers and friends than we are capable of acknowledging in this space. If you are one of them, please accept our apologies.

May God’s blessing be upon the people of St. Victor during the past 80 years, on parishioners of the present, and on all of us for many years to come!