Saint Pascal History

Saint Pascal Catholic Church rose from the farmland and prairie of Chicago’s Austin-Irving community, benefiting from early twentieth century immigration that brought newcomers from Germany, Ireland, Norway, Poland, and Sweden to the city’s rural, sparsely-populated Northwest Side. Hoping to serve the growing number of Catholics moving into this remote region, which had a population of 200 adults, Chicago Archbishop James Edward Quigley, on September 7, 1914, assigned thirty-one year old Reverend George P. Heimsath the task of organizing a new parish.

On September 15, at Our Lady of Victory Church, Father Heimsath met with potential parishioners who lived within the boundaries of the proposed parish. As patron saint of the new church, Father Heimsath and these future parishioners chose Saint Pascal Baylon, a humble Franciscan monk who lived in Spain from 1540 to 1592, and who was distinguished for his prayerful holiness, charity to the poor, and veneration of the Holy Eucharist. The new parish rented the small Pioneer Theatre near the intersection of Irving Park Road and Narragansett Avenue, and Father Heimsath celebrated the parish’s first Sunday Mass September 20, 1914, using a table on the theatre’s stage as an altar.

Parishioners soon began raising funds to build a proper church, and in the autumn of 1915 the parish purchased a parcel of farmland bordered by Austin, McVicker, Cullom and Berteau Avenues, which at the time was just outside the city limits. On June 4, 1916, Archbishop George Mundelein dedicated the first St. Pascal Church building, a combination church, school, and auditorium.

As frame houses and brick bungalows spread across the prairie, the parish quickly outgrew the Austin Avenue building. Fortunately, benefactors appeared in the form of the Schorsch family, Saint Pascal parishioners and local real estate developers. At the urging of family matriarch, Marie A. Schorsch, the family donated land along Irving Park Road, between Melvina and Meade Avenues, for a new parish campus. Ground was broken March 17, 1923, and the first phase of construction completed on November 5, 1925. The Irving Park site featured a rectory, a school, and to the east of the school, a temporary, second floor church above an auditorium. The Austin Avenue property was sold to the Religious Congregation of the Daughters of Saint Mary of Providence, the site of the present-day Saint Mary of Providence School.

Saint Pascal Parish and the surrounding neighborhood thrived, the population swelling, and as the 1920s came to a close, Father Heimsath and his flock resolved to complete the plans for the Irving Park site by creating an inspiring monument to their faith, an edifice that would embody the strength of the human spirit and the promise of eternal salvation.

For this third (and current) church, Father Heimsath settled on a Moorish, or more accurately, a Mudejardesign that would evoke the sixteenth century civilization of the church’s patron. The church’s red clay tile roof and faux minaret—a chimney—reflect the Moorish influence, as do the high, yellow-brick outer walls, the quatrefoil windows, the interior multi-lobed archways, and the spectacular horizontal paneled ceiling, crisscrossed by intricately embellished beams in the Alfarje style. The façade features a shallow carved entry cove that bears a forty-seven foot cross with a half rose window behind it. Terra cotta trimmings adorn the building. Most strikingly, a 116-foot bell tower, approximately eleven stories tall, soars from the structure’s southeast side. Acknowledging contemporary styles, architect Raymond Gregori added symmetrical and rectilinear Art Deco touches to the building’s exterior.

Construction on the majestic structure began in 1930, in the shadow of the Great Depression, out-of-work parishioners supplying much of the labor. The church, at the corner of Irving and Melvina, opened for Mass Christmas Day, 1931.

In the ensuing years, Father Heimsath oversaw the construction of a convent for the nuns who taught at Saint Pascal School, which was completed in 1948. In the 1950s, the building that housed the second church was converted to classrooms for the increasing school population, which would peak in the mid-1960s with a total of 1,121 students. Although the Right Reverend Monsignor Heimsath passed away on January 25, 1959, having servedas Saint Pascal’s pastor for forty-five years, his work on behalf of the parish was enthusiastically taken up by successive pastors: Reverend Thaddeus J. Neckerman, Reverend Francis A. Ciezadlo, Reverend Gary A. Miller, Reverend Gary J. Lewanski, the Very Reverend Paul G. Seaman, and the current pastor, Reverend Elliott Dees.

Under the leadership of these men, the parish continued to grow and adapt to the needs of the community. In the early 1960s, a third floor was added to the west school building, a school addition and an administration wing were built, and the rectory was expanded. The church interior underwent a series of renovations starting in the mid-1960s. In the first decade of the twenty-first century, under the leadership of Father Seaman, the church roof was extensively repaired and the landmark bell tower saved. Most recently, the interior of the church has been repainted and the sanctuary’s marble floor restored.

As another source of parish pride, on April 8, 1997, Pope John Paul II appointed Saint Pascal School graduate and former parishioner Archbishop Francis Eugene George to the vacant See of Chicago, the first Chicago native to lead the Archdiocese.Francis Georgehad been ordained into the priesthood at Saint Pascal Church on Saturday, December 21, 1963, by the Most Reverend Raymond Peter Hillinger, Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago, the first and only time an ordination occurred within the church’s walls. Archbishop George was elevated to Cardinal on February 21, 1998.

In addition to supporting educational excellence at Saint Pascal School, the parish offers a wide variety of activities, services, and opportunities to worship, including daily Masses, Eucharistic Adoration, religious education programs, a youth ministry, a women’s club, a Holy Name Society, a senior’s club, an annual summer carnival, and a popular haunted house in October. The parish is home to Cub Scout Pack 3815, Boy Scout Troop 815, Girl Scout Brownie Troop 21111, and Girl Scout Junior Troop 20901. The parish also hosts a food pantry operated by the Saint Pascal conference of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul.

Saint Pascal Catholic Church has played a significant role in well over half of the city of Chicago’s history. Through decades of explosive change, the church has anchored and nurtured the Austin-Irving neighborhood, providing a center of spirituality and fellowship, its parishioners exhibiting a profound sense of love and dedication to God and to their fellow human beings. As the parish embarks on its second century, it looks forward to another hundred years of faith, service, and vitality.