The Parish of Saint Gregory the Great Celebrates 100 years
By: Kathy Gemperle
The parish of St. Gregory is celebrating its history this year. On November 13th, a dinner dance and silent auction will be held at the Westin River North Hotel. Contact the parish center at 5545 N. Paulina (773-561-3546) for more information.
The building of St. Gregory Parish began with a committee and hope that the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago would approve a plan. The members of that committee were Peter Reinberg, Henry P Kransz, Nicholas Mann and J.H. Miller along with Father A.J. Theil (former pastor of St. Henry at Ridge and Devon). They were Luxembourgers and Germans and the year was 1904. The area west of Ashland and south of Bryn Mawr was sparsely settled with only two houses on Paulina between Balmoral and Bryn Mawr. The Mann family owned farmland extending to Bryn Mawr and Paulina with a farm house near Catalpa and Clark.
After the approval of the bid to start a parish, two things happened. First, a pastor was appointed, Father Theodore Bonefas of Roseland. After he had second thoughts about moving north, a young assistant, Michael Klasen from St. Aloysius was appointed. It was Michael Klasen’s vision that lead the people of St. Gregory Parish to build and build. The second event that sent St. Gregory Parish on its way happened at a special meeting at Matt Everts Restaurant and Saloon on Ravenswood on July 13, 1904. That was the beginning of the building fund with a $5,000 donation by Peter Reinberg and the donation of pasture land along Bryn Mawr by Nick Mann. At that time many others made commitments in lesser amounts to the beginning of the parish and the education of the young. Among them were Henry P. Kransz, Matt Mann, J. H. Miller and H.A. Zender.
The construction process began with a two story wooden building, housing both church and school with opened on August 13, 1904. It was built at a cost of $7,600. That first month of fundraising included festivals and neighborhood celebrations and parades. Within one year, that first building was overcrowded and a new building was planned. The development of West Andersonville that we see today was closely integrated with the development of St. Gregory Parish and School. At the time, the only other school serving the area was the Andersonville School at Foster and Ashland with eight classrooms.
In 1906, a new brick building, a combination church and school, was built at cost of $42,000. It was a set back from the corner of Bryn Mawr and Paulina. Again festivals and parades were sources of fundraising. Because of these festivals, Alderman Reinberg saw to it that the previously named Edgewater Terrace was renamed Gregory Street. By 1908, the parish had built the rectory on Gregory for $11,900. The convent on Paulina was designed in 1914 by Edgewater architect A. E. Norman and built at a cost of $16,000.
The church that you see standing today was built for St. Gregory Parish in 1924 by architect Comes and Perry of Pittsburgh at a cost of $400,000. Its style is that of Medieval Romanesque churches that came to be known as English Gothic. The long nave and heavy columns and the beautiful wooden roof are just some of the remarkable architectural details of the interior. Since the fire in the choir loft two years ago it has undergone a complete restoration and repainting and its beauty is stunning. It stands on the site at Paulina and Gregory where the young Father Klasen had planted a willow tree when he first took over the leadership of this parish.
St. Gregory continued to build after the jubilee in 1929. The old church/school was remodeled, a parish hall added along with an addition to the convent building.
In 1937, the architects, Vilzthum and Burns, designed the grade school building at 1634 W. Bryn Mawr. That same year, the parish opened a new high school to serve the students of the community using the available space in the grade school and the parish hall. In 1947, a new convent was built at Paulina and Gregory when the old Seifert home was razed. That year also saw the construction of the Klasen Gymnasium building in memory of its first pastor who died in 1945. In 1951, a fire in the 1905 brick Church precipitated the razing of that building and the construction of the high school building in 1952.
The history of the St. Gregory Parish and its commitment to serving the needs of its community shows what many people working together can achieve. The vision of Father Klasen, a young priest what was second choice for this parish, was first in his community as a leader with a vision. As the parish begins a second century it continues that service.