ST. WILLIAM OF VERCELLI
St. William was born in 1085 at Vercelli in the Piedmont region of Italy of noble and wealthy parents. From his childhood he was determined to renounce the world and become a hermit. At fifteen years of age, having a desire to lead a penitential life, he left his native region and made a long pilgrimage to the shrine of the Virgin Mary founded by Saint James at Saragossa.
God made known to him that he was calling him to a solitary life, so he decided to move to the Kingdom of Naples. He built a hermit’s hut on a mountain and many disciples came to him there, attracted by the sanctity of his life and many miracles he performed. Soon a community was formed, of which he became the Abbot and they lived in perpetual contemplation and practiced the exercises of rigorous penitential austerities. After a miracle of healing and their privacy was interrupted, so he decided to move to another mountain, where he built a very beautiful church in honor of Our Lady. He began the establishment of the Congregation of Monte Vergine, or Mount of the Virgin.
After a while, the monks began to complain that St. William’s rule was too strict. William decided to leave and founded new monasteries both for men and women, in various places in the kingdom of Naples.
He became an adviser to King Richard I of Naples, who greatly venerated him. When Saint William died on the 25th of June, 1142, he had not yet written a Rule for his religious brothers and sisters. His second successor, fearing the dissolution of the community without constitutions, placed them under the order of Saint Benedict, where they remain today.
Feast Day: June 25
our first church 1915
The Founding of St. William Parish
At the start of the 20th century, a few dozen families lived on the farmlets and lots in the Mont Clare Neighborhood. These German immigrants named this area “Mud Clare”, because the area was so muddy and there were no sidewalks.
Back then the closest house of worship was St. Benedict’s some 7 miles to the northeast, or St. Alphonsus, some 8 miles east. The mud ruts made any chance for attending weekly mass hopeless.
In 1914 a number of Catholic families lead by William Schaefer, William Hirsch (a non-Catholic, but a tremendous helper) and Vincent Veske, petitioned Fr. Heimsath, the founder of St. Pascal Parish near Irving Park Road and Austin, about founding a new parish in Mont Clare. Fr. Nicholas Kremer was assigned the job of organizing a mission church of St. Pascal in Monte Clare.
Fr. Kremer enlisted the help of parishioners in the building of a wooden chapel that would serve as their house of worship. The frame church was completed by the end of the year and Fr. Kremer celebrated the first mass in the building on Christmas Day, 1915.
On May 5, 1916, Archbishop George Mundelein announced that the Mont Clare mission would be a full-fledged parish in its own right. Fr. Francis Epstein was named First Pastor of the newly formed St. William Parish.
The eager families were place under the patronage of St. William of Vercelli, and Italian monk known locally as Guglielmo di Vercelli. He lived from 1085 until 1142 in the Piedmont area of southern Italy. A monk and an abbot, St. William founded a number of monasteries and abbeys, and was famed for his ability to organize new ventures and structure new organizations. He was a fitting choice for the people of Mont Clare, who worked so diligently in forming their parish.
St. William Church and School
The Beginning of St. William School
In 1922 under Fr. Albert Reisel, the second Pastor of St. William Parish, enough funds were available to begin construction of a brick, two-story combination church and school building at 2555 North Sayre. Following the dedication ceremonies, work began to staff and equip the school classrooms. The Franciscan Sisters of Milwaukee staffed the school which opened in September, 1923. Immediately, 300 children were enrolled. The first class to graduate from St. William School was in 1924.
The care and concern for the parishioners is evident in this statement from a 1937 graduate of St. William School: “The sisters gave us such a good foundation to prepare us for every walk of life. The taught us patriotism and to be proud of our country. We didn’t have much but we had our families and love for each other.”
The Post War Building Boom
No sooner were our troops back from WWII when Fr. Loeffel, the third Pastor of St.William, began plans for a new two-story brick school building. When dedicated on November 6, 1949, the structure featured six classrooms, an auditorium, two clubrooms, kitchen, bar facilities, dumbwaiters, and a kindergarten to cope with the always increasing enrollment of schoolchildren.
As Fr. Loeffel’s congregation moved into the 1950’s, they all became acutely aware of the need for a major building program of breathtaking proportions. Plans were made to build a new rectory, a new convent, and the crowning glory of the parish, a new church building which would be the parish’s third church.
Late 1940's School Addition
The Construction of our Four Corners
On January 18, 1957, ground was broken for the new convent, located at 2601 N. Sayre. The convent would be the first structure in a $1.5 million expansion program, which both frightening and exhilarated the good people of St. William parish with it’s scope.
In quick succession, ground was broken for the new church and the new rectory. For 10 months construction continued. In 1958, the School Sisters of St. Francis moved into their new quarters, this being the first building completed. In a joyous and sentimental move, the first Mass was said in the third St. William Church on Christmas Day, 1959.
The final jewel in the parish is the 16 – room school building, built on the corner of Wrightwood and Sayre in 1962. This modern building replaced the brick church and school building which Fr. Lauermann had completed in 1923. When the school opened, enrollment was an eye-opening 1200 children.
In September 2017, St. William Parish began the Renew My Church process. St. William was part of the Elmwood Park Grouping. Renew My Church is a program put together by the Archdiocese of Chicago to renovate our life of faith. The process of Renewal touches the very heart of who we are as the believing people of God. The parish is currently entering Phase II and has begun the Divine Renovation process, which will help enrich and grow our Parish.
Fr. Ryszard Gron is the current and eleventh Pastor of St. William Parish. He labors in the vineyard filled with the same worries and joys as did Fr. Epstein 100 years ago.
The streets are now paved and the empty lots have long been filled with humble homes. Three churches and three schools have been built. But the human spirit is still the same in Mont Clare amongst the faithful people of St. William.
There are births and baptisms, communions and confirmations, weddings and funerals. There are tears of joy and tears of grief. There are still liturgies and school children skipping rope and learning the ropes. There are priests and their parishioners.
Most things are very different today than they were 100 years ago. We live in a world our ancestors could never have dreamed of, yet each of us still needs care. That care continues at St. William Parish in Chicago’s Mont Clare Neighborhood.
Maybe things are not that different after all.
We, the people of St. William Parish, being from diverse cultures, are united in the Holy Spirit, formed by Scripture and nourished by the Eucharist.
The Lord calls us to educate, proclaim the Gospel, and practice our faith by living His great command:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.