Established as a Polish parish in 1921, St. Camillus at 55th and Lockwood Avenue on the southwest side of Chicago, was originally a mission of St. Joseph Church in Summit, Illinois. Beginning in 1918, Reverend Thomas P. Bona, pastor of St. Joseph Church, and his assistant, Reverend Maximillian Warkocki, celebrated Mass for Polish Catholics in an empty store at 5228 South Archer Avenue (incidentally, this same building, now remodeled, is the home of Meson Del Rio Mexican Restaurant).
Two Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth opened a school in a hall at the northeast corner of Archer and Lockwood Avenue. Two Sisters commuted each day from St. Joseph School, which was then located at 7438 West 61st Place in Argo, Illinois.
In 1919, property was purchased at the northwest corner of 55th and Lockwood Avenue directly across the street from Meadows Golf Course (which later was developed as Midway Airport). Here a one-story brick building was constructed in 1920 and this structure served as a combination church and school for the mission, which was then known as St. Florian. A history of St. Joseph Parish contained the information that the building “is to be dedicated before the end of the year 1920” and that “Seventy families have already settled within the boundaries of the mission. “
St. Florian Mission was reorganized as the national parish of St. Camillus in October, 1921, and Reverend Leo Sychowski was appointed first resident pastor. He came to the neighborhood now known as Garfield Ridge from St. Casimir Church at 22nd and Whipple Street where he had been assistant. Father Sychowski took up residence in a house at 5218 South Lockwood Avenue, which had belonged to the Walkowicz family.
Construction on the present St. Camillus Church began in 1922. The modern brick edifice was joined to the existing combination building at 55th and Lockwood Avenue. To achieve symmetry, a wing was added to the west side of the church. Following the completion of the new church quarters, the “wings” were used as classrooms.
An apartment building at 5430 South Lockwood Avenue was acquired in 1924 for use as a parish rectory. By 1925, 300 children were enrolled in St. Camillus School. In 1927, Father Leo Sychowski was transferred to Five Holy Martyrs, and Father Boleslaus J. Kasprzycki from old St. Stephen’s Church began outgrowing its facilities. The convent was too small, more classroom space was needed, and there was a pressing need for a parish hall, where parish gatherings and activities could be held. This called for further expansion. So in 1928, a new building project was underway. Under Father Kasprzyski’s supervision, a three-story structure was added to the rear of the original wing on Lockwood Avenue. This three-story structure satisfied the need for a hall, more classroom space, and an expanded convent. It was adequate for a good many years.
A history of St. Camillus Church published in The New World of May 24,1935 contained the information that parish membership numbered 320 families and that 260 children were enrolled in the school. On December 12, 1937, Father Kasprzycki (or Father Kasper as he was fondly called) celebrated his Silver Jubilee of Priesthood. It was a beautiful and memorable occasion, surrounded by pomp and ceremony.
Father Kasprzycki worked hard, and devotedly served the people of St. Camillus all alone for fifteen years. When Father Menceslaus Madaj was assigned to St. Camillus as its first assistant in 1942, he was a welcome Sight to the people, but especially to Father Kasprzycki. In 1944, a 2:30 a.m. Sunday Mass was inaugurated to serve defense workers in such area plants as Studebaker located at Archer and Cicero Avenue, and Ford Motor Company at76th and Cicero Avenue. This Mass became so popular that it continued to be held until the early 1960’s. On October 20, 1946, St. Camillus Parish celebrated its Silver Jubilee. To celebrate the occasion, there was a Solemn High Mass at noon, with His Eminence Samuel Cardinal Stritch presiding at the Mass. After the Silver Jubilee, the parish was still growing but the parish facilities were adequate to cope with the growth. Father Madaj was transferred in 1950. Father Ed WOjtecki took his place. After two years, Father Stanley Gruchot replaced Father Wojtecki.
In November, 1953, Father Kasprzycki was named a Domestic Prelate with the title Right Reverend Monsignor. He enjoyed this honor for only a few years. Following Monsignor Kasprzycki’s death on May 17, 1957, Reverend Stanislaus J. Gruchot served as administrator of St. Camillus Church. He had been an assistant at the parish since 1952.
In July, 1957, Reverend Joseph J. Mackowiak was appointed pastor. He came to this parish from Bridgeport, where he had been an assistant at St. Barbara Church. Father Mackowiak continued Monsignor Kasprzycki’s plans to enlarge the parish complex. On August 17, 1958, ground was broken for two new buildings, the cornerstones of which were laid on December 14, 1958. A new rectory was constructed at 5426 South Lockwood Avenue as well as the combination building at 5434 South Lockwood Avenue which contained eight classrooms and accommodations for 12 Sisters. The new parish buildings were dedicated on October 25, 1959 by Bishop Hillinger. At the time, 600 students were enrolled in St. Camillus School.
Father Gruchot was transferred in July of 1959, and the newly ordained Father Walter Koszut and Father Leo Bogdan were assigned to St. Camillus to assist the pastor. Father Walter Koszut was transferred in July, 1964 and Father Robert Byczybski was assigned to St. Camillus.
In February, 1965, Father Mackowiak was named pastor of St. Wenceslaus Church on the northwest side of Chicago. His successor was Reverend Stanislaus J. Kwiek, a former assistant at S1. Valentine Church in Cicero, Illinois. One of Father Kwiek’s concerns was to make the necessary changes in the sanctuary of St. Camillus Church so the the priest could face the congregation while celebrating mass. Before Father Mackowiak had left the parish, he initiated negotiations with American Airlines to purchase its parking lot on 55th Street between Lorel and Long Avenue. This property, which was purchased by the Archdiocese in 1965 for $50,000.00, was to provide parking space for the time when a new church would be built.
The Golden Jubilee of St. Camillus Church was celebrated on October 17, 1971; John Cardinal Cody presided at the special Mass of Thanksgiving. More than 650 parishioners and friends attended a parish dinner dance at the Manor Ballroom. A jubilee committee headed by Al Bell prepared a souvenir history book which included early photographs of the Garfield Ridge neighborhood as well as photographs relating to parish life.
In May of 1966 Father Bogdan was transferred and Father Charles Osowski came to St. Camillus as an associate pastor. In May of 1972 he celebrated his own Silver Jubilee of Ordination. Then in March of 1969 brought another change to the parish when Father Frank Ryzner was assigned to S1. Camillus as a replacement for Father Robert Bycznski as an associate pastor. The parish’s first deacon was George A. Swindells who was ordained on December 10, 1972.
At the request of the parish Building Committee, Cardinal Cody granted permission on November 28, 1973 for the enlargement of S1. Camillus Church. The newly renovated church was blessed by Bishop Abramowicz at a Concelebrated Mass which took place on Sunday, September 22, 1974 at 9:30 a.m, in which all parishioners who donated memorials were invited to attend. Also during that year, another change came to the parish when Reverend Thaddeus Duda was assigned as an associate and two years later, Reverend Norbert Wachowiak joined our parish.
Father Kwiek continued to serve as pastor until his death on February 2, 1977. Soon after his death, Reverend Charles Osowski, former associate pastor of S1. Blase Church in Argo, was appointed pastor of S1. Camillus Church on March 30, 1977. Father Osowski was known to many in the congregation because he had served as an assistant at the parish from 1966 to 1974.
Reverend Marcel Pasciak came in 1979 as an associate replacing Father Duda. In 1981, Father Wachowiak was transferred and Reverend Daniel Jarosewic became our new associate. The parish welcomed Reverend Norman Czajka in 1986 as a new associate when Father [arosewic was reassigned.
On March 9, 1988, the congregation mourned the loss of our beloved Father Charles. Soon after his death, Father Norman became pastor and two associates were assigned, Reverend Raymond Jasinski and Reverend Dr. Stanley Drewniak. Fr. Edward Zimmerman became the second deacon on April 30, 1988, replacing Deacon George Swindells who moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado in 1989. Father Jasinski was also reassigned in 1989. On August 26, 1992, Father Stanley Drewniak blessed a newly opened classroom. The third floor renovations reopened two classrooms closed for more than twenty years. Also a dedication ceremony renaming the parish hall in memory of the late Al Kacprowski, a parishioner for more than 43 years, was held.
Today parish membership numbers approximately 1,000 families. While St. Camillus Parish is predominantly Polish, families of other nationalities also belong to the congregation.