Friday, October 1, 2010

Divine Infant School and Parish of Westchester

As early as 1945 a small group of Catholics headed by James and Margaret Crowley (pictured to the left) petitioned the Chicago Archdiocese to consider the formation of a parish within the village.  The persistency and faith of these zealous people spearheaded by James and Margaret Crowley was eventually rewarded.
The Chancery Office, cognizant of the postwar building boom, rewarded this group of less than one hundred persistent and farsighted families.  On June 18, 1947, Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Chicago, assigned the Reverend Charles H. Langan to survey the area for the establishment of a parish.  On July 7 of the same year, Father Langan's tour of the well lighted prairies and streets was climaxed at the six acres bounded by Kent, Hull, Canterbury and Newcastle, which was a possible site for a parish building.  With little more support than the enthusiasm of these pioneer parishioners and his desire to further the teachings of the Divine Lord, Father Langan took the oath of pastoral office on August 13, 1947.  The parish was officially established through Rome under the beautiful title of the Divine Infant Jesus.  Msgr. Martin E. Muzik, pastor of St. Eulalia's' in Maywood graciously held a meeting in their facilities to introduce Father Langan to his parishioners.  This meeting and ten sectional meetings brought forward 144 prospective parishioners.
Father Langan said the first Mass on Sunday, August 24, 1947 in the Nixon School. Through the generosity of the Westchester School Board, Nixon school served as the site of Sunday Masses for nearly twenty months.
In the fall of 1947, friends of Father Langan realizing his need and appreciative of his warm friendship decided to hold a party to aid the new parish.  These friends from Father's previous assignments in the Archdiocese (Saint Thomas the Apostle, Immaculate Conception, Waukegan; and Saint Lucy's parishes) held a party at the Edgewater Beach Hotel which raised $5000 for the struggling parish and pastor.  This was to be Father's nest-egg for the next two years.
It was evident that a permanent building would be necessary for the functions of the parish.  Due to the influx of new, young parishioners with growing families, a school was a primary necessity. The first building was designed to serve as both church and school. Ground was broken in August, 1948. The first Mass was offered in the "Little Cathedral" on Easter Sunday, April 17, 1949.
A Convent to house the Sisters for the school under construction was the next need to be filled.  Two very generous friends came forward at this time.  George F. Nixon donated a fifty foot lot at the southeast corner of Newcastle and Canterbury and Mr. Frank J. Lewis presented the parish with a check for $15,000 toward a home for the Sisters.  The Chancery added sufficient funds to enable construction to begin on a home for eight Sisters, and to allow for the purchase of the adjacent 50 foot lot from Mr. Nixon. This would be necessary for any addition to the convent. Ground was broken in the summer of 1948 and the building was ready for occupancy in January of 1949. Fr. Langan moved from Gardner Road at this time and resided here until the arrival of the Sisters on August 17, 1949.
On Easter Sunday, April 17, 1949, the first Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was offered in the "Little Cathedral". This building, beautified by plantings furnished by Walter Baltis, a local builder; served the parish well.  It later became the gym for the parish school.
On January 24, 1948 Father Langan took possession of a temporary rectory on Gardner Road.  Once again the prominent contractor George F. Nixon came through for the parish.  He loaned an unoccupied Nixon building to Father Langan until a more appropriate rectory could be obtained.
A compact rectory suitable for the residence of two priests and a housekeeper was designed by Mr. Cooke.  "Gramma" McCullough, who has made this rectory a home for the resident as well as visiting clergy, came with her warm smile and dedication beyond the call of duty in October, 1954.  With the arrival of Reverend Donald Temple in March of 1952 there was a happy, holy houseful.
The Sisters of Saint Joseph of La Grange, accepting the call to serve Our Lord through the children in the new parish, sent four Sisters:
  • Sister Mary Rosina, the Superior and principal
  • Sister Domitilla
  • Sister Joan Clare
  • Sister Louis.
An addition was made on the convent in 1954.  These were are simple quarters available for the 14 Sisters who give so much of themselves for the children.
A big day in the development of the parish occurred on September 7, 1949 when Divine Infant School opened its doors for the first time to 111 eager pupils, the first group of many hundreds more to receive their basic education in the facilities. On hand to greet the children that day was the first faculty. Sisters Mary Rosina, Principal, Joan Clare, Domitilla and Louis.
The original three classes that started the school rapidly grew until it became apparent that larger facilities were necessary. Construction on an eight room school was begun in November of 1950.  In September of 1951, the new building was opened with a full eighth grade enrollment of 308.
The first Dedication of parish facilities took place on June 15, 1952, with His Eminence Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago, officiating. At this time the parish buildings included the Church which seated 290, the small rectory, school and convent. The last three buildings with the growth of the parish have all had additions since 1952. The less than one thousand families of Divine Infant Parish were justifiably proud of their achievements, when the late Cardinal Stritch, who was later to receive a call to Rome to serve as Pro-Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, visited the parish on that lovely day in June.
As more people moved into the suburbs and the post war baby boom continued to erupt, the school had to once again expand its perimeters.  The Gloria building was opened in 1954.
As the parish grew it became apparent another assistant was needed.  Reverend Charles Gallagher recently returned from service in Korea in 1955 with the Armed Forces as a Chaplain was assigned by Cardinal Stritch to Divine Infant. This jovial friend of all and confidant of the sorrowing and troubled, together with Father Kennelly and Father Massion have aided Father Langan in the formation of a unique rectory-parish relationship. Young or old, anyone is welcome in this home with the constantly swinging open-door to friendship, discussion and advice. The unique hospitality found here enables any parishioner to share his joys and relieve his sorrows at any time of night or day.
In 1960 another of Father Langan's dreams was realized with the opening of the two Catholic High Schools, Immaculate Heart of Mary and St. Joseph's. Long advocate of Catholic education, Father Langan had campaigned persistently and vigorously for Catholic secondary schools in Westchester.
Father long had yearned to build a suitable Church that would in his words, "Crown the Divine Infant." In 1961 Father's wish moved closer to completion when ground was broken for the new church.
The new Church was officially dedicated at the noon Mass on June 9, 1963 and has since been of much importance to all members of the parish.
The school attendance peaked steadily until it reached over twelve hundred pupils.  As the post war baby boom waned, school attendance diminished. The first principal was Sister Mary Rosina.
Following Father Langan's retirement Reverend Raymond Kupinski was assigned to Divine Infant where he served as pastor from 1973-1980.  He was succeeded as pastor by Reverend William M. Henkel.  Father Fred Tomzik became the associate with Father Jerry Joyce in residence.
The beloved Father Langan passed away in August of 1991.  He would have been pleased with the beautiful wake and funeral; it was truly a beautiful send off. Father Langan will always be in the hearts of his parishioners for his love and constant dedication to the parish.

More information about Divine Infant School can be obtained by calling the school during regular school hours (7:30 to 2:45) at (708) 865-0122.
To the left, Divine Infant Church today. 
To the right is the Divine Infant School.
(Photos by Jim Arbuthnot)

Sources for this information include:
  • From the Westchester Chamber of Commerce, Community Guide, 2002
  • Divine Infant Parish publications from 1963, 1992 and 1997
Last Modified:  02/19/2003

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