Having prayed over and studied the components that give life to a parish’s mission, we the people of Saint Domitilla Parish propose that the MISSION to which God is calling us is:
The parish of Saint Domitilla is a Catholic faith community that began as a Mission on a very small parcel of donated land. The settlers of our church came together, and over time led to the need for a bigger church and school buildings. As it says in Acts 6:7, “The Word of God was reaching more and more people.”
We are at a pivotal moment in the parish where God is calling us to invest in the integration between the existing parishioners and the growing multicultural community. “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and the Lamb. They were wearing white robes, and were holding palm branches in their hands.” (Rev 7:9). The Holy Spirit is leading us to be unified as one body in Christ. This requires us to come together regardless of ethnicity, background, age and native tongue.
Our patroness, St. Flavia Domitilla was born into royalty and used her position of wealth to help hide persecuted Christians. When she refused to worship pagan gods her prison cell was set on fire. She died there and became a martyr. During her life then, as well as today, she continues to be a model and inspiration for us of generosity, courage, dedication, and commitment to God and the Church.
We dedicate ourselves to prayer and worship in beautiful liturgies. After we nurture our personal faith, we prepare for service in Jesus’ name. We then grow in knowledge of God and neighbor by serving God in others. The generosity of the parishioners makes it possible for us to minister to the less fortunate and to share our resources to support our parish and proclaim the joy of the Gospel.
Established in 1916 as a mission of Sacred Heart Church in Melrose Park, Illinois, St. Domitilla Church was raised to status of parish in 1920. Prior to 1920, all baptisms, marriages, and deaths of Catholics living in the Berkeley-Hillside area were recorded at either Sacred Heart Church in Melrose Park or Immaculate Conception Church in Elmhurst, Illinois (now in the Joliet diocese).
In the fall of 1913, Ann E. McLaughlin, a Catholic school teacher employed in the Chicago public schools, secured permission from diocesan authorities to organize catechism classes for approximately 50 children who lived in the Wolf Road Highlands (as Berkeley was then called). Many Catholic families had moved to this area because of the proximity of the Chicago, Aurora & Elgin railroad, which provided transportation to downtown Chicago.
A census taken in 1916 revealed that the Catholic community numbered 70 adults and 104 children. The ethnic composition of this group was predominantly Irish with the balance composed of German, Italian, and Polish families. A report was submitted to Rev. Conrad Knurr of Sacred Heart Church in Melrose Park, assuring him that a mission could be supported. On Aug. 20, 1916. Archbishop George W. Mundelein Instructed Father Knurr to claim the territory of Hillside and Berkeley as a mission of Sacred Heart parish.
John Wolf of Hillside donated land near his home for the mission. A former office building of Mount Carmel cemetery was acquired and this barracks-like structure was moved to the southeast corner of Washington St. and Wolf Rd. (now the site of the Hillside Fire Station). The mission church was blessed on Dec. 17, 1916.
Rev. William Agnew, SJ of Holy Family Church in Chicago, was given charge of the mission. He served for one year before being called to duty as a chaplain in France in the World War 1. His successor, a Father Cavallo, remained in charge until 1919, when he returned to Mexico. Rev. Conrad Plomin served the mission from 1919 to 1920, during which time he began to keep records. Many of the early records pertaining to the mission were destroyed when a tornado leveled Sacred Heart Church in Melrose Park on Palm Sunday, Mar. 28, 1920.
On Oct. 5, 1920, Archbishop Mundelein appointed Rev. Oscar Strehl as first pastor of the newly established parish of St. Domitilla. A history of the parish written in 1975 contains the information that Archbishop Mundelein “chose the name of St. Domitilla as our patroness because of the proximity of Mount Carmel Cemetery. He associated the cemetery with the Catacombs of St. Domitilla in Rome.”
Father Strehl arrived in Hillside on Oct. 17, 1920 to find that there were no living quarters and that the parish fund amounted only to $1.00. Undaunted, he financed the purchase of the Schreiber farm on the west side of Wolf Rd. adjacent to the Chicago, Aurora, and Elgin railroad. St. Domitilla Church was then moved to the new parish property.
On Sep. 30, 1921, The New World reported that: “St. Domitilla’s parishioners are trying hard to erect a school, which is badly needed and will be attended by about 200 Catholic children whose parents are building beautiful homes in this new, beautiful section.”
In its account of a parish bazaar, The New World of Oct. 7, 1921 contained the information that
Since this parish is already indebted, has no school and no sisters’ quarters, much is needed. St. Domitilla’s church property, at present consists of a small 30 x 40 frame church, which needs repairs inside and outside. A frame addition in the rear of the church consist of three rooms and serves as a temporary rectory.
In 1922, work began on a school-convent next to St. Domitilla Church. During construction, children attended classes in the frame church, using the pews as desks and sitting on the kneelers. In good weather, classes were held out of doors under a tree on French’s farm, located approximately at the junction of Lavergne and Washington St. As the pastor spend only the weekends in Hillside, Peter Schaefer was hired as a caretaker; he also served as handyman, cook, and on occasion, as organist.
The Sisters of St. Francis who staffed St. Domitilla School lived in a home at 1808 Taft Ave. in Berkeley until the two story frame convent-school was completed in 1923.
During the summer of 1923, Archbishop Mundelein transferred the parish to care of the Servite Fathers and Rev. Ambrose Griffin, OSM was named pastor. Children traveled long distances to attend St. Domitilla School, some walking from Berkeley, Bellwood, and beyond. As yet there were no Catholic churches in Bellwood, Stone Park, Northlake, or Westchester.
On Mar. 17, 1926, the Holy Name Society held a St. Patrick’s Day dance in Hillside. Friends of Father Griffin from Elmhurst brought their literary friend, Carl Sandburg, to the benefit.
In 1927, Father Griffin took up residence in the newly completed Servite Seminary Known as Mater Dolorosa, located at Butterfield Rd. and Hillside Ave. The parish Masses were then celebrated in the Seminary chapel. In September 1927, four Servite Sisters replaced the Franciscan Sisters on the faculty of the parish school.
In 1930, St. Simeon parish was organized in Bellwood, Illinois, a community just east of Hillside.
Rev. Patrick Condon, OSM served as pastor from 1935 to 1936, when Rev. James McLennon, OSM was placed in charge. He donned overalls and personally constructed storm windows for the school-convent building. In 1939, Rev. Francis Wiehl, OSM was appointed pastor of St. Domitilla Church.
Throughout the World Was II era, spring and Fall Festivals, school plays, May Croenings, and other parish activities continued as usual and the church was filled to capacity during these years with devotees of Sorrowful Mother Novena.
When Archbishop Samuel A. Stritch officiated at the silver jubilee of St. Domitilla Church in 1945, he granted permission for the construction of grammar school, the cornerstone of which was laid in May 1948. As larger church quarters were needed, provision was made in the new school for a basement church. St. Domitilla Church-school located at 607 Hillside Ave., was dedicated on Nov. 28, 1948. According to The New World, “the new building will provide seating for 300 persons in the chapel and accommodations for 220 children in the school.” On the same day he dedicated the new St. Domitilla combination building, Cardinals Stritch blessed two large additions to Mater Dolorosa Seminary, then the “junior training school for priests of the Servite order.”
Following World War II, the village of Hillside experienced rapid growth as Catholic families moved to the suburb. In 1947, Divine Infant Jesus parish was organized in Westchester, III., the suburb located directly south of Hillside.
On June 15, 1952, Rev. Clement Hanley, OSM was named pastor of St. Domitilla Church. By 1955, enrollment in the parish school numbered 1,150 children. To accommodate the students, classrooms had been set up in the basement of the old convent. Father Hanley directed the construction of a 12 classroom addition which was dedicated on May 27, 1956. This spacious structure was built on the north side of the 1948 school building; it contained a basement church with a seating capacity of 750 persons.
St. Domitilla parish continued to keep pace with the rapid growth of Hillside and by 1958, enrollment topped 1,400 children. Again, classrooms had to be set up in the old convent. In 1959, the architectural firm of Kefer & Cronin was hired to draw up plans for a new convent and a 12 classroom school addition. The school addition was constructed on the south wall of the 1948 school building and the convent was constructed on the south wall of the 1948 school building and the convent was built at 601 N. Hillside Ave. Both structures were dedicated on May 17, 1961. The Sisters’ former residence, long a landmark on Wolf Rd., had been torn down in 1960.
By 1962, 1,862 students were in the 34 classrooms of St. Domitilla School. It was estimated that more than 12,000 children had attended the school since its opening in 1922.
In 1962, St. John Chrysostom Church in Bellwood, Illinois. was organized from territory which had belonged to St. Domitilla Church and to St. Simeon Church in Bellwood. The parish extended roughly from the Proviso railroad yards of the Chicago and the North Western railroad on the north to approximately Butterfield rd. on the south. The west boundary was set at Taft Ave. from the Proviso railroads yards to St. Charles rd., and Wolf rd. from St. Charles rd. to approximately Butterfield Rd. The east boundary was set at 46th Ave. in Bellwood.
In the summer of 1964, Rev. Louis Cortney, OSM was named pastor of St. Domitilla Church. He directed his attention to providing a permanent church building. Four acres of land were donated by the Servite Fathers and permission to build was granted by Archbishop John P. Cody. The newly formed Parish Council assumed a large burden of the responsibility in connection with the new church.
On July 30, 1967, ground on the north side of Washington Blvd. just east of Hillside Ave. was broken for the new church. At the same time, construction began on a much needed rectory-administration center at 4940 Washington Blvd. Because St. Domitilla Church literally had been “underground” for 20 years, it seemed fitting that the new church would be completed in time for the parish’s golden jubilee.
On May 4, 1969, Cardinal Cody officiated at the dedication of St. Domitilla Church. The circular style structure, designed by the architectural firm of Kefer & Pilolla, incorporated the liturgical charges authorized by Vatican II.
A history of St. Domitilla Church published in 1970 in connection with the parish’s golden jubilee, contained the information that the parish debt had been reduced to less than $265,000 by February 1970 and that much of the credit was due to the fund raising and memorial fund committees. In 1970, enrollment in St. Domitilla School numbered 1,030 students.
Rev. Daniel M. O’Malley, OSM, was named pastor in July 1970. He was familiar with the parish, having served as an assistant at St. Domitilla Church since 1964. Under Father O’Malley’s leadership, a Parish School Board was organized in 1972. A history of the parish written by Rosemarie Johnson was published in 1975.
Rev. Augustine M. Kulbis, OSM, was appointed pastor of St. Domitilla Church on July 28, 1976. Prior to this assignment, Father Kulbis had served as assistant provincial of the Eastern Province of Servites and as prior of the provincial residence in Berwyn, Ill. Earlier, he was a professor at Loyola University with residence at St. Domitilla Church from 1966 to 1968.
The ethnic composition of the parish – which now numbers 2,300 families – is 35% Italian, 35% Irish, and 30% German and Polish. The parish includes all of the village of Hillside and all of Berkeley west of Taft Ave. St. Domitilla parish works with the Senior Citizens Club of Hillside and the Senior Citizens club of Berkeley as well as with the Proviso Township Council on Aging.
Following the sale of Mater Dolorosa Seminary building to the Maronite (Eastern Rite) Diocese, Our Lady of Lebanon Church was relocated in Hillside in June 1973. On June 17, 1973, a Maronite Mass was con-celebrated in the former seminary chapel in Aramaic – the language of Christ. The first Maronite parish in Illinois, Our Lady of Lebanon Church previously was located at Midway Park and Waller Ave. on the west side of Chicago. The brick building at this address originally housed a Seventh Day Adventist congregation; it was rededicated as Our Lady of Lebanon Eastern Rice Catholic Church on June 28, 1959 by Archbishop Albert G. Meyer.
Now under the direction of Rev. Msgr. John Naffah, our Lady of Lebanon Church serves approximately 350 families. Members of this congregation come from all over Chicagoland. A portion of the Seminary grounds were sold to a developer who built apartment houses on Butterfield Rd. He in turn donated properly to the Village of Hillside which has been renamed Hillside Common.
In 1978, enrollment in St. Domitilla School numbered 490 students under the direction of eight Servants of Mary and 15 lay teachers. In addition to this fulltime educational program, approximately 600 Catholic children from the community are enrolled in Religious Education Classes.
Associate pastor of St. Domitilla Church include Rev. Vicente M. O’Shea, OSM; Rev. Paul M. Cullen, OSM; and Rev. Lawrence Choate, OSM. Three permanent deacons – Harry Pusateri, Angelo J. Marotto, and Kenneth A. Bell – have been ordained from the parish.