On June 6, 1913, Archbishop James E. Quigley appointed Reverend Peter H. Pyterek to organize the Polish Catholics who lived in the territory bounded by North Avenue on the north; Kinzie Street on the south; Kedzie Avenue on the west; and Wolcott Avenue on the east.
Father Pyterek came to the Humboldt Park neighborhood from Blue Island, Illinois, where he had served as first resident pastor of the Polish parish of Saint Isidore. The new pastor celebrated Mass for the first time on July 13, 1913 in the assembly hall of Columbus Elementary School located on Augusta Boulevard between Hoyne Avenue and Leavitt Street.
Father Pyterek commissioned the architectural firm of Worthmann & Steinbach to draw up plans for a combination church and school building, the cornerstone of which was laid on November 2, 1913. The brick structure, which was built on the south side of Augusta Boulevard near Western Avenue, contained a church on the first floor and eight classrooms on the second floor. In order to complete the parish plan, the pastor converted an apartment building at 2315 W. Augusta Blvd. into a rectory and remodeled a building at 2319 West Augusta Boulevard into a convent.
Archbishop Quigley dedicated Saint Helen Church on September 6, 1914. On the following day, four Felician Sisters opened the parish school, with an enrollment of 312 children.
The first principal was Sister Mary Amanda.
Enrollment grew so rapidly that a second school building (now the youth center), located just west of the rectory, was constructed and this structure was dedicated on August 23, 1925. By 1926 the student body had grown to 1,624 students and the faculty consisted of 26 Felician Sisters. On the same year, Saint Fidelis parish was established at Hirsch Street and Washtenaw Avenue to relieve overcrowding at Saint Helen parish.
Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Saint Helen remained a tightly-knit Polish parish. The last improvement in the parish complex made by the founding pastor was the renovation of the convent. This project was completed in 1945 at a cost of $75,000.
Father Pyterek died on Oct. 25, 1955 after serving as pastor for 42 years. His successor was Very Reverend Monsignor Stanislaus J. Piwowar. Prior to his appointment on January 13, 1956, Monsignor Piwowar had served as executive director of the Catholic League for Religious Assistance to Poland.
Monsignor Piwowar initiated a $2 million expansion program and under his leadership, the present parish complex took shape. The first phase of this program involved the construction of an eight classroom school addition which was dedicated on December 2, 1956. At the time, 1,332 children were enrolled in Saint Helen School under the direction of 17 Felician Sisters.
Monsignor Piwowar laid the cornerstone of the new church on August 16, 1964. Ground at the southwest corner of Augusta and Oakley Boulevard was broken for the new church and work began on the rectory at 2315 West Augusta Boulevard. Designed in the form of a fish, a symbol of Christ, the new church was constructed of Wisconsin Lannon Stone. The oval shape of the interior provides seating for 1,100 persons in eight rows of solid walnut pews. The Stations of the Cross, designed by Armando Santini in nickel and silver, rank among the finest examples of contemporary sacred art in Chicago. The four stained glass bay windows of 16 panels each were designed and executed by Erhard Stoetner of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
The cost of building the church and rectory was $1,250,000. The next phase of the expansion program involved the renovation of the second combination building at a cost of $125,000. This structure, which had been built in 1925, was rededicated on September 21, 1969, as Saint Helen Youth Center. The opening of the center, with its gymnasium, auditorium, library, and meeting rooms, marked the 40th anniversary of Monsignor Piwowar's ordination.
In November 1970, the convent on Augusta Boulevard was remodeled once again, this time at a cost of $35,000. The final project in the renovation program begun by Monsignor Piwowar was the creation of parking and playground facilities on Western Avenue at a cost of $65,000.
Funding for Saint Helen's construction projects over the years came from extensive fundraising campaigns in the community and from grants from the Archdiocese of Chicago.
In 1978, 350 children were enrolled in St. Helen School under the direction of four Felician Sisters and seven lay teachers. Enrollment has held steady around that number until 2000, with peaks, on some years, of around 500 students.
Today's enrollment is 290 students. Our school has a faculty of 13 teachers. Ms. Marianne Johnson is the principal.
Saint Helen School is proud of its many accomplishments and contributions to quality education.
These few lines cannot adequately portray the important role of the Felician Sisters who, unsung and not properly appreciated, more than staffed our school for four generations and molded thousands of hearts and minds with unparalleled dedication. These students are the lasting glory of the Felician Sisters and St. Helen School.