An effort to establish a Catholic parish in Palatine began in the 1920’s, when Palatine experienced a post-World War I boom. At this period in time, Palatine Catholics worshipped primarily at St. James Parish in Arlington Heights. The effort was progressing well until the Great Depression. Still committed to having a parish closer to their homes, in the early months of 1930 a group of those involved in the effort canvassed the town of Palatine and outlying farms, acquainting Catholics with a plan for a new parish. Twenty-five Catholic families responded and donated amounts of $5.00 and $10.00. A few were able to give $25.00, a large sum for those times. The Palatine business community generously gave a large contribution so that a sum of $1,243.50 was raised.
The old village hall on Slade Street was rented and the second floor remodeled by these parishioners. On Sunday, April 6, 1930, the little congregation climbed the winding stairway of the ancient structure to attend its first Mass there. St. Thérèse of Lisieux was canonized in 1925 and devotion to her was very popular at that time. Thus this beginning parish was known as the St. Theresa Mission, a mission church of St. James Parish. After Mass the first baby was baptized. The first First Communion class received the Holy Eucharist on Sunday, May 1, 1932. Frequent fundraisers such as bake sales and card and bunco parties were held in the downstairs area where the fire engines once were kept.
However, in 1941, the parish was forced to construct a new church building. An inspection of the old hall revealed it was a terrible fire-trap. Money would have to be raised to pay for a lot at 35 West Wood St. on the corner of Wood and Bothwell Streets near downtown Palatine. The lot had been chosen by the Pastoral Center of the Archdiocese of Chicago. A unique fundraiser was established. A plat was drawn and ruled into 1,936 squares. Each square was sold for $1.00 and the buyer’s name was placed on the square. The plat was enclosed in the cornerstone of the new church.
They broke ground for the new church in June, laid the cornerstone in July and the dedication and first Mass were held on November 2, 1941. Samuel Cardinal Stritch, the Archbishop of Chicago, presided at the dedication Mass. The first pastor, Father William Murray, was appointed a few months later in 1942.
Our Parish Grows
The enormous population growth in Palatine after World War II began the next stage of St. Theresa history. Barely in their new church home for ten years, the congregation had already outgrown the church on Wood Street. The newcomers were also requesting a Catholic school and there was no land for expansion at the old location. The challenge of providing larger facilities to meet the congregation’s growing needs fell on St. Theresa’s next pastor, Father Arthur O’Brien, who had succeeded Father Murray in 1949.
In 1952, the parish purchased five acres of land on North Benton Street and made plans to build again. In 1954, the school building was completed and opened with 200 new students. They were taught by four Sisters of Christian Charity from Wilmette and two lay teachers. In 1955, a chapel with seating for 500 opened in the basement of the school. Every Mass was packed with young families who spilled into the aisles and out onto the front steps. By 1960 almost 1300 children were enrolled in the school which held two shifts of classes in the morning and afternoon.
Father O’Brien undertook the job of raising funds to build the church structure in which we worship today. A convent was built in time. The little church on Wood Street was sold to a Hispanic congregation and became the Santa Teresita Vicariate Mission. The new church for St. Theresa at 455 N. Benton Street was dedicated on Easter Sunday, 1961.
Father O’Brien died in April, 1965. Father James Dolan succeeded him as pastor in March of 1966. During his years as pastor, a rectory was built on the church property, the large activities center, which today bears Father Dolan’s name, was added, and the school building was expanded for a second time to accommodate a continually growing school enrollment. Father Dolan retired in 1980.
The new pastor, appointed in 1981, was Father Robert Festle. Father Festle laid the groundwork for the flourishing lay ministries that exist in the parish today. One of his first priorities was updating the religious education of the public school children. Father Festle hired the first full time, lay Director of Religious Education. A program was begun that matched the religious training and sacramental preparation of the RE children to that of the parochial school children.
In May, 1987, Father Robert McGlynn was appointed pastor. He immediately expanded and broadened his predecessor’s work with the lay ministries. He hired a full time Minister of Care who directed the ministries of service to the poor, sick, elderly and others in need in the parish and community. He also undertook major repairs to the aging parish campus. As vocations to religious life decreased, the convent, which had once housed twenty-four nuns, took on new use. The first floor became home to a pre-school and all-day kindergarten. The second floor was developed into offices for the staffs of the School of Religious Education, the Ministry of Care, the Music Ministry and the Adult Education Program.
When Father McGlynn died unexpectedly in 1991, just as the parish was preparing for its 50th Anniversary, Father John McNamara became pastor of St. Theresa Parish. Under his guidance, St. Theresa parishioners embraced a long-range pastoral plan which defined ways to meet our parish’s future needs. A major portion of the plan included major renovations to the church, Pauline Center and the school. A new wing was added to St. Theresa School as well as remodeling the rest of the school. In April, 2000, the first Mass was celebrated in the newly remodeled church. Although the original walls and foundation remain, the extensive renovations created an entirely new church, gathering area and connection to the Pauline Center.
Now and Into the Future
Father McNamara retired in 2001, and Cardinal Francis George appointed Fr. Richard Zborowski as pastor of St. Theresa Parish. Fr. Richard oversaw the completion of the church and added to the beautification and landscaping of the parish campus, as well as retiring close to a million dollars of debt from previous construction. In addition, Msgr. Richard guided the renovation of the parish rectory, which houses the priests who minister at St. Theresa.
Msgr. Richard left St. Theresa Parish in June 2013 and Fr. Tim Fairman took over responsibilities of the parish. Soon after Fr. Tim’s appointment, he assembled a Master Plan committee to undertake the assessment of the existing parish facilities and create a plan for their maintenance and update which would secure a vibrant future for the campus, and moreover parish life. Fr. Tim directed the Capital Campaign “Building On Our Faith Together,” which raised the monies necessary to execute the Master Plan. At present, construction is underway to update all of the parish buildings, as well as expand the school building. Concurrently, the school curriculum is being revamped and enlivened to prepare our students for their futures in the 21st Century. Additionally, the parish has completed the Parish Transformation process and will begin to embark upon realizing all of the components of the Parish Transformation Action Plan which will span 3-5 years, focusing on Evangelization, Communio, Mission, Finances and Education.
Presently, St. Theresa Parish numbers approximately 3,600 families. Nearly 340 children are enrolled in our school, and 340 more children are registered in our Religious Education program.
This history tells much about the bricks, mortar, money and labor that went into the physical building of St. Theresa. How does one measure the spiritual growth of 75 years? If the early parishioners could spend a day visiting our parish they would see St. Theresa Parish as the spiritual center of the lives of Palatine Catholics just as it was 75 years ago.
The little chapel upstairs of the fire department on Slade Street and the beautiful campus and buildings on Benton Street both bear witness to the faith and devotion of St. Theresa parishioners. From first light when Mass-goers gather at 6:30 AM until far into the evening, our parish is filled with liturgies, meetings, classes and works of charity, as we share Christ with others through the sacraments, education, prayer and service.
Here is our parish church. It is a means by which we may aspire to heaven. Within this church the story of our Catholic faith and practice is unfolded… Here, we rededicate ourselves to unity and to harmony in a humble and unselfish labor for the greater honor and glory of God.