History of Saint Henry

A Historical Perspective: 1851-present St. Henry church was originally founded in 1851 by a Redemptorist priest, Fr. Henry Fortmann, who served as a non-resident pastor from 1851-1866. Prior to the parish’s founding, Mass was celebrated in the log house of Peter Schmidt located on the Ridge Trail, now known as Ridge Blvd extended north into Evanston. Although St. Henry did not have a permanent resident pastor until 1866, priests from St. Joseph Church in Wilmette and St. Michael parish fulfilled the spiritual needs of the parish. After the establishment of the Redemptorist Order in Chicago, which was from 1861-1866, the spiritual needs were subsequently attended by the Redemptorist Fathers from St. Michael’s Parish. St. Henry church not only served as a place of worship for local inhabitants, but interestingly, the building later used as its parish rectory also served as a hospital for wounded soldiers during the Civil War. Rev. Fortmann oversaw the construction of the first St. Henry Church starting in 1851 on the north side of Devon west of Ridge and presided over its dedication in 1852. The frame building was measured 40 ft long by 26 ft wide. It was constructed to permit future additions in anticipation of the increasing size of the congregation. There were 3 acres of land attached to the church dedicated as a burial ground for parishioners. On the opposite side, there were two acres of land allotted as sites for a parochial residence and a schoolhouse as future additions. During the early years, the parish was comprised of immigrants from Luxembourg, Germany, and Ireland. Over time, Luxembourgers moved on to other cities in Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin. The first resident Pastor of St. Henry, Reverend Edward Haems, was appointed in December 1866 and served until February 1870. He was succeeded by Rev. Marschall and subsequently by Rev. Michel. In 1873, Rev. Michel died and was buried in St. Henry Cemetery, which was created in 1871.

In 1865, the Angel Guardian Orphanage was established after the Board of St. Boniface Cemetery purchased 10 acres of land at Devon Avenue and Damen Avenue. Under the supervision of Rev. Wagner, Niederberger, and Thiele, the small frame church was replaced by a larger one with subsequent renovations, and in addition, oversaw the construction of a parish school, which was completed in 1882. Prior to that, children attended classes in the Orphanage. The religious sisters of the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ order served as teachers at the Orphanage and later appointed as faculty of the Parish School.

In 1904, St. Henry parishioners decided to build a new church. Fr. Ruetershoff oversaw the construction of the new church building as well as a monument dedicated to those who served in World War I. The monument was unveiled and blessed on November 27, 1919 commemorating the valor of the 101 parish young men who served in that war and especially the three courageous men who ultimately lost their lives. At this time, St. Henry parish served mostly German speaking families who lived in the area. From 1906-1925, the English-speaking population in the area grew rapidly. As such, five new territorial parishes were organized to serve this growing faith community: St. Ignatius, St. Gertrude, St. Margaret Mary, St. Timothy, and St. Hilary. In the early 1920’s, the Angel Guardian Orphanage facilities underwent expansion under the guidance of George Cardinal Mundelein. Simultaneously, he proposed that St. Henry Church become the chapel of the institution. Although met with opposition, Cardinal Mundelein’s decision ultimately prevailed. In exchange, St. Henry was awarded $100,000 and property bounded by Devon, Rosemont, Hoyne, and Seeley avenues. St. Henry parishioners mourned the loss of their parish. Fr. Ruetershoff was succeeded by Fr. Charles Epstein in 1927. Under the supervision of Fr. Epstein, a new combined church and school building was constructed on October 28, 1928. Henry J. Schlacks designed this two story building structure located at 6325 N. Hoyne Avenue. Construction was completed and was dedicated on October 27, 1929. Cardinal Mundelein dedicated five new brick cottages along Ridge Avenue for the Angel Guardian Orphanage. During the Second World War, a multitude of services were offered and were well attended at St. Henry. Parish groups flourished during this period between 1930 and 1960, including the Altar and Rosary Society, the Mother’s Club, the Holy Name Society, Christian Family Movement, and the Boy Scouts. Fr. Fuessel was named pastor after the passing of Fr. Epstein in 1961. He supervised the construction of a combination rectory and social center, which was completed at 6335 N. Hoyne Avenue in 1971. The old rectory, convent, and clubhouse were demolished. The property at the corner of Devon and Ridge was sold, except for a small piece that was retained as a site of a new convent, which was completed in 1970.

During the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, the parish school enrollment was declining and reached its nadir as many families moved away from the parish into other neighborhoods. Msgr. Herdegen organized plans for the renovation of school facilities as well as the upgrading of the teaching faculty as a way to improve enrollment, which fortunately was met with success. The renovated church met the liturgical expectations of Vatican II and was subsequently re-dedicated by Cardinal Cody on September 1, 1974. During this time, strong pastoral programs for sacramental participation and education were implemented along with the emergence of a plethora of fundraising committees and advisory committees. In 1978, the parish served approximately 500 Catholic families from the Phillippines, India, and Greece with active organizations including the Mother’s Club, Altar and Rosary Society, Men’s Club, and Senior Citizen’s Club. Father Bernard White arrived at St. Henry after the passing of Fr. Niemeyer in 1988. In 1994, seven neighboring local parishes closed their parish schools and created the Northside Catholic Academy, serving local students on four campuses. Under Fr. White’s supervision, the Parish Pastoral Council was formed in 1993. The Council has provided invaluable leadership to the congregation and served as an important liaison with the pastor to serve the thriving faith community.

In 1996, following Fr. White’s retirement, Fr. Harasim was named as administrator at St. Henry. A year later, he was officially appointed as pastor. Under his guidance, new parish activities were created, including annual Oktoberfest, biannual International Dinner, the annual celebration of the St. Henry Feast Day and Family Picnic, an annual outdoor Corpus Christi procession, monthly Family Masses and Family Breakfast, a SPRED program providing religious education for the challenged, the Filipino Christmas Novena (Simbang Gabi), and the Filipino Feast of the Santo Nino in January with home novenas preceding the Feast, as well as the formation of a Liturgy Committee to coordinate the planning of liturgical seasons.

On May 6, 2001 Cardinal Francis George visited St. Henry to close the Jubilee year with a Mass of Thanksgiving followed by a celebratory banquet held in the parish social center. In the same year, Fr. Dominic Ha was appointed as the parochial administrator and served as St. Henry’s 16 th pastor up until 2014. During this time period, the growing Vietnamese congregation at St. Thomas came over and joined the parish. Fr. Phi Nguyen was appointed as the parish’s 17 th pastor on July 1, 2016 after serving as interim administrator starting on December 16, 2014. Fr. Phi Nguyen’s Installation Mass was celebrated on August 14, 2016. Today, St. Henry parish, ethnically diverse as parishioners can trace their roots back to Viet Nam, the Philippines, India, Iraq, Lebanon, the Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Nigeria, Spain, Ireland, Poland, Italy, Germany, Austria, Colombia, and Cuba, is a congregation enriched by its diverse cultural traditions and united in their Catholic faith with the purpose of serving one another and the surrounding community.