St. Mary Nativity Parish History
A Faith Filled Past -- A Hope Filled Future
The beginnings of St. Mary Nativity Catholic Church date to the last decades of the nineteenth century. At that time the Croatian people who settled in Joliet came from Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina and Dalmatia. In those early days, the Croatian people worshipped at St. John the Baptist Church. After the founding of St. Joseph Parish in 1891, the Croatian and Slovenian families of Joliet worshipped together. As the number of Croatian families grew, so did their desire to preserve their native language and customs to form their own parish. After some time and negotiations, in 1906 Fr. George Violich arrived from Dalmatia, a region of Croatia, to be pastor of the newly founded parish of St. Mary Nativity, serving the parish until his death on December 26, 1939.
Christmas Midnight Mass was the first Mass celebrated in the school building in 1906. The present church was dedicated on October 7, 1907. In the same year, the parish acquired property for a cemetery on Caton Farm Road. The parish experiences steady growth and progress until the Great Depression of 1929. As with much of the country many future plans and dreams collapsed. The parish St. Vincent de Paul Society, founded in 1930 to provide spiritual and corporal works of mercy, was one of the organizations affected. Reorganized in 1933, the Society continues to serve the Joliet Community today. The integrity and faith of the people remained strong and carried them through the years.
On December 31, 1941, the parish church experienced a major disaster with the collapse of the church ceiling, causing extensive damage. Through the generosity of parishioners and various parishes of the area, major work was completed in restoring the worship facility.
Spiritual formation is vital to any parish. Since 1957 the parish Pilgrim Virgin Statue has circulated among families, encouraging a special devotion for Our Blessed Mother. In 1958 the Sorrowful Mother Novena began. In 1962, Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament was established, encouraging parishioners and friends to come for prayer in the sacramental presence of the Lord. As with most parishes, our church provides for the faith, service and social formation from childhood to the senior years, offering a Parish School, Religious Education Program, Youth Group, Senior Group and a variety of other organizations and ministries.
Appointed as Associate in 1937, Fr. Aloysius Sinsky became the parish administrator upon the death of Fr. Violich. In 1950 he became pastor and served the parish until his retirement on July 1, 1986. Fr. Sinsky died the following year, on September 3, 1987. A new Allen Digital Computer Organ was dedicated on May 22, 1988 in memory of his great love for music. Both pastors are dearly loved and remembered.
Fr. David Stalzer succeeded Fr. Sinsky as pastor in 1986. During his tenure, the parish continued to thrive. A number of renovation projects were completed during his tenure, including a major parking lot expansion to the north of the Church. Fr. David was greatly loved by the parish community. Within six months of his transfer from St. Mary Nativity in the summer of 1999 to St. Mary Magdalene Church in Joliet, he was diagnosed with lymphoma. Despite many prayers and the greatest hope for successful medical treatment, he died ten days short of his fifty-third birthday on June 18, 2000. In honor of their friend and pastor, tower clocks and a carillon were installed in the Church bell tower and dedicated on June 30, 2001.
Fr. Christopher Groh was named pastor in June, 1999. Having served as part-time associate since 1989, Fr. Chris previously split his responsibilities between St. Mary Nativity Parish and the Office of Divine Worship. While at the Office of Divine Worship, he was responsible for coordinating the Catechumenate in parishes throughout the Diocese of Joliet. In addition to his responsibilities at St. Mary Nativity, Fr. Chris serves as Administrator of Holy Cross Catholic Church and is Police and Fire Chaplain for the City of Joliet. He continues as a Consultant for the Catechumenate for the Office of Divine Worship, is a member of a several Diocesan Committees and a number of local organizations.
On April 20, 2004 a tornado killed eight people in Utica, IL. The storm system produced a subsequent tornado that damaged many homes and businesses on Hickory and Summit Streets in the St. Mary Nativity Neighborhood. The tornado uprooted trees, ripped apart the gutters and damaged the roof of St. Mary Nativity Convent. Air conditioning units were lifted-off the school building, windows were broken and the aluminum fascia of the Church was destroyed. The cross on the Church steeple was turned slightly, a neighboring storage shed was lifted across Vista Lane, landing on the roof of the JoAnn Room and the chain-link fence in the Vista Lane parking lot was flattened. Fortunately no one was injured. Damage to the Convent, School and Church exceeded $45,000.00.
St. Mary Nativity School History
The parish school has been synonymous with St. Mary Nativity Church since its founding. In 1907, the Sisters of the Precious Blood came to staff the school. There were 70 pupils in 2 classrooms. In 1912, The school Sisters of St. Francis of Christ the King came to staff the school and are with us still. In 1914, a second story was added to the school. The school continued to grow and in February, 1925 an addition to the school building was completed. On June 27, 1953 tragedy struck the school and convent with a major fire. Following the fire, a new gymnasium was built, classrooms were renovated and in September, 1954 a new convent was purchased.
In 1959, Providence High School relocated to St. Mary Nativity School and continued to offer classes at St. Mary Nativity until the completion of their new campus in New Lenox in 1962.
In September, 2001 pre-school and kindergarten students moved to a new Early Learning Center at the site of the former Holy Cross Catholic School on Elizabeth Street, allowing for the expansion of the existing campus at St. Mary Nativity.
At the main Broadway Street Campus new library has been built, a state-of-the-art computer lab has been completed, mathematics, fine arts and band programs have been expanded and a foreign language program for junior high students has been added. A fully equipped science lab has recently been completed. In 2008 SmartBoards were installed for the use of all students and faculty.
An innovative computer technology program has been developed for the Early Learning Center. Wireless laptop computers are be available for preschool and kindergarten students. In September, 2003, a full-day kindergarten opened. In 2007 a five-day prekindergarten was added. In the fall of 2008 interactive SmartBoard Technology was integrated into the curriculum for all Early Learning Center programs.