In the early 20th century, St. Gertrude Parish was established to serve Catholics living in the North Edgewater neighborhood of Chicago.
Through the efforts of six determined families and Father Peter Shewbridge, the parish community grew in faith and in numbers.
In those days, Sunday mass was offered in Hayt School auditorium. With few sidewalks, the people felt the burden of carrying the altar and other necessities back and forth, week after week. In March of 1912, a temporary, unheated frame church was built. As legend has it, it was often so cold that Father Shewbridge had to place his hands around the cruets to thaw out the contents before he could pour the water and wine at the offertory.
By the end of 1912, a three-story combination church and school were built. The walls that separated the first-floor classrooms were rolled up on Sunday for Masses and rolled down during the week for school. These classrooms are still in use as the school cafeteria of the Primary School Campus of Northside Catholic Academy.
From the very beginning, the school was staffed by Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, also known as BVMs. Their dedicated service provided an excellent education for the children of the parish for many decades. The building that is now called the Ministry Center was built as a convent to provide housing for the Sisters.
Through the years, the parish continued to flourish and plans were made to build a new church. The limestone had already been cut and paid for when the stock market crashed in 1929.
Because pledges by parishioners were meant to pay for the interior work, Father Bernard Heeney wanted to halt construction. However, the people of St. Gertrude acted with a spirit of determination and saw in through.
Some parishioners were moved to offer their wedding rings and other jewelry to be melted down to fashion a chalice to be used at Mass. With such personal sacrifice, St. Gertrude Church became one of the few buildings in Chicago to be completed during the Great Depression.
Over the years, St. Gertrude continued to grow and serve the families of Edgewater. In the mid-1960’s, the reforms of the Second Vatican Council ushered in sweeping changes to the liturgy and invited the laity to a whole new level of involvement. Pastors Gerald Kealy and then Lawrence Lynch helped guide the parish into this new era, establishing the foundations for many forms of lay involvement.
By 1984, when Father Bill Kenneally became the pastor, the dramatic changes within Church and society brought new questions about how to be a parish. New neighbors brought a diversity of race, ethnicity and sexual orientation that enlivened the conversation. Innovative responses to our emerging identity, included the creation of Heart to Heart outreach to our seniors, the gym mass, the 9:30am Mass on Sheridan Road, Northside Catholic Academy, and the 2007 parish Synod.
In 2012, with Pastor Dominic Grassi, the parish celebrated 100 years of service in Edgewater and surrounding neighborhoods.
The spirit of determination lives on as current parishioners answered the call for funds necessary for the maintenance of our buildings by pledging over $1.5 million dollars. The funds collected afforded a new sound system, tuck-pointing for the bell tower, improved electrical systems, updated external handrails and new handrails to the altar area, the Church doors refined, and structural improvements to the Ministry Center.
In 2017, the parish experienced a change in pastoral leadership as Fr. Dom Grassi retired from parish life and Fr. Rich Prendergast became the seventh pastor. Fr. Rich's retirement in December 2022, Fr. Mike Gabriel was appointed parish administrator on January 1, 2023. He will be come pastor on July 1, 2023.
As a parish, we give thanks for those upon whose shoulders we stand. Together, we face the challenges of a wounded, yet God-infused world with the same living faith which has been the hallmark of St. Gertrude Parish.
As a family of faith, we continue to look to find innovative ways of responding to the ongoing needs of our dynamic and evolving community. Together, we continue to strive to live the truth of our motto – All are Welcome.
The late Ann O'Connor, former faith formation director at St. Gertrude parish, gives a tour of St. Gertrude's beautiful stained glass windows. The video was filmed in 2012 or 2013.