History - St. Columbanus Church

In July 1909, Saint Columbanus Church, a combination church and school building, was built in the Park Manor neighborhood. It originally served Irish Catholics was run by the Sisters of Saint Dominic, who resided in part of the school building.  In 1917, a convent was constructed.  The parish membership grew enough that the first pastor was able to finance the construction of a large church on the corner of 71st Street and Prairie Avenue, which was completed in September 1923 and dedicated in 1925.  As the Parish continued to grow, a gym was built in 1933 for the benefit of the school children’s physical education.  In 1949, an addition was made to the school and the rectory was enlarged.  The final addition to the Saint Columbanus Parish buildings was the Glass House, which was built in 1960 as a parish library, but later became a credit union for parishioners.  Finally, it was used as a meeting house for various organizations, neighborhood senior citizens, Girl Scouts, and other groups.

The late 1930’s and early 1940’s saw the beginning of racial problems in the Park Manor neighborhood when homeowners entered into restrictive covenant agreements that prevented blacks from buying property.  After the U.S. Supreme Court decided that these agreements were unconstitutional, African Americans began to settle in the Park Manor neighborhood amidst great racial unrest.  After 1948, Park Manor went through a period of racial transition.  As African Americans moved in, whites residents moved out.  Between 1952 and 1953, the number of school students dropped dramatically, church members left, and parish debts rose.  Both Saint Columbanus Church and the surrounding area evolved from being predominantly white, to mixed and eventually became predominantly black.  During this transition, and under the leadership of Rev. John Ryan Gleason, who was appointed pastor in 1952, African American families were welcomed into the Saint Columbanus Parish and school attendance stabilized making Saint Columbanus Church one of the oldest African American Catholic parishes in Chicago.

SAINT COLUMBANUS CHURCH PASTORS
Right Rev. Monsignor Dennis P. O’Brien        
1909-1938

Very Rev. Monsignor William J. Gorman        
1938-1946

Most Rev. William E. Cousins            
1946-1952

Very Rev. Monsignor John Ryan Gleason        
1952-1959

Rev. Eugene F. Mc Cahey            
1959-1968

Rev. Gerard P. Weber                
1968-1972

Rev. James O’Malley                
1972-1980

Rev. Kenneth M. Brigham            
1980-1992

Rev. Philip E. Cyscon                
1992-1999

Rev. Matthew Eyerman                
1999-2011

Rev. Michael P. Knotek                
2011-2013

Rev. Matthew S. O’Donnell            
2013-