The history of St. Mary of Perpetual Help Parish began circa 1880 as Polish immigrants began settling in the Bridgeport area and established this newly founded community as their home. As the number of Polish immigrants grew, so did the need for a Roman Catholic parish that would minister to their own spiritual needs. In 1882, local residents joined together to purchase a two-story frame building, located on the corner of Farrell and Lyman streets, to serve as the church, school and convent.
In late 1884, Reverend John Radziejewski, advised by the Most Reverend Patrick Feehan, Archbishop of Chicago, purchased property bounded by 32nd Street, 32nd Place, Aberdeen Street and Morgan Street.
On October 8, 1886, Reverend John Zylla was appointed the first resident pastor of St. Mary of Perpetual Help Parish. During his pastoral tenure, Father Zylla began the construction of the magnificent structure of our present parish church. Father Zylla served the people of this parish until May of 1891.
In May of 1891, the Most Reverend Patrick Feehan appointed Reverend Stanley Nawrocki as the second pastor of this parish. Under his leadership, Father Nawrocki completed the building of the Church in 1892 according to the architectural plans drawn by Joseph Engelbert. Upon completion, the magnificent edifice was dedicated by the Vicar General of the Archdiocese, the Very Reverend Daniel Dowling, pastor of the neighboring St. Bridget Church. Through the continued generous support of the parishioners, the parish became free of debt before long. As a result, a momentous occasion took place in the history of this parish when Archbishop James E Quigley consecrated St. Mary of Perpetual Help Church on October 24, 1903; thus St. Mary of Perpetual Help Church became the first Polish Roman Catholic Church in the United States to be bestowed with this great honor.
The Chicago Tribune on Sunday, October 25, 1903 reported: "Archbishop Consecrates Church Free From Debt. Ceremonies at St. Mary of Perpetual Help, yesterday and today. The Church of St. Mary of Perpetual Help (Polish), at thirty-second near Halsted, was consecrated yesterday morning by Archbishop Quigley, assisted by Fathers Lange and Sztucko. Father Barry was master of ceremonies. The service was private, today being reserved for the public ceremonies."
At 10:00 the Archbishop will pontificate, the mass to be followed by a sermon preached by the Reverend Ed Kozlowski of Bay City. Bishops J. L. Spalding and P. J. O'Reilly of Peoria diocese and Bishop Mesmer of Green Bay have been invited to attend.
The twelve brass crosses along the walls in the church and the white marble plaque in the vestibule commemorate this historic event.
The plaque commemorating this event, loosely translated, reads: "In Perpetual Memory of the event on the ninth day before the calends of November (October 24) 1903 A.D. the Most Reverend James Edward Quigley, Archbishop of Chicago, solemnly consecrated this church erected in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Perpetual Help and its major altar, constructed of marble stone and containing the relics of the martyred Saints Valentine, Marcian and Setis. He instituted the celebration of this festive day and its anniversary on the fourth Sunday of October. X. S. Nawrocki, Rector"
In 1906, a new school building was constructed. Father Stanley Nawrocki passed on to this eternal reward on March 7, 1921 after serving the parish for thirty-one years. One month later, the Right Reverend Monsignor Thomas A. Bona was appointed the third pastor of this parish. Under Monsignor Bona's leadership, the present rectory, located at 1039 W. 32nd Street, was built in 1922; and construction of the new grammar school building on 32nd Place, adjoining the school structure to its west. Following the completion of the new rectory, the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Third Order of St. Francis accepted the old rectory as their new convent.
On October 11, 1936 St. Mary of Perpetual Help Parish celebrated its Golden Jubilee. Monsignor Bona's brother, the Most Reverend Bishop Stanislaus V. Bona, of the diocese of Grand Island, Nebraska, celebrated the Jubilee mass. With the generous support of the parishioners, Monsignor Bona financed the construction of the social center, located at the corner of 32nd Place and Aberdeen Street.
On April 7, 1946 marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of Monsignor Bona's appointment as pastor. He died on June 28, 1950 at the age of 67.
On October 8, 1950, the Reverend Monsignor Edward J. Smaza was appointed the fourth pastor of this parish. Following his ordination in 1934, Monsignor Smaza obtained his doctorate in Canon Law from the Gregorian University in Rome. Under the guidance of Monsignor Smaza, an extensive remodeling program took place in the parish plant. The parish church, with its Romanesque-style exterior and Byzantine-style interior was completely painted and remodeled in accordance with the norms established by the Second Vatican Council.
On December 31, 1981, a benchmark occurred in the life of Monsignor Smaza and the history of this parish as he announced his retirement from pastoral duties. Early in 1982, Reverend David A Nowicki was appointed the fifth pastor of this parish. During his three years as the pastor, the parish continued to experience significant challenges and difficulties. The growing expenses attributed to the high school and grammar school were draining all of the parish revenue. Father Nowicki resigned as the pastor in January of 1985.
In April of 1985, Donald J. Mulsoff was appointed the sixth pastor of this parish. During his pastorate the consolidation of the grammar school with five other parish grammar schools into the Bridgeport Catholic Academy was completed. At the direction of Joseph Cardinal Bernadin and the Office of Catholic Education of the Archdiocese of Chicago, Mulsoff directed the closing of the high school. On Sunday, October 19, 1986, the Most Reverend Bishop Alfred Abramowicz, auxiliary bishop of Chicago, was the main celebrant at the One Hundredth Anniversary Mass. Mulsoff's term ended in September of 1999.
In September of 1999, Reverend Donald R. Craig was appointed the seventh pastor of St. Mary of Perpetual Help Church and served here until December 2012. During this time, Father Craig, along with the people of this parish, accomplished many needed projects throughout the parish grounds. On June 26, 2000, the feast of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Francis Cardinal George dedicated a new marble altar of sacrifice. In the summer of 2001, the oil paintings in the shrines of our Blessed Mother and of St. Joseph were restored to their original beauty by the Art Institute of Chicago. In the fall of 2001, the old convent and high school buildings were demolished and turned into much needed parking spaces. Also at this time, the bell towers were reconstructed and tuckpointed. In the spring of 2002, the interior walls of the Church were painted. In the fall of 2002, our parish kicked off a three-year campaign in conjunction with the Archdiocese called the Church Preservation Millennium Campaign to restore the many aspects of our Church Building. Projects included the tuckpointing of the Church Building, restoration of all the stained glass windows, the completion of the restoration of our historic Austin organ, the installation of a new Church boiler, the painting of the interior ceilings and domes and the replacement of the Church carpeting.
In the Fall of 2002, De La Salle Institute opened a high school for girls located in the former St. Mary of Perpetual Help grade school and gymnasium buildings. This new catholic girls high school merges the two missions of commitment to catholic education of De La Salle Institute and St. Mary of Perpetual Help Parish. The St. Mary of Perpetual Help Church scholarship program for De La Salle Institute was also initiated at this time. This scholarship program ensures the opportunity for children of participating parish families to receive a catholic high school education.
In January 2013, Reverend Thomas Aschenbrener was appointed the eighth pastor of St. Mary of Perpetual Help Parish by His Eminence Francis Cardinal George.