Parish History

St. Luke and St. Bernardine Parish Today

On July 1, 2021 the legacy parishes of St. Luke and St. Bernardine joined together to become a united parish community. The new parish operates under the direction of one pastor, with worship occurring in two churches, and many lay-led ministries uniting to serve parishioners and those in need in the larger community. The unification process now underway will continue for several years as the parish adapts to its new identity and works to achieve its vision for the future.  

The parish continues to be an inclusive community of faith in which all may come to know the saving grace of the Holy Spirit and the redemption made possible by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Our Vision

We are the united parish of St. Luke and St. Bernardine – a welcoming, inclusive, vibrant and joyful community in Christ on a shared journey of faith. Our hearts are unified and our arms are open to all individuals and families who seek a spiritual home guided by the Gospel, strengthened by prayer, nourished by the Eucharist, and shaped by the teachings and sacred liturgy of the Catholic Church.

We draw people together through spiritual and social gatherings to support and build relationships with each other and with our Lord. Energized by the blending of our families and ministries, we provide a warm and healing shelter from the challenges of our complex world. We offer lifelong faith formation through our outstanding Catholic school, religious education programs for students and adults, Sacramental preparation, and experiences that encourage exploration, reflection and learning.

Our unified parish, which strives to be a spiritual leader in our communities, has sturdy roots growing from its more than 100-year history. It also has strong, far-reaching branches nurtured by our commitment to grow in our faith and in our relationships with one another.

With the grace of the Holy Spirit, the guidance of our pastor, and the support of our lay-led ministries, we reach out to the poor, the hungry, the disenfranchised, and the wronged. We seek to be Christ’s presence by making our works of friendship, peace and justice bear witness to His Gospel message.

St. Luke and St. Bernardine Parish is where faith flourishes in River Forest, Forest Park, neighboring communities and beyond.

Our Shared History

Here is a brief timeline of the rich and often intersecting history in which St. Luke and St. Bernardine Parish is rooted.

1865 – St. Thomas Mission/Harlem Mission is established to serve Chicago suburbs, including River Forest and Forest Park.

1880 – Part of the area known as Harlem is incorporated as River Forest.

1884 – The town of Harlem is incorporated.

1887 – Father John Waldron established the first church, renamed St. Luke, that grew to serve nearly 1,000 members by 1893, serving Catholics from River Forest, Forest Park, Oak Park, Maywood, and Melrose Park.

1894 – Father Richard Dunne succeeded Father Waldron and built the first St. Luke rectory.

1907 – The town of Harlem is renamed Forest Park. Father Dunne encouraged Dr. John W. Tope to bring the Sisters of Misericordia to staff Oak Park Hospital.

1911 – St. Bernardine Parish is established after Catholics of Forest Park decided it was time to have their own parish, thus avoiding the long walk to St. Luke Church, especially in inclement weather. The boundaries of the new St. Bernardine Parish were drawn to match those of Forest Park. Reverend Thomas D. Burke was named pastor, and celebrated the first Mass of the new parish on Christmas Eve, 1911. Services for about 75 families is held in a lodge meeting room in a picnic grove belonging to Mr. and Mrs. George Vogel. The parish then purchased three lots at Harrison Street and Marengo Avenue, where a temporary structure was built.

1912 – The first marriage and the first Baptism were celebrated at St. Bernardine. Father Louis Maiworm is named pastor of St. Bernardine, serving until 1917.

1914 – St. Bernardine parishioners numbered 160, and plans for a building to house both the church and a school began to be developed. This building continued as the church until 1940.

1916 – St. Bernardine School is opened with 120 pupils and the School Sisters of St. Francis as their teachers. St. Bernardine built its first rectory, which was in use until 1936.

1917 – Father Otto Nabholz is named pastor of St. Bernardine, serving until 1935.  

1920 – St. Bernardine parish boundaries were expanded to include part of south Oak Park.

1921 – St. Luke School was dedicated, and the Sinsinawa Dominican sisters came to teach, remaining until the late 1980s.

1924 – Father Thomas A. Canty is named pastor of St. Luke, serving until 1966. He continued in residence in the rectory until his death in 1971.

1935 – Father John Wagener is named pastor of St. Bernardine Parish, serving  until 1968. Monsignor Wagener died in his retirement home in St. Pierre, Indiana in 1973.

1936 – Planning for new buildings at St. Bernardine began as the parish grew to 700 families. The current rectory was completed. 

1937 – The present St. Luke Church was completed and dedicated.

1939 – The current St. Luke Rectory was completed.

1940 – The present St. Bernardine Church was completed and dedicated.

1949 – St. Luke was serving 1,158 registered families representing 4,632 persons. School enrollment was 678.

1950 – St. Bernardine Church’s Shrine to Our Lady of Fatima was dedicated. The shrine includes stones from the original site in Portugal. 

1953 – St. Bernardine School addition was started. St. Bernardine School convent, accommodating 22 sisters, opened.

1954 – St. Luke School was demolished to make way for a new building to serve growing enrollment. Construction and partial occupation of the present building began. 

1962 – St. Bernardine celebrated its golden jubilee with His Eminence Albert Cardinal Meyer presiding.

1965 – St. Luke’s first Parish Advisory Council was formed.

1966 – Father John Fahey became pastor of St. Luke, serving until 1981, and residing in the rectory until nearly the end of his life.

1967 – Father William Quinlan is named pastor of St. Bernardine, serving until 1977.

1968 – The new St. Luke convent was completed.  St. Luke launched its twinning relationship with Chicago’s Blessed Sacrament Parish.

1971 – Bingo was established at St. Bernardine.

1977 – Father John Fearon is named pastor of St. Bernardine Parish, serving until 1995. 

1978 – St. Luke parish membership numbered 1,700 families. St. Luke Parish established a chapter of the Christian Family Movement, a senior citizens club, and began training and introducing lay ministries of lectors, commentators, Eucharistic ministers and others. 

1982 – Father James Moriarty is named pastor of St. Luke.  Over the next several years, discussion and planning focused on redesigning the church in the spirit of worship defined by the Vatican II Council.

1986 – St. Bernardine’s first Parish Council was established.

1988 – Father Paul Reicher is appointed pastor of St. Luke Parish, serving until 2000. St. Luke Church renovation began.

1989 – On Christmas Eve the renovated St. Luke Church opened with the 4 p.m. Family Mass.

1995 – Father Patrick Tucker is appointed pastor at St. Bernardine Parish.

2000 – Father Kenneth Fischer is named pastor at St. Luke Parish, serving until 2015. St. Luke Parish website is launched.

2009 – Father George Velloorattil is appointed pastor at St. Bernardine Church.

2011 – St. Bernardine Parish celebrated its 100th Anniversary.

2012 – St. Luke Parish celebrated its 125th Anniversary. The 125th St. Luke Anniversary Capital Campaign was launched and raised $2.4 million for much-needed repair, renovation and restoration of the church.

2013 – St. Bernardine Parish School closed.

2015 – Father John Szmyd is named pastor of St. Luke and begins the process of planning the church renovation. Father Stanislaw Kuca is named pastor of St. Bernardine.

2018 – St. Luke Church renovation was completed with restoration of the Crucifixion statues to the north wall of the sanctuary, where they were originally located when the church was built.  

2020 – The COVID-19 pandemic caused churches to close to protect parishioners from illness.  St. Luke and St. Bernardine began conducting video Masses viewable on digital devices. As part of the Renew My Church initiative, St. Luke and St. Bernardine parishes were asked to discern changes to enable both churches to meet the requirement of 800 attending Mass each weekend and a budget able to sustain parish expenses without debt.

2021 – A team of parishioners from both parishes explored scenarios that led to Cardinal Blase Cupich’s decision to unite the two parishes while keeping both churches open. The unified St. Luke and St. Bernardine Parish was established on July 1. Father Stanislaw Kuca is appointed pastor of St. Luke and St. Bernardine Parish.

The work of unification began by creating teams of parish members to provide counsel and assistance to the pastor on overall parish operations.  The work also involves creating the pillars of a new parish culture that recognizes the need for change to attract new people to the parish and to the Catholic faith, overall.  This work continues. 

St. Luke School celebrated its 100th Anniversary at Mass with Auxiliary Bishop Kevin Birmingham as the presider.

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Our Parish History