St. Viator Parish was founded in 1888 by the Clerics of St. Viator, who desired to establish a Novitiate close to what was then the border regions of Chicago. The site chosen near the intersection of Belmont Avenue and Crawford (now Pulaski Road within the city) was centered in the vast farmland of rural Jefferson Township. The Most Reverend Archbishop P. A. Feehan welcomed the Fathers to the area, and made the request that they build a chapel upon the property to serve the needs of the few Catholic families settled nearby. The Provincial Director of the Viatorians, Reverend Cyril Fournier, bore this mission to heart, and a temporary chapel was soon constructed adjacent to the Novitiate.
In 1889, Jefferson Township was annexed to Chicago, and area population increased rapidly. Within one year, St Viator’s membership grew from eight families to over 250. Under the Viatorians' direction, a new mission was founded in the Mayfair area of the Parish to serve nearly 110 families located nearby. This mission survives today as St. Edward Parish, first to be formed from the original borders of St. Viator Parish. To assist the Viatorian Fathers cope with further expansion, a local farmer, John Sweeney donated an acre of his farm adjacent to the Novitiate for the purpose of building a larger church. A modest, wood-framed building was soon erected, which also served as St. Viator's first school. The remaining land from Mr. Sweeney’s generous donation left ample room for future building.
The Reverend Andrew Corcoran succeeded Father Fournier. St. Viator’s was in desperate need of a larger school and Father Corcoran’s capabilities as an efficient administrator were instrumental in its completion. He labored hard for a permanent church structure, but did not live to see his plans put into motion. He died in 1904 and was succeeded by the Reverend Thomas J. McCormick.
The Reverend Thomas J. McCormick is perhaps the most renowned figure in the history of St. Viator’s. He is often referred to as "The Second Founder" of the Parish. Father McCormick desired to move the Parish headquarters to a location that would better serve the needs of Catholics in the area. After obtaining permission to seek a more centralized location, he chose the current site and Addison Street and Kedvale Avenue upon which to build a permanent church.
Father McCormick was a strong believer in education, as it was revered as an utmost priority in the traditions of the Viatorians. In 1902, after careful consideration, the Fathers chose the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet to be the teachers of their first school. Plans were outlined for a school at the location on Addison Street. A combination building was constructed at the new site and served as both school and church. At the time of its dedication in 1910, it was praised as one of the best planned structures in existence in the Archdiocese of Chicago. Mass was held in the building until the present church was completed in the following decade. Today, with subsequent additions made, the original building remains standing in excellent condition and continues to serve as St. Viator Elementary School.
Father McCormick continued to oversee developments at the new site until 1912. A year prior to his departure, he sold the original property at Belmont and Crawford to assist in the funding of a new church.
Father Ryan succeeded Father McCormick. His nineteen year tenure as Pastor was interrupted briefly in 1918 when he was called to serve as President of St. Viator’s College in Bourbonnais. Under his administration, St. Viator built its first Rectory. In his early years as Pastor, Father Ryan dreamed of the day when his beloved Parish could build a permanent church structure. In 1927, work began on the edifice which constitutes the present church. Ground was broken in ceremony on September 1, 1927. The cornerstone was laid on May 13, 1928 bearing the inscription, “Let the little children come unto Me.” Six months later, the church was completed and was formally dedicated in November, 1928.
Father Ryan’s legacy is evident today in the beautiful church complex on Addison Street. Many of the original features of the church remain intact. The interior of St. Viator Church is best described as spacious, cruciform in design with a broad nave and no interior pillars. The stained glass windows, manufactured by the Frei Art Glass Company of St. Louis, Missouri, are especially noteworthy. These windows were carefully handcrafted to reflect the 13th century medallion style in deep shades of red and blue, and were copied from those found in the Cathedral of Chartes, France. Those located in the apse depict images of the Saints and themes related to the Eucharist. The first rosy rays of dawn stream into the nave through windows reflecting scenes from the New Testament. The last glimmers of evening twilight reveal colorful portraits based upon events from the Old Testament. The west transcept windows (seen as the backdrop for our website) pay homage to the Blessed Virgin, while those opposite show the release of souls from Purgatory. The south windows echo the inscription on the cornerstone.
Through the years, St. Viator’s has been blessed with many treasures and has been widely recognized. A beautifully detailed chalice used by Pope Pius XI in 1928 was presented to the Parish by Cardinal Mundelein in recognition of its work on the Propogation of the Faith. The Pope also forwarded his personal congratulations upon the success of Catholic education programs of which St. Viator’s was an active participant. On May 14, 1950, the pilgrim statue of Our Lady of Fatima visited St. Viator’s on a nationwide pilgrimage. Parishioners assembled in unity for a public veneration in honor of the visit and a special shrine was constructed on the Rectory lawn to remind the faithful of their prayers and devotions. This shrine can still be found at the corner of Addison Street and Keeler Avenue.
St. Viator Parish has entered her second century well versed in her past and hopeful for her future. The true legacy left by her founders transcends the majestic beauty of her church. It is the spiritual unity of her people which keeps her thriving and remains the cornerstone of all her endeavors.