SLOVENIAN CATHOLIC MISSION (Slovensko Versko Sredisce) is a Parish, whose mission is to serve the spiritual needs of Slovenians from Lemont, Chicago and Chicagoland area. It's headquaters are in the St. Mary's Franciscan Monastery in Lemont, IL. The Parish wants to carry out it's mission through the close ties to other Slovenian communities and organizations, especialy Slovenian Franciscans and Slovenian Cultural Center.
The Blessed Anton Martin Slomsek Slovenian Catholic Mission together with the Slovenian Cultural Center is placed in the most recent times of the history of Slovenians in Chicago and vicinity. This era is marked with life energies of postwar immigrants, both political and economic. The leaders of this era express a firm determination to include all fellow countrymen in their endeavors, as gradually this number is decreasing. Both, the religious and the cultural centers are guests of the Slovenian Franciscan Fathers in Lemont, who as hosts open a new chapter in their more than eighty years of service to the Slovenians in America. The Fathers are members of the Foundation of the Holy Cross, which is a dependency of the Province of the Holy Cross in Slovenia.
In the latter decades of the 19th century and until 1914, thousands of Slovenians emigrated to the United States. They settled wherever they could find work, especially in the mines, factories, steel mills and forests. The American census of 1910 lists 183,431 inhabitants who named Slovenian as their mother tongue (Matjaz Klemencic, Slovenija and Slovenes of Cleveland, Ohio – Novo mesto, Dolenjska Publishers, 1995).
A recent wave of immigrants arrived after World War II, first as political refuges and later as economic emigrants. Their arrival revived some of the Slovenian centers, especially in Cleveland, Chicago, New York and Milwaukee. At the end of the 1970's immigration of Slovenians practically ended.
Among the many Slovenian priests who came to America the most famous is Friderik Baraga, now a candidate for beatification, who was a missionary to the Indians and later the first bishop of Marquette, Michigan. He arrived in the U. S. in December 1830 and stayed until his death in 1868. He is buried in the cathedral church in Marquette. Others followed his example and came to work as missionaries, first among the Indians and then with Catholic immigrants of various nationalities, including the Slovenians. In the Archdiocese of Chicago the following Slovenian parishes were established: St. Joseph, Joliet, 1891; St. Stephen, Chicago, 1898; Mother of God, Waukegan, 1903; St. George, South Chicago, 1903.
The Slovenian Franciscans came upon the scene as an organized group with the arrival of Father Casimir Zakrajsek to New York 1906. In January, 1919, at the invitation of Cardinal Mundelein, they accepted St. Stephen parish. In 1922 they bought a farm in Lemont, where they erected a seminary and monastery. The Franciscans also erected a shrine in honor of Our Lady of Brezje, thus, Lemont has become known as the American Brezje. To further serve and unite the Slovenians scattered throughout the country, Fr. Casimir established the religious publication Ave Maria. It has been in continuous existence since its establishment in 1909.
The idea of establishing a religious and cultural center in Lemont predates the actual founding by many years. For some decades Americans of European origin and descent had been moving from the city to the more spacious suburbs. Industry and mercantile outlets followed them. The Slovenians are included in this wave of moving, first settling in the suburbs and then planning and talking about a Slovenian center in Lemont. These plans came to a head ten years ago, with the building of the Cultural Center and the establishment of a Slovenian Catholic Mission.
The Archdiocese of Chicago at the request of the Slovenian Franciscans established the Slovenian Catholic Mission in Lemont. Father Christian Gostecnik led the efforts by his explanations and written reasoning submitted to the Archdiocesan authorities, showing the need for a Slovenian Mission in the southwestern part of the archdiocese. He emphasized the projected building of the Slovenian Cultural Center in Lemont, which would unite Slovenians and be an aid to the Slovenian Franciscans in their apostolic work, and underscored the meaning of the Lemont shrine in the hearts of the Slovenians. After a yearlong discussion with various archdiocesan entities, especially the parishes in Lemont, on September 12, 1994 Joseph Cardinal Bernardin issued a decree establishing the Slovenian Catholic Mission. An agreement was signed by the Cardinal and Rev. Blase Chemazar, superior of the Franciscans, setting up the terms of the care of the mission. The decree and agreement became effective on Oct. 1, 1994.
Father Vendelin Spendov, guardian (local superior) in Lemont, was named the first chaplain and director of the Slovenian Catholic Mission. Since the Mission has all the privileges and duties of a parish, baptisms and marriages could now take place at St. Mary's. Kelly Victoria, daughter of Natasha (nee Velkavrh) and Mark Buh was the first child baptized here. Father Christian did the honors on May 7, 1995. The first wedding took place on April 29, 1995 when Jeffrey A Szarek and Paula Rous exchanged their vows with Father Blasé as the Officiant.
During the early years of the Cultural Center and the Catholic Mission, leaders from both organizations worked to firm up support from the greater Slovenian community as members and financial contributors. The Ave Maria (Jan. 1995, p.2) refers to them as “the twins”. The Cultural Center has had its own page in the publication from December 1994. Father David Srumpf submitted articles detailing and explaining the working relationships between the two entities. Even before he officially became the pastor (or director) Father David organized the new parish and prepared for the solemn proclamation of the Slovenian Catholic Mission.
In the column regularly written by Fr. Vendelin Spendov for the Ave Maria, in May 1995 he described the official proclamation. “On Sunday, March 12, 1995, at 3 P.M., a solemn Mass was celebrated with Father Stane Zore, provincial vicar, as the main celebrant. Concelebrants were Fathers Blase Chemazar, Miha Volk, Athanasius Lovrencic, Christian Gostecnik, David Srumpf and David Stalzer. John Vidmar was the Deacon. Lectors were Bernarda Simrayh and Tony Tkalec. Choirs from Lemont, Joliet and Chicago gathered to sing with Father Vendelin Spendov as the director and Helen Rozman-Williams as organist. About 200 Countrymen attended the Mass which officially proclaimed the Slovenian Catholic Mission. After Mass, Martin Hozjan, president of the board of the Slovenian Cultural Center, presented a cross which would hang in the new building. Father Stane blessed the cross and led a procession to the center singing Hladnik’s Marija Skoz’ Zivljenje. A meeting of about 250 people followed led by Father David. This was effectively the first general meeting of the Mission. Father David became the official pastor of the Mission on April 1, 1995, leaving his former assignment as associate at St. Joseph, Joliet.”