THE SLOVENIANS IN THE USA AND CHICAGO
The Christianization of the Slovenians in Europa began in earnest about 760 A.D., when the Irish monk Virgil became bishop of the Bavarian see of Salzburg. At the request of the Slav leader Hotimir, Virgil sent auxiliary bishop Modest with four priests and a deacon to evangelize the Slovenians of Carthinia, as their country was than called. Despite some setbacks, the Slovenians have for the most part remained Catholic till the present.
Some Slovenian immigrants had arrived earlier, but the first one of note was Frederic Baraga, Catholic priest and missionary to the Indians, who arrived in New York in December, 1830. He spent the rest of his life working for the Faith in Upper Michigan and adjoining areas. After reading the letters and reports which he sent back to Europe, other priests and lay people, many of them Slovenian, followed him to the United States. Among the priests was Father Franz Pierz, missionary in Minnesota. Other Slovenian young men came as seminary students, who studied in Minnesota seminaries and after ordination, spread out to work as missionaries and as parih priests in Slovenian parishes throughout the country, most of which were established by these priests. During the last decades of the 19th century and until 1914, thousands of Slovenian immigrants arrived on these shores. They settled wherever they found work in the mines, steel mills, factories and lumber fields, in areas of Cleveland, Chicago and Milwaukee, Colorado, Kansas and California. A second major wave of immigrants came after World War II as political refugees, to be followed by economic migrants in the 1960's and beyond. These latter two groups rejuvenated some of the Slovenian parishes where they settled after arriving here, especially in Cleveland, Chicago, New York and Milwaukee.
Baraga became the first bishop of Marquette, Michigan, and his first two successors were also Slovenian, Ignatius Mrak and John Vertin. Other Slovenian priests, many ordained in this country, worked in American parishes and helped to establish American-Slovenian parishes whereever these were needed. In the Archdiocese of Chicago, they fouded the following parishes: St. Joseph, Joliet, 1891; St. Stephen, Chicago, 1898; Mother of God, Waukegan, 1903; and St. George, South Chicago, 1903. St. Stephen's and Mother of God parishes are now closed.
Some Benedictine priests of Slovenian descent from the abbeys of St. Vincent, Pennsylvania and St. John, Minnesota, also worked among the Slovenians, especially in Minnesota and Colorado.
Father Kazimir Zakrajsek, O.F.M., born May 31, 1878 in Preserje by Ljubljana, Slovenia; entered the Order in September 4th 1897; solemn religious vows in 1902; ordained a priest July 14, 1902. He came to USA in 1906. He died January 27, 1958 in Lemont and is buried in the cemetery of St. Francis (on the monastery property). Others of his confreres soon followed. In 1909, he founded the Slovenian monthly magazine, AVE MARIA, as a means of evangelization. It still exists today. The Franciscans established the Commissariat of the Holy Cross in 1912, which was and is a church religious organization of Franciscan priests and brothers. In the 1910's, Cardinal George Mundelein invited these Slovenian Franciscans to serve in the parish of St. Stephen's and St. George's. In 1923, the Slovenian Franciscans built a seminary and friary in Lemont, and here in 1994, the Slovenian Catholic Mission was established by Cardinal Joseph Bernardin.
In 1909, Slovenian religious women, the School Sisters of St. Francis of Christ the King, first came to Kansas to teach school in a Croatian parish. They worked in many Slovenian and Croatian parishes, and today their service in Chicago is as Sacred Heart School, 96th Street, and in Lemont, Illinois, home to Mt. Assisi Convent, Mt. Assisi Academy and Alvernia Manor.