St. Adalbert Cemetery, Niles, celebrates its 150th anniversary.


It’s a beautiful sunny day in November, but the Stone Angel’s face remains in shadow. She holds a hand to her face, maybe trying to hide her feelings.

A sculptor created her probably a century ago, sitting atop a tomb in St. Adalbert’s Cemetery in Niles. The cemetery is celebrating its 150th anniversary and some people, including me, drive around it on All Saints Day, also known as Day of the Dead, visiting historical sites with a cemetery tour card.

The stone angel, depicted as a five or six year old girl, is not at the grave of a famous person, but she has a story to tell. It is part of a monument to a family that has lived long enough – except one. An oval black and white photo shows a beautiful 23-year-old woman named Marie, with her dates of birth and death below: 1882-1905.

I stumbled upon this monument by accident, but I can imagine the grief of the father of Marie Vaclav, 1854-1922, and of the mother Marie, 1856-1934, to have lost their daughter at such a young age. Did they mourn her for the rest of their lives? I silently pay homage to the young Marie, who missed so much.

Cemeteries can be like that. Looking at graves can throw you into a sort of reverie, imagining the life stories of people with only weather-beaten stone markers as clues.

“As you walk through the cemetery, Deacon Glenn likes to say, you know two things about the people buried here – that they were loved and cared for by their families, and that they shared the common faith commemorated in these stones,” said said Ted. Ratajczyk, executive director of Chicago Catholic Cemeteries, with a wink at Deacon Glenn Tylutki, Catholic Cemetery Outreach Coordinator, who stood next to him.

Both had come to St. Adalbert for the 150th anniversary celebration and were handing out pamphlets explaining that in 1872 Polish and Bohemian pastors in Chicago joined forces to purchase the original 12-acre lot that became St. Adalbert because basically they needed a place to bury the dead of their parishes. Today it spans over 250 acres, from Harlem Avenue east to Milwaukee Avenue, and from almost Touhy Avenue (7200 North) to almost Devon Avenue (6400 North).

Over 323,000 people are buried here.

It’s more than 10 times the population of Niles, and it’s not even the only cemetery in Niles, which is why the people of Niles like to joke, if you will, that there are a lot more inhabitants underground than above. You have to have a sense of humor about these things or they can get pretty dark pretty quickly.

Anyway, Bohemians and Czechs later built their own cemeteries, such as the Bohemian National Cemetery on Pulaski Road, and St. Adalbert became primarily a Polish cemetery, at least for the north side poles . On the south side, the Poles buried their relatives at the Resurrection Cemetery in Justice or at Holy Cross in Calumet City.

Polish immigrants built “cradle-to-grave” protection for their community, creating hospitals, churches, schools and cemeteries in Chicago neighborhoods in a bid to create a Poland abroad, Dominic said. Pacyga, professor emeritus at Columbia College, who has written several books on Polish. -American history in Chicago.

“The idea was also to imbue the children and grandchildren with a sense of Polishness,” he said. “They were rural folks who came from a very different culture, moving to an industrial city that was hostile to them, and they worked in unskilled jobs at the bottom rung of the ladder. It was important for them to create a sense of community.

Judging by the very many Polish names on the graves of St. Adalbert, they succeeded.

St. Adalbert's Cemetery and Mausoleum, which was founded by Polish and Bohemian/Czech church pastors in 1872, celebrated its 150th anniversary on All Saints' Day, also known as All Souls' Day, November 2, 2022. This is the monument of Saint-Adalbert.  Maximilian Kolbe.

Continuing my tour, I visited the monument to Saint Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish priest imprisoned in Auschwitz during World War II. Kolbe offered his own life to the Nazis if they spared a man who had a wife and children; the Nazis accepted the deal. I had goosebumps the first time I heard this story.

On the east side of the cemetery, visible from Milwaukee Avenue, an austere black granite cross, perhaps two stories tall, towers above its surroundings. Angel wings, sculpted in a flowing contemporary style, stand behind the cross, and a Madonna figure in front embraces a person in the manner of Pieta.

It is the monument to the victims of the Katyn massacre, a name that still hurts the hearts of Poles. In 1940, the Soviet Union carried out a mass execution of several thousand Polish POW military officers in the Katyn Forest near Smolensk, Russia, according to

The story does not end there.

Wojciech Seweryn, a Polish artist from Chicago connected to Niles, designed and created the Katyn Monument in St. Adalbert in part as a tribute to his own father, who was killed in Katyn. In April 2010, Seweryn told his daughter here in the Chicago area how excited he was to travel on a plane from Warsaw to Smolensk with the President of Poland and dozens of top Polish leaders for the 70th anniversary. of the slaughter.

The plane crashed. Everyone on board was killed. In the same place where thousands of Polish leaders were killed 70 years earlier.

Poles and Polish-Americans are in shock. It was so strange, so unbelievable that such tragedy upon tragedy could happen. Even now, 12 years later, flowers and candles lined the monument, and people stood in front of it to pay their respects.

I walked away from the Katyn monument, through other parts of the cemetery, slightly bewildered by the dissonance between the hot sun and the vast expanse of stone monuments stretching in every direction, each, each name telling a story. A story here of a husband who died decades before his wife; a story there about two kids in a family who both died. As I walked among hundreds of graves, I felt the painful energy of so many who had lost loved ones. It was getting overwhelming.

Back in the car, I drove through parts of the cemetery that were unfamiliar to me, then I turned a corner and saw something that created a wave of relief. I smiled; the heaviness is gone. It was a place I had been to many times, although I usually approached it from a different direction. It was the lot of my own family in the Saint-Adalbert cemetery.

I went out and visited, as I have done so many times before, my Polish grandparents, aunts and uncles, mother and (non-Polish) father. There is no sadness here; What comfort, what happy memories of Christmas Eve dinners, parties, graduations, Sunday dinners and all kinds of get-togethers. All these parents are still alive in my memories; I think of them and pray for them and other relatives and friends on the other side every day. Love is alive, not buried in a patch of land. But, once in a while, getting out there helps bring back memories and joy.

For the other 320,000 people who rest in St. Adalbert Cemetery, some since 1872, I offer the wish that they too will be remembered, either by loved ones, or by descendants, or simply by someone who passes by and who takes the time to repel the invaded. grass a headstone, read the name and think about that person and their story.

Pam DeFiglio is senior content writer for Pioneer Press/Chicago Tribune. [email protected]


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