St. Procopius Church
St. Procopius Church was founded in 1875 within the Chicago neighborhood of Pilsen. Located on 16th Street and Allport Street, it is a landmark within the community. The area began with heavy Czechoslovakian presence, almost all of Catholic faith. This high demand led to the founding of St. Procopius, honoring the Czech saint of Sázava, a Bohemian and hermit. Throughout the past century, the church’s demographic has changed to primarily Latino. St. Procopius offers masses in English, Spanish, or bilingual. Within Pilsen’s community, they are well known and participate in many of the neighborhood’s festivals, such as Fiesta del Sol, Pilsen Lunada, and more.
Backstory and Context
Due to the influx of Catholic communities in the 1870s, the neighborhood of Pilsen sought to build a new church to meet the demand of attendees. Father William Coka organized a committee that would help raise the funds and establish St. Procopius. The committee bought an inexpensive frame from an older church and the structure was moved to 18th and Allport. After construction, Father Coka was the church’s first pastor. However, after high attendance, this original structure became used for school purposes only, and a new church was built alongside the original.
In the 1940’s and 1950’s, there were thirteen Slavic churches in Pilsen, including St. Procopius. Their ethnic identity was still very strong, and according to Kanter, before their Sunday reception and dinner, Catholics would “[sing] the Star Spangled Banner and Kde Domov Muj, the Czech anthem”. However, one would see that identity shift in the 60’s and 70’s. The community would see Mexican immigrants slowly moving into their neighborhood and St. Procopius Church, which was also a result of the Great Migration. Many hesitated to join the church community, but after an unnamed parishioner of Pilsen offered thanks to the Virgin of San Juan de los Lagos (the Virgin Mary from that particular city), they were made to feel more welcome. People with Czechoslovakian blood were now first- or second-generation and their Slavic traditions were waning. However, Mexican immigrants were new and brought many of their customs, foods, and art to the neighborhood.
As the neighborhood began to show more diversity along with declining Slavic attendees and students, St. Procopius admitted Latinos into their school. In 1960, while only one-quarter of residents were Spanish speaking, three quarters of the children in Pilsen were Latino. Students were told that to help balance generational tension, young residents could help elderly neighbors in need.
Eventually, as Latino populations skyrocketed, the church accommodated their traditions by presenting the Guadalupe image of the Virgin Mary so that devotees could leave offerings, such as the Our Lady of Guadalupe Garden that is present even today.
Generations of Latinos have found St. Procopius to be a safe haven. Many graduated from their private school, whether it be the elementary school still open today, or the private girls’ school which closed in the 1980’s. In the present day, many are now confronted with gentrification and another change in ethnic identity. It is, once again, becoming a melting pot of Euro-Americans, African-Americans, and Latin-Americans. The church accommodates all, providing mass and other services in English, Spanish, or both.
Kanter, Deborah . Making Mexican Parishes: Ethnic Succession in Chicago Churches, 1947-1977. U.S. Catholic Historian, ser. Inculturation, vol. 30, no. 135 - 58. Published 2012. JSTOR.
Saint Procopius, Orthodox Church in America. Invalid date. Accessed March 27th 2020. https://www.oca.org/saints/lives/2020/09/16/108950-saint-procopius.
Parish History, St. Procopius Providence of God. Accessed March 27th 2020. http://stprocopiuschurch.org/about-us/parish-history/.