Mary, Seat of Wisdom, Parish was established in 1955 to serve the growing Catholic community of Park Ridge, Illinois. Over twenty-two hundred families constitute Mary, Seat of Wisdom, Parish today, but the parish owes its existence to the vision and generosity of those who early in the twentieth century recognized the spiritual and educational needs of the community. In 1903 the Passionist Religious Order built a monastery at Harlem and Talcott in a sparsely populated Northwest Chicago area. While this was not a parish church, neighboring families were able to attend Mass at the monastery. Mother Frances Cabrini had a one-hundred-sixty acre farm in nearby Park Ridge at Northwest Highway and Potter. She invited the Passionist priests to say Mass on her grounds in exchange for fresh vegetables. In 1911 Father Augustine, a Passionist, was commissioned to found a mission church, which became St. Paul of the Cross. Mother Cabrini often attended Mass in the old frame church.
The growing Catholic population of Park Ridge lead to the construction of the present St. Paul of the Cross Church in 1953 and prompted the decision to create a new parish south of Belle Plaine Avenue. Mary, Seat of Wisdom, Parish was established in October 1955 by His Eminence, Cardinal Stritch. The original territory of the parish was bounded by Belle Plaine on the north, Higgins on the south, Canfield on the east, and the Des Plaines River on the west. Fr. Edward Dowling, who had been an Associate Pastor at St. Paul of the Cross, was named Pastor of the new parish.
Sunday Mass was celebrated in the auditorium of the local public Merrill School at Glenlake and Brophy (current site of Brickton Park). A frame bungalow on the southwest corner of Granville and Cumberland was purchased as a temporary rectory in January 1956; daily Mass was celebrated in the chapel there. Neither of these buildings exists today.
In contrast to the start of many parishes, Father Dowling worked dedicatedly to provide facilities for both church at the parish's inception. The new church was dedicated in September 1958. The convent and rectory buildings were ready for occupancy in Fall 1959. In 1968, Fr. Dowling became Pastor Emeritus.
The new parish school opened for classes in September 1957. The school initially offered curricula for grades one through six and was staffed by four Sisters of Mercy and five secular teachers. As the student body approached nearly one-thousand, three additions were constructed: eight classrooms immediately north of the gym (now Wisdom Hall) in 1958; two balcony classrooms above the gym in 1962; and the Junior High in 1964.
Fr. William Clark, who helped organize the Cana Conference movement in Chicago, became the parish’s second pastor in 1968. In 1972 the first Angel Brunch was held; this became an annual tradition which evolved into the current Angel Dinner fundraising event. Also in 1972 the sanctuary was renovated in compliance with changes called for by Vatican II. The altar was pulled away from the curved “reredos” and was turned toward the assembly; a new backdrop was fashioned and lighting changes were made. Fr. Clark became Pastor Emeritus in 1981.
Various devoted associate pastors came and went over the years, as did seminary deacons who did their deaconate fieldwork at Mary, Seat of Wisdom. One of these deacons was Wilton Gregory, who served as Bishop of Belleville, Illinois, from 1994 to 2005, and as President of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops from November 2001 to November 2004. Fr. Gregory is currently Archbishop of Atlanta. Fr. Ronald Kalas was appointed to succeed him as third pastor of Mary, Seat of Wisdom.
As time passed, the need for renovation of the church building became evident and dedicated parishioners worked diligently on the endeavor. Groundbreaking for a major renovation, which included the addition of the Gathering Space, Annex, music room, and the School of Religion office took place in April 1996. The renovated building was rededicated on December 1, 1996. This capital project was supported and financed by the parishioners.
The space and equipment needs of the school were next to be addressed. Plans were developed for construction of a new gymnasium and additional classroom space, including a fully equipped computer lab and a new library. Groundbreaking for these significant additions occurred on May 17, 1998. The blessing and dedication by Francis Cardinal George took place on November 19, 1999.
Fr. Kalas became Pastor Emeritus in July 2002. He was succeeded by Fr. Robert McLaughlin as fourth pastor of Mary, Seat of Wisdom. In 2004 the parish celebrated its fiftieth anniversary; the golden jubilee year officially opened with a Mass on October 30, 2004. Fr. McLaughlin passed away suddenly in January 2005. He was succeeded by Fr. Gerald Gunderson, our fifth and current pastor.
The parish has continued its effort to upgrade its facilities at the Clark Ministry Center by creating a living/meeting room space and expanding the dining area. Governance structures for the school and parish have also been updated. A Board of Specified Jurisdiction now collaborates with the principal and the pastor to assure excellence in Catholic education. In August 2009 a revised structure for the Parish Pastoral Council of Ministries was implemented. Other significant milestones in the history of the parish include the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of ordination to the priesthood of Fr. Ron Kalas in May 2009.
Mary, Seat of Wisdom, continues to benefit from the vision, hard work, fellowship, and generosity of the parish. The updated facilities of both church and school provide an on-going service to the community.