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Poles in Chicago

The Gateway Theatre in Jefferson Park is the seat of the Copernicus Foundation. The theater's Baroque spire is a replica of the Royal Castle in Warsaw

Chicago Polonia, refers to both immigrant Poles and Americans of Polish heritage living in Chicago, Illinois. They are a part of worldwide Polonia, the proper term for the Polish Diaspora outside of Poland. Poles in Chicago have contributed to the economic, social and cultural well-being of Chicago from its very beginning. Poles have been a part of the history of Chicago since 1837, when Captain John Napieralski, along with other veterans of the November Uprising first set foot there.[1] As of the 2000 U.S. census, Poles in Chicago are the largest European American ethnic group in the city, making up 7.3% of the total population.[2][3] However, according to the 2006–2008 American Community Survey, German Americans and Irish Americans each had slightly surpassed Polish Americans as the largest European American ethnic groups in Chicago . German Americans made up 7.3% of the population, and numbered at 199,789; Irish Americans also made up 7.3% of the population, and numbered at 199,294. Polish Americans now made up 6.7% of Chicago's population, and numbered at 182,064.[4] However, Polish Americans are, by far, the largest European American ethnic group in the Chicago metropolitan area, with as many as 1.5 million claiming Polish ancestry. In addition, Polish Americans in Chicago have a recent history of family members who came from Poland as many are first or second generation Poles as compared to many other ethnics who are third or fourth generation. Polish is the third largest speaking language in Chicago behind English and Spanish.


  • History 1
    • Distribution 1.1
    • Initial historical Polish patches 1.2
    • Subsequent historical Polish patches 1.3
      • North Side of Chicago 1.3.1
      • South Side of Chicago 1.3.2
  • Religion 2
  • The Polish presence in Chicago today 3
    • Institutions 3.1
    • Culture 3.2
  • Poglish 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


A number of Poles contributed to the history of the city together with Captain Napieralski, a veteran of Cross Mountain during the November Uprising. Along with him came other early Polish settlers such as Major Louis Chlopicki, the nephew of General Józef Chłopicki who had been the leader of the same insurrection. Not to mention certain A. Panakaske (Panakaski) who resided in the second ward in the 1830s as well as J. Zoliski who lived in the sixth ward with records of both men having cast their ballots for William B. Ogden in the 1837 mayoral race in Chicago.[1]


According to Dominic Pacyga, most of the Poles who first came to Chicago settled in five distinct parts of the city.[5] The first of those Polish Patches, as they were colloquially referred to, was located on the Near Northwest Side. Centering on the Polish Triangle at the intersection of Milwaukee and Ashland avenues with Division street it later became known as Polish Downtown. The second large settlement, developed in Pilsen on the west side near 18th street and Ashland avenue. Poles established two separate enclaves in the Stock Yard district, one in Bridgeport, the other in the Back of the Yards near 47th street and Ashland avenue. Another Polish neighborhood developed in the area around the massive Illinois Steel works in South Chicago in the area colloquially referred to as "the Bush".

Polish communities in Chicago were often founded and organized around parishes mostly by peasant immigrants who named their neighbourhoods after them, like Bronislawowo, named after St. Bronislava.* Sometimes the neighbourhoods are contiguous so its difficult to say precisely where one ends and one begins, as in the case of 'Stanislawowo' by the church of St. Stanislaus Kostka and 'Trojcowo' by Holy Trinity Polish Mission in the former area of Polish Downtown.

Initial historical Polish patches

In Polish the ending 'owo' in e.g., Bronislawowo functions similar to English 'ville' in Johnsville or 'ton' in Charleston. When added to a name of a saint, it indicates a Polish sounding town or a village. This is a colloquial phenomenon, not present in educated Polish; however, it persists in the names of different Polish areas of Chicago.

Polish Downtown- (Pulaski Park, River West, Bucktown, Wicker Park, East Village, and Noble Square)

Lower West Side

  • Wojciechowo – The area around St. Adalbert's in Chicago
  • Annowo – The area around St. Anns in Chicago
  • Romanowo – The area around St. Roman's
  • Kazimierzowo – The area around the former St. Casimir's


Back of the Yards

  • Jozefowo – The area around St. Joseph's in Chicago
  • Janowo – The area around St. John of God
  • Sercanowo – The area around Sacred Heart

South Chicago

Subsequent historical Polish patches

Later as Poles grew in number and advanced economically, they migrated further out into outlying areas.[6] The result was that the West Town/Logan Square settlement in Polish Downtown spread westward along North Avenue and northwestward along Milwaukee thereby creating a "Polish Corridor" which tied in contiguous areas such as Norwood Park, Jefferson Park, Portage Park, and Belmont-Cragin.[6] The same kind of advance occurred in the other original areas of Polish settlements so that Poles from both the Lower West Side and the Back of the Yards moved into both sides of Archer Avenue, giving rise to sizable Polish settlements on the Southwest Side of the city such as McKinley Park, Garfield Ridge, Brighton Park and Archer Heights.[6] On the far Southeast Side, the South Chicago "steel mill settlements" spilled over into Pullman, Roseland, East Side, Hegewisch and Calumet City as well as into Lake County in Northwest Indiana, where thriving Polish communities were found in North Hammond, Whiting, the Indian Harbor section of East Chicago and several neighborhoods in the newly built industrial city of Gary.[6]

North Side of Chicago

A Polish store along Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago's Polish Village.

Lincoln Park

Lincoln Square

  • U Przemienienia – The area around the parish of Transfiguration

Avondale Chicago's Polish Village:

Irving Park

Portage Park

Jefferson Park

  • Konstancowo – The area around the parish of St. Constance

Norwood Park

  • Teklowo – The area around the parish of St. Thecla

Belmont Cragin

Humboldt Park Franciszkowo – The area around the parish of St. Francis of Assisi

South Side of Chicago

Bobak's Polish market in the Brighton Park neighborhood.

McKinley Park

  • Piotropawlowo – The area around the parish of Ss Peter and Paul

Archer Heights

  • Brunowo – The area around the parish St. Bruno

Garfield Ridge

  • Kamilowo – The area around the parish of St. Camillus by Midway Airport

Brighton Park

  • U Pieciu Braci – The area around Five Holy Martyrs
  • Pankracowo – The area around the parish of St. Pancratius

South Lawndale

  • U Dobrego Pasterza/ Pasterzowo – The area around the parish of Good Shepherd

West Elsdon

  • Turibiuszowo – The area around the parish of St. Turibius


  • Salomejowo – The area around the parish of St. Salomea


  • Florianowo – The area around the parish of St.Florian

Over the course of the city's development as the city's Polish community climbed further up the economic ladder and were followed by new waves of immigrants the concentration of Poles shifted to different areas of the city.


As in Poland, the majority of Polish immigrants that settled in Chicago were culturally Roman Catholic.

Though the majority of Polish Americans remained loyal to the Catholic Church, a breakaway Catholic church was founded in 1897 in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Polish parishioners founded the church to assert independence from the Catholic Church in America. The split was in rebellion from the church leadership, then dominated by Irish and German clergy, and lacking in Polish language speakers and Polish church leaders. The Bucktown campus of the former Cathedral of All Saints still stands as a testament to this community of faith. The current Cathedral and Cemetery complex on the city's periphery by Rosemont remains active and is still independent from the authority of the Roman Catholic Church.

Poland is also home to followers of Protestantism and the Eastern Orthodox Church. Small groups of both of these groups are present Chicago. One of the most celebrated painters of religious icons in North America today is a Polish American Eastern Orthodox priest, Fr. Theodore Jurewicz, who singlehandedly painted New Gračanica Monastery in Third Lake, Illinois, over the span of three years.[7]

While large numbers of Jews from the former lands of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth immigrated to the Chicago area, they faced a historical trajectory far different from that of their Christian counterparts. In the process of Americanization, most Polish Jews in Chicago would lose their identification with their native land, with notable exceptions. There have also been small numbers of Muslims, mostly Lipka Tatars originating from the Białystok region

The Polish presence in Chicago today


Chicago bills itself as the largest Polish city outside of Poland with approximately 1,100,000 people of Polish ethnicity in the Polish Museum of America, the Polish American Association, the Polish National Alliance and the Polish Highlanders Alliance of North America. A column fragment of Wawel Castle, the onetime seat of Poland's Royalty has been incorporated into Chicago's landmark Tribune Tower as a visual tribute to Chicago's large Polish populace.


Chicago also has a thriving Polish cultural scene. The city hosts the Polish Film Festival of America where various Polish films are screened during the weeklong festival every October. Polish stage productions in both Polish and English are regularly staged at numerous venues throughout the Chicago Metropolitan Area. The most prominent venues among these are the Chopin and Gateway Theatres. The Gateway, which is also the seat of the Polish Cultural Center in Chicago is the home of the Paderewski Symphony Orchestra. The Lira Ensemble, the only professional performing arts company outside of Poland that specializes in Polish music, song, and dance is Artist-in-Residence at Loyola University Chicago.

Chicago celebrates its Polish Heritage every Dick Cheney, Newt Gingrich, Hadassah Lieberman, Congresswoman Melissa Bean, and Tipper Gore.[9] Illinois, due to the influence of this large population, is also one of the few states that celebrates Casimir Pulaski Day. Some schools and government services in the metro area are closed for the holiday.

The Almanac of American Politics 2004 states that "Even today, in Archer Heights [a neighborhood of Chicago], you can scarcely go a block without hearing someone speaking Polish".


Some of Chicago Polonia (the Polish term for members of the expatriate Polish community) speak Poglish (usually referred to as Chicagowski by local Poles) a fusion of the Polish and English languages. Poglish is a common (to greater or lesser degree, almost unavoidable) phenomenon among persons bilingual in Polish and English, and its avoidance requires considerable effort and attention. Poglish is a manifestation of a broader phenomenon, that of language interference.

See also


  1. ^ a b Parot, Joseph, J. "Polish Catholics in Chicago, 1850–1920, Northwestern University Press (1981), p. 19
  2. ^ Parot, Joseph, J. "Polish Catholics in Chicago, 1850-1920, Northwestern University Press (1981), p. 18
  3. ^ "Chicago city, Illinois - Profile of Selected Social Characteristics: 2000". American FactFinder. United States Census Bureau. 2000-04-01. Retrieved 23 January 2010. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ Pacyga, Dominic "Polish Immigrants and Industrial Chicago: Workers on the South Side, 1880–1922" University of Chicago Press, 1991, pp. 41–42
  6. ^ a b c d Parot, Joseph, J. "Polish Catholics in Chicago, 1850–1920, Northwestern University Press (1981), p. 75
  7. ^ Serbian Monastery of New Gracanica – History
  8. ^ Paral, Rob (June 2004). "The Polish Community in Metro Chicago: A Community Profile of Strengths and Needs, A Census 2000 Report".  
  9. ^ America the diverse - Chicago’s Polish neighborhoods (5/15/2005)USA Weekend Magazine.

External links

  • Former President of Poland Lech Walesa speaking on the role of Poles in Chicago in the end of communism in Poland
  • Polish Localizer Polsort – Polish Businesses and Organizations in Chicago
  • Current Polish patches: Polish Masses in Chicago Area provided by Polsort
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