A visit at Ss. Peter and Paul Church in Naperville - the oldest parish of the Diocese of Joliet in Illinois

On Tuesday morning, May 20th, Our Lady of Czestochowa gracefully reached the parish of Ss. Peter and Paul in Naperville.  Due to a slight delay, the faithful who had already gathered at the chapel next to the rectory to await Her had now spontaneously decided to go outside to welcome Our Lady personally.  The Icon was delivered in the Life Mobile driven by Mr. Wlodzimierz Obrochta with his wife.  One family waiting for Our Lady waved the Polish flag. The children of the parish school started looking out the windows, as they saw the growing crowds gathering by the church rectory.  They knew that Our Lady was supposed to arrive in Her Icon of Czestochowa and that they were also invited to this celebration. As soon as Our Blessed Mother arrived in Her Life Mobile, the children started shouting for joy and opening the classroom windows in order to see this wonder; Our Lady’s Icon in Her glass throne adorned with flowers, and with a crown on top.  No one among the parishioners expected such a grand arrival.

The Icon was brought into the Holy Family Chapel, which is located next to the rectory in the parish center.  The procession into the chapel included representatives of the Legion of Mary, members of the Knights of Columbus, members of the parish pro-life group, the school children with their teachers from the parish school, and numerous parishioners and visitors from other parishes in the diocese.  The Icon was placed on the left side in front of the altar on a table covered with white tablecloth and white and red roses.  The faithful started filling the chapel gazing with wonder at the countenance of Our Blessed Mother.  Such a large Icon had not been seen here yet.

The students, accompanied by the school principal, also arrived at the chapel.  Father Peter West began with a prayer and gave an account of the meaning of the Icon of the Black Madonna and Her history.  He also talked about Her peregrination around the world in defense of life.  At the end of his talk, Father West recited the Act of Entrustment to Our Lady, and encouraged everyone to come up individually to take a holy card with Our Lady’s image and touch it to the Icon.  The holy cards brought by Father West had an image of Our Lady on the front and a prayer for life from the papal encyclical “Evangelium Vitae” on the back.  The music that was played in the background during the silent veneration of the Icon was provided courtesy of Father Thomas J. Loya, the pastor of the Annunciation Byzantine Catholic Church.  The beautiful singing of his parish choir provided a very prayerful and peaceful atmosphere.

The parish of Ss. Peter and Paul is the oldest Catholic parish in the City of Naperville.  It was founded in 1846, eleven years before the actual Village of Naperville was established.  Today, the parish is the largest in the city and includes people of various ethnic backgrounds, among them a significant Polish population.  The parish school has been active here since the beginnings of the parish.  The current pastor, Father Thomas Milota has served several years ago as the Director of the Respect Life Office for the Diocese of Joliet.  Currently, the coordinator for the Respect Life Office is Ms. Alexandra Fedosenko.  The parish belonged to the Chicago diocese until 1948, and subsequently was annexed to the newly-founded Diocese of Joliet.

At around 1:00 pm, the Icon was carried in a procession from the chapel to the main church.  Unfortunately, the Icon could not be placed in the church sooner, due to a funeral that took place at the time of Our Lady’s arrival.  The procession was led by the pastor, Father Thomas Milota, assisted by one of the parish deacons and an altar server, carrying the crucifix.  The Icon was carried by representatives from the parish, followed by several ladies from the Legion of Mary who were carrying flowers, and by families with children, parish school students and teachers, and a large crowd of the faithful.  The pastor intonated the “Hail Mary” prayer and directed the placement of the Icon on a table standing behind the altar rail, in front of Our Blessed Mother’s statue.  The table that held Our Lady’s Icon was adorned with vases of red and white flowers -roses and lilies- that were provided by the Legion of Mary and the Polish Club of Naperville.

At 1:15 pm, before the Pro-Life Rosary was recited, Elizabeth Carlos, who has been working with the organizers of the “From Ocean to Ocean” peregrination, gave a talk about the Icon.  She spoke about the significance and the history of the Icon’s peregrination, emphasizing the main purpose of Our Lady’s pilgrimage, which is the preservation of people’s faith and the building up of the civilization of life and love.  After the talk, a deacon led the Joyful Mysteries of the Pro-Life Rosary, followed by a litany of the Blessed Mother, which was recited by the faithful with a large number of members from the parish pro-life group.  Individual veneration of the Icon continued with Marian music in the background.  The Sorrowful Mysteries of the Holy Rosary were led by the members of the Legion of Mary at 4:00 pm.

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was celebrated at 5:15pm by Father Peter West, assisted by a deacon and several altar servers.  During his homily, Father West talked about the message Our Blessed Mother brings with Her as She travels across the world in defense of human life.  After Holy Communion, Ewa and Lech Kowalewski went up to the podium to say a few things about the Icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa, and to explain the language of the Icon.

A group of members from the Polish Friends of Naperville club and the Polish Helena Modrzejewska School in Naperville gathered before the Icon of Czestochowa in the church and began singing the Litany of Loreto in Polish, followed by other Polish Marian hymns and prayers, including the “Black Madonna,” and closed with the Jasna Góra Hymn – also known as “Apel Jasnogórski”.  Many of the members of these Polish organizations are parishioners at Ss. Peter and Paul Church.

At 7:30 pm, Father West began the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, and together with the Tuesday Rosary group, he continued the recitation of the Luminous Mysteries of the Holy Rosary.  In the meantime, a huge thunderstorm broke out and hail fell.  The faithful were praying safely inside the church with Our Lord Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and Our Lady in Her Icon, while frequent lightning flashes were visible through the dark stained glass windows of the sanctuary.

A large group of the Polish parishioners stayed at the church even after the Rosary service, in order to come near the Icon and wish Our Lady a good night.  After 9:00 pm, the deacon, who was locking up the church, turned off all the lights to let everyone know that the veneration had come to an end.  Our Blessed Mother stayed inside the church until the next morning.

On Wednesday morning, the Black Madonna was actively present during the 6:45 and 8:00 am morning Masses for the faithful to be able to say their final good-byes.  The Masses were celebrated by the parish priests, and concelebrated by Father Peter West.  At the end of the 8:00 am Mass, Father West announced that Our Lady’s Icon will be leaving the church at 9:30 am and will go to the nearby clinics to pray with the local pro-lifers.  The first clinic Our Lady circled in Her Life Mobile was the IVF clinic, only a few blocks from the church.  Her next destination was the Aurora abortion clinic – the largest one in the state, where She was greeted by the local pro-life prayer warriors and sidewalk counselors.

Before their departure, Father Peter West recited the Act of the Entrustment before Our Lady.  The Icon of Our Lady was then placed in the Life Mobile and escorted by Fr. West to pray in front of several abortion clinics.  Afterwards, She visited the Everest Academy in Lemont on Her way to the Polish Mission of the Divine Mercy Shrine in Lombard, IL.

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