Church of the Holy Family
Parish History
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Parish History

History of Park Forest
 

Park Forest itself has an unusual history, built all at once as a residence for returning World War II
soldiers, sailors, etc.  Initially the total population was all of the same generation, young families.  
Until recently a large percentage of the population was that same group as they have moved through
the life cycle, giving an unusual demographic make-up.  Built by American Community Builders, the
first houses were occupied in the fall of 1948.  It was just sort of plunked down in the country with
no regard for already existing boundaries.  As a result, Park Forest is in two counties and five school
districts.      
The original idea for Park Forest was for young couples to move into apartments, then move up as
their families and incomes increased, never actually leaving Park Forest.  This is the case with some
of our senior parishioners, but most moved out of Park Forest to suburbs where the housing was
larger.   Park Forest had a village chaplain (!), the Rev. Hugo Leinberger.  He did a door-to-door
survey as to the religious identity and wishes of the new residents.  49% were listed as Protestants,
29% as Catholics, 10% as Jewish, and 5% were “Other.”  The assumption was that the Protestants
would all want a united church rather than separate denominations, and there are four United
Protestant churches.  However, the Episcopalians, Lutherans, and Baptists did not see it that way.

History of Holy Family Parish

The Episcopalians formed a Sunday School in the fall of 1949 in a house at 26th and Western.  This
project was supported by the other Episcopal churches St. John’s, Flossmoor, and St. Ambrose,
Chicago Heights.

The first Vicar of Holy Family was the Rev. John Ruef, fresh out of seminary.  The first service was
conducted on July 30, 1950.  By August there were 40 children ready for Baptism.  
In 1952 the first building, now the parish hall, was completed.  It was used as the church at first with
the idea that it would become the parish hall when the church was built.  The crucifix in the parish hall
was behind the altar and was hand made by Fr. Ruef’s father.  Fr. Ruef resigned in the summer of
1954 in order to resume studies for his doctorate.  He was eventually the Dean of Nashotah House
Seminary in Wisconsin.  

In November, 1954, the Rev. Robert Ruffie, Curate of Christ Church, Waukegan, became Vicar.  In
the fall of 1955 the men of the parish built an addition to the original building, now the offices and
kitchen area.  The Sunday School grew to 200 to 300 students, and was housed in rented space at
Sauk Trail School, just to the north of the Church.  This is why there is no large educational building
on the premises.

In November, 1957 ground was broken for the new church, which was first used for Midnight Mass
on Christmas, 1958.  The church was designed by a young architect, Edward Dart, who became a
well-known architect in the Chicago area.  He also designed St. Ambrose, Chicago Heights; St.
Nicholas, Elk Grove Village; and St. Michael’s, Barrington.  His last project was Water Tower
Place on the near north side.  The Church has a steep pitched roof and the floor plan is cruciform.  
The windowless walls symbolize that the church is set apart from the world.  The wall separating the
nave from the narthex is mostly glass with an angel etched in the glass.

Part of the identity of Holy Family is the presence of several pieces of rather nice art work, in
addition to the church itself.  The reredos behind the altar is actually wrought iron covered with silver
leaf.  It and the Pieta on the choir loft were designed by Dom Hilary Bacon, a monk at the Episcopal
Benedictine  Priory (now Abbey) of St. Gregory in Three Rivers, Michigan.  It was consecrated at
the same service as the altar and baptismal font.  At that same service on May 13, 1961, Fr. Ruffie
was installed as Rector, Holy Family having been admitted as a parish a couple of weeks earlier.  
Interestingly the service was conducted by Bishop Reginald Mallett of Northern Indiana rather than
the Bishop of Chicago.  The church has several pieces of art work by Odell Prather.  The four
shrines in the outside aisles were done by her as well as the sculpture in the Narthex which is called
“God’s Eye.”   In September of 1969 she executed the outdoor crucifix on the east side of the
building given in memory of Andrew Leonas.  

The crucifix in the Narthex was above the altar of St. Ambrose, Chicago Heights when that parish
closed and most of her members transferred to Holy Family, the crucifix was installed here.  There is
also a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary from St. Ambrose currently in the office area, but eventually
to be installed in the church.  The aisle candles used at Midnight Mass are also from St. Ambrose.  
The Stations of the Cross are from St. Raphael’s Church in Oak Lawn and were installed here when
that church closed.  

Music is also a part of our parish identity, though there will be another session on music and liturgy in
this series so I won’t say a great deal about it now.  The original portion of the organ was purchased
in 1971 from Valparaiso University in Indiana where it had been a practice organ.  In 1989 there
was a major expansion of this instrument which was completed Easter, 1993.  
The Columbarium was built in 1982 and the bell tower was separately financed, but part of the same
project.  
In January, 1993. Fr. Ruffie retired after a little more than 38 years as Rector.  The interim was
nearly two years, longer than usual but after an extremely long tenure the interim is frequently longer.  
Fr. Carl Geigler, then Fr. Fred Nestrock served as priests during the interim.  
On November, 1994, the 40th anniversary of Fr. Ruffie’s installation, Fr. Wayne Carlson was
installed as second Rector of Holy Family.  Fr. Carlson came from the St. Louis area where he was
Rector of St. Luke’s, Manchester, a church that in the late 1970’s strongly resembled the Church of
the Holy Family in the 1950’s.  Both were parishes made up largely of young families.  In June 2011
Father Carlson retired from Holy Family.
On February 2, 2002, the Rev. Elizabeth Lloyd was ordained as a Deacon.  Betty was a long-time
member of the parish and is the first Deacon called out from it.  She continues to serve here.
 

History besides Park Forest (we draw from 14 ZIP codes)

While Holy Family is located in Park Forest and its early history is part of the history of Park Forest,
only about a third of our present membership live in the 60466 ZIP Code.  It is hard to generalize
about the area from which we draw members because it is so varied.  They come from Frankfort
and Mokena on the west to Chicago Heights and Dyer on the east.  They come from Homewood
and Country Club Hills on the north to Peotone and Beecher on the south.  Large numbers live in
Crete, Richton Park, Matteson, and Olympia Fields, while individuals live in Joliet, Channahon, and
even Champaign.  


See also:  (Vance Packard’s The Organization Man)