Part III / History of the North American Province of the Society of Christ Fathers
Other Pastoral Posts Assumed in the Years 1980-1988
On the threshold of the 1980s, the young community of Society of Christ Fathers in the United States faced a new challenge. The crisis of priestly vocations, which touched America after the Second Vatican Council, did not significantly affect the growth of the Province of Our Lady Queen of Polonia Overseas. However, the organizational abilities of subsequent administrations, and the pastoral skills of the Society Fathers, were severely tested by the “Solidarity” emigration wave. Hundreds of thousands of Poles left their country after the imposition of martial law in December of 1981. They sought security and adequate living conditions abroad. Despite their best intentions, local pastors of old Polish parishes were not able meet on their own the needs of this new wave of immigrants. Help from priests from Poland seemed indispensable. In many instances, a need arose to create entirely new religious centers, often outside of where the Polish communities were traditionally located. Wherever new concentrations of Poles formed, the Society Fathers served as assistants to American pastors, organized apostolates, established missions, or assumed charge of old Polish parishes around which the new immigrant communities gravitated.
During the „hot” years of the 1980s, the number of posts served by the priests and brothers of the North American Province increased significantly. In 1981, a priest came to assist at St. Peter and Paul’s Parish in Garfield Heights, Ohio. The following year, the Society began providing pastoral care at Our Lady of Czestochowa Parish in Houston, Texas, and St. Stanislas Parish in Portland, Oregon. In Canada, it took charge of St. Anthony’s Parish in Regina, Saskatchewan. In 1983, it acquired St. Peter and Paul’s Parish in Tacoma, Washington, established Polish apostolates in the Archdiocese of Miami and the Diocese of St. Petersburg, Florida, and provided an assistant to the old Polish parish of St. Adalbert’s in Toledo, Ohio. 1985 saw the arrival of the first Society of Christ priest at St. Margaret of Scotland Parish in Seattle, Washington. Another priest arrived in 1986 to assist the pastor of St. Hedwig’s Church in Toledo. Charge of the Polish Pastoral Mission in Chicago was assumed in 1988. At the end of the decade, responding to the growing needs of the new immigration, the Society’s administration undertook efforts toward creating a Polish mission in San Jose, California.
During these years, the work of the Missionary Sisters of Christ the King in the Polish American communities also saw a sharp increase. Like that of the Society of Christ Fathers, the charism of the Missionary Sisters (founded in 1959 by the Venerable Fr. Ignacy Posadzki, S.Chr.) consisted in ministering to Polish communities abroad. They performed duties at parishes cared for by Society priests. In 1978, the first Sisters arrived at Our Lady of Jasna Gora Parish in Los Angeles. In the 1980s, they began work at the parish of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Sterling Heights, Michigan, and also at the Holy Trinity Mission in Chicago.
The stabilization of the political situation in Poland in 1989 occurred simultaneously with the economic and organizational stabilization of the new immigrant community in North America. This had a positive effect on the further growth of the Society’s missionary efforts. Many immigrants of the eighties assumed an active role in the operations of Polish religious centers. Existing forms of lay involvement in religious life were enriched by the experience gained in Poland during the sixties and seventies. This experience was based on a religious formation influenced by the “Oasis” and charismatic movements, the Catholic Intelligentsia Club, and other movements. Simplified Polish border-crossing procedures and friendlier attitudes on the part of Polish diplomatic posts toward overseas Polish organizations also contributed to a more profitable atmosphere as regards pastoral work abroad.
The history of the Polish pastoral missions in Chicago and San Jose, California, as well as of Our Lady Queen of Poland Parish in Scarborough, Canada, gives an idea of the types of tasks realized by the Society of Christ Fathers in various locations of the North American Province. These centers were situated in two different countries, existed under different geographical conditions, differed in size and history. What united them were Catholic faith and Polish culture. The Chicago community was a large center, with a history that went back to the nineteenth century. The community in San Jose was one of the smaller ones, formed, by and large, by immigrants who arrived during the eighties. The Scarborough parish was of medium size, and also owed its rise to the emigration of the eighties.
The history of Holy Trinity Mission in Chicago goes back to the end of the nineteenth century. In 1873, St. Kostka’s, the oldest Polish parish in Chicago, was divided into two jurisdictions, including a new parish around Holy Trinity Church. The latter was first served by the Resurrectionist Fathers, then by the Order of the Holy Cross. A century later, it returned to the care of the Resurrectionists. In 1986, owing to a sharp decline in the number of parishioners (the result of changing demographic trends in the district), the parish was canonically closed. On 14 February of 1987, Chicago’s archbishop, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, founded the Polish Pastoral Mission in place of the old parish. The Mission embraced the Polish community of the entire Chicago archdiocese. Any Polish speaker who lived in the area could belong to it. Having completed his term as Provincial, Fr. Wladyslaw Gowin, S.Chr. was appointed its pastor on 14 February 1988 r. The Congregation assumed care of the Polish Pastoral Mission of the Holy Spirit for a trial period of six years. For ten years every Sunday, four Masses, drawing approximately four thousand of the faithful, have been celebrated here in the Polish language. The Mission has introduced the Polish custom of eucharistic processions through the streets of the city on the Solemnity of the Body of Christ. Among the groups active within the Mission are the Domestic Church Circles, which gather once a month to pray together and study the Word of God. In short order, the number of pupils attending the Polish School reached 600. Various other celebrations of a religious-patriotic character are also held here: annual celebrations of the Constitution of May 3, yearly festivities of organizations such as the Combatants, Families of the Katyn Massacre, Former Gulag Inmates, and many others. San Jose in California stands as an example of an entirely new religious center, which the Society of Christ had to build from the foundations up. In 1976, Archbishop McGucken of San Francisco established the Polish Mission of St. Adalbert. Its purpose was to provide permanent ministry in the native language to those Poles living in the San Francisco Bay area. The Mission’s first priest was Fr. Wojciech Baryski, S.Chr., who was required to commute to San Jose. In 1981, his destination point in San Jose found itself within the new Diocese of San Jose, the result of a partitioning of San Francisco Diocese. During the eighties, the area was settled by a considerable number of Polish immigrants. The religious needs of this community required the creation of a separate pastoral mission, and the construction of a church. Land was purchased for this purpose. In 1986, the Polish Pastoral Mission was legally founded in San Jose, although it continued to be served by a commuting priest. In 1990, after the dividing of the Mission in San Francisco by the provincial authorities, the San Jose Mission received its own resident priest in the person of Fr. Andrzej Maslejak, S.Chr. That same year, the Mission was dedicated to St. Albert Chmielowski. Thanks to the sacrifice and patience of both the mission members and their priest, the new church was formally consecrated in 1998, after Society Father Pawel Bandurski’s tenure had come to an end.
Poles living in Canada in the area of Scarborough and the eastern parts of Toronto normally made use of St. Kostka Parish in downtown Toronto. The creation of a separate Polish religious center in Scarborough came about largely as a result of the declaration of martial law in Poland, and the influx of immigrants during the “Solidarity” years. On October 18, 1983, Cardinal Carter founded a pastoral mission for Poles residing in Scarborough, East York, Pickering and Ajax. The mission was dedicated to Our Lady Queen of Poland. As its first priest, Fr. Zbigniew Olbrys, S.Chr. had to organize the religious life of the new center from the foundations up. After his tenure, a Church Building Committee was appointed in 1986. The building project was realized under the direction of Fr. Stanislaw Kuczaik, S.Chr. A solemn consecration of the new church took place on June 22, 1997. On that day, Archbishop Ambrozic raised the Our Lady Queen of Poland Mission to the status of a personal parish.
Changes in the Province’s Administration
On February 8, 1988, after fifteen years of tenure as Provincial, Fr. Gowin was succeeded at this post by Fr. Tadeusz Winnicki. Under his administration (1988 –1995), the activities of the Society were expanded still further. In 1988 the American parish of St. Peter the Apostle in Dallas, Texas, was placed in the Society’s charge. Polish immigrants arriving here at this time received pastoral care in their native language. In Canada, the Society of Christ Fathers took charge of St. Mary’s Parish in Sidney, Nova Scotia (1989), Our Lady of Victory Parish in Chatham, Ontario (1991), the Polish apostolate in Kingston, Ontario (1994), and St. Anthony’s Parish in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia (1995).
The United States also provided a number of new possibilities for the Order. In 1990, Fr. Jasinski, S.Chr. went to the Archdiocese of Atlanta, Georgia, with the purpose of establishing a Polish apostolate. That same year, another priest was directed to Minneapolis, Minnesota, to the Polish American parish of the Holy Cross, where English was predominant as the liturgical language. In accordance with the founding principles of the Congregation, he was to combine his role as assistant pastor in the English-speaking parish with that of pastor of the Polish community throughout the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. In September of 1992, a Society of Christ Father assumed the duties of assistant in the old Polish parish of Our Lady of Czestochowa and St. Casimir’s in Brooklyn, New York. In 1993, Fr. Gerry Grupczynski, S.Chr. became pastor of St. Adalbert’s Parish in Toledo, Ohio, where the Society had been providing assistants since 1993. After Fr. Richard Philiposki, S.Chr., Fr. Grupczynski was the Society’s second American-born vocation. Thus far, the Congregation has trained and received into its ranks five priests originating from the Province of Our Lady Queen of Emigrants. Two more assistant pastorships were assumed in 1993: one at St. Joseph’s Parish in Passaic, New Jersey, the other at St. Hedwig’s in Union City, Connecticutt. In the south, not far from the Mexican border, Fr. Stanislaw Kowalski, S.Chr. took charge of the Polish community in San Diego, California, on February 15, 1994. On June 1, 1994, the diocesan ordinary, Bishop Robert H. Brom, founded the Polish Pastoral Mission of St. Maximilian Kolbe in San Diego, and entrusted it to the Society for a period of ten years. For the last few decades, Arizona, to the east of picturesque San Diego, has seen an influx of Poles seeking work and sunshine at the expense of organized pastoral care. The first Society of Christ Father to minister to them was Fr. Klemens Dabrowski, S.Chr. On January 22, 1995, he took charge of the Polish apostolate in Phoenix.
1995 saw another change in the situation of the Province of North America. Fr. Tadeusz Winnicki, who had served as Provincial since 1988, was elected Superior General of the Society of Christ. On September 1, 1995, Fr. Andrzej Maslejak replaced him as Provincial, the third since the establishment of the Province in 1978. By this time, the Province of North America had charge of ten parishes and five pastoral missions in the United States, eight parishes in Canada, two apostolates (one in the United States and one in Canada), four assistant pastorships, and two homes for retired priests (one in each country). The prospect of securing more priests from Poland enabled the Province to expand its efforts still further. In 1995 the Province had 45 priests at its disposal. Meanwhile, at the Society Seminary in Poznan, another group of candidates was being prepared for departure overseas.
In the fall of that year, the Society took charge of the Polish apostolate at St. Cyril and Methodius Church in Boonton. The following year, in Canada, the Order accepted responsibility for Sacred Heart Parish in Guelph, Ontario, ministering to both English- and Polish-speaking communities. To this parish belonged a mission church in Cambridge, where priests had to commute in order to minister to the Poles. Another Society of Christ priest was placed in charge of St. Mary of Czestochowa Church in Wilno, Ontario, the oldest Polish parish in Canada. It was founded in 1888 by settlers from Kaszuby area of Poland. In 1997, the Polish Pastoral Mission of the Divine Mercy was established in the Chicago suburbs, in the Diocese of Joliet. Its first priest was Fr. Janusz Zych, S.Chr. At the end of his term as pastor, land was purchased for the construction of a new church.
Society Priests at retirement age slow down, but they do not end their pastoral activity. Generally, they stay on at centers served by the Congregation. Some serve as assistants in dioceses where there is a shortage of priests. One priest assumed such work in the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Florida. Another was charged with organizing pastoral care at Saint Louis, Missouri. In September of 1998 he accepted work as an assistant at the parish of St. Stanislas.
Great efforts to expand already established centers have been characteristic of the Province’s operations since 1995. In 1995, a church building owned by another denomination, seating 200, was purchased in San Diego, California, to meet the needs of the Polish pastoral mission. Another church belonging to a non-Catholic denomination, with a seating capacity of 300, was bought in 1996 in Pompano Beach, Florida, in the Diocese of Miami. Attempts to purchase it for the Polish community were undertaken by Fr. Kazimierz Jasinski, S.Chr. After his transfer from the Polish Apostolate, Fr. Jan Fiedurek. S.Chr. finalized the purchase. A third church building, with a seating capacity of 250, was bought in 1996 in Phoenix, Arizona. In San Francisco, in 1996, the archdiocese handed over for the use of the Society a church built some years earlier by the Croatian and Slovenian community. Construction of the church in Scarborough, Ontario, Canada, was brought to completion. Another church was built in San Jose, California. After years of labor, the mission in San Jose achieved its high-priority goal of having its own place of worship. The church was formally consecrated in 1998. The Church of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Sterling Heights, Michigan, was enlarged at around the same time as the Provincial House. Both institutions, overlooking each other across a common lawn, required additional space in order to carry out their respective missions more effectively. Thanks to the skills of the local pastor, both undertakings were realized in a short space of time: first the church in 1999, then the Provincial House in 2001. The Provincial requested that five rooms be added to the building which had been purchased in 1976. The work of expansion took six months. Overseeing the entire project was Fr. Adam Bobola, S.Chr. In 2001, operating at another geographical latitude, in another climate, Fr. Jerzy Frydrych, S.Chr. rebuilt the old parish church of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Houston, Texas, thus increasing its seating capacity 350.
Nor did construction work and the purchase of land around the church of the new pastoral mission in Lombard, outside of Chicago, exhaust the energies of the Society of Christ Fathers. In 2000, Fr. Stanislaw Drzal, S.Chr. was charged with the pastoral care of the Poles and providing assistance at the American parish of St. Lawrence in Lawrenceville, in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia. The same year, Fr. Stanislaw Poszwa, S.Chr. assumed care of the Pastoral Mission of the Holy Spirit in Barrie, Ontario Canada. In February of 2001, the Congregation began serving the parish of the Five Holy Martyrs in Chicago.
Contributing to many of the above-mentioned achievements are priests and brothers of the Society who have already crossed the threshold of eternity. The latest to be called from this life was Fr. Wojciech Kania, the first Vice-Provincial in North America and Superior General of the Society of Christ during the years 1970-1976. In accordance with the Rules of the Congregation, deceased members of the order are buried in the place where they served. As a result, the tombs of eleven Society members who served with the Province, are found in various locations. One such place is Resurrection Cemetery in Clinton Township, a dozen or so kilometers from the Provincial House. A modest bas-relief of Christ the King placed over the graves of the Society of Christ members recalls Whom they served in life and to Whom they have gone to collect their eternal reward.
In 1968, when the Vice-Province of North America was founded, the group consisted of 18 Society members: 16 priests and 2 religious bothers. In 1980, it numbered 26 members: 25 priests and 1 brother. By the year 2003, the number of priests has risen to 53. Twenty five years after the establishment of the Province, Society of Christ Fathers are serving in 22 parishes, 6 missions, 4 apostolates and 3 assistantships. It is already known that in this Jubilee year, the Society will take charge of two new parishes, one in Poughkeepsie in the Archdiocese of New York, the other in Milwaukee in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. What is not known is the nature of the challenges the Province will be facing in future decades. Nevertheless, one can say with confidence that the present generation of Society members is determined, with the help of Our Lady Queen of Polonia Overseas, to continue the mission it began on the North American continent almost half a century ago. Following the example of its predecessors, it will squarely confront the new challenges.