Polish Catholics arrived in the United States in large numbers between 1880 and World War I. In 1880, the Polish-born population of the United States was only 66,000, but Census 1920 counted 1.2 million Polish-born residents of this nation. In the same period, the Polish-born population of Detroit rose from 2,000 to 61,000. By 1890, east side and west side Polonias were emerging along with substantial Polish communities in Wyandotte and Hamtramck, although you might consider Hamtramck an extension of the east side Polonia.
By the time Polish Catholics arrived, the Roman Catholic hierarchy had successfully established bureaucracies in many large cities with numerous parishes, some parochial schools, and seminaries to train priests and the administrative apparatus we associate with large organizations. The leaders of the Roman church in United States cities expected the new Polish immigrants to fit into the existing Catholic structure but the Poles were not very happy about this. They contended that few American priests spoke Polish and that they were expected to attend churches whose hymns and liturgical styles were quite unfamiliar to them. Many of the Polish immigrants lived in German parishes where they did not feel particularly welcome given the longer history Polish-German antagonism in their homeland. To this day, the interior of Polish Catholic churches differs greatly in its array of statues and paintings from the Catholic churches founded by the Irish, the French or the English. Polish priests accompanied Polish immigrants and they felt allegiance to the Polish bishops who ordained them even if canon law required them to report to the largely Irish and German hierarchy who administered the United States Roman Catholic Church.
Polish immigrants, when they had the resources, established their own churches and seminaries against the orders of the American bishops. For example, the marvelous Sweetest Heart of Mary Church at East Canfield and Russell in Detroit was completed in 1893 in contradiction to the wishes of Detroit Bishop Borgess. The Polish priest who established that parish, Father Kolasinski, was excommunicated for establishing his own parish, leading to a bitter dispute between his parishioners and the Detroit Catholic diocese. These conflicts exculpated to violence and two deaths. Eventually, Father Kolasinski resolved his difficulties with the diocese and his excommunication was rescinded. Polish Catholic immigrants in Detroit and elsewhere felt that their parishes should be administered almost totally by the Polish immigrants who contributed to their support, but Catholic administrators in the United States presumed that bishops made key decisions about where churches and schools were to be built and how parish funds were spent.
On December 6, 1864, Pope Pius IX called the First Vatican Council which was the 20th Ecumenical Council of the Roman church. It met from December 8, 1869 until July 18, 1870 when it adjourned sine die. Theoretically, it could be called back into session but that is most unlikely. That Vatican Council dealt with many issues of church administration and with clergy discipline, but one of the major aims of Pope Pius IX was for the Council to ratify a Dogmatic Constitution for the Church of Christ, one that emphasized the primacy and infallibility of the Pope. That is, the pope was to be declared not only to be first among equally powerful bishops, but the real leader of Christ’s church on earth with a powerful status unlike that of any other eccelastical official. The Vatican Council adopted the highly controversial dogma of paper infallibility, over the bitter opposition of many Catholic leaders.
Numerous Catholics in Europe were unhappy with the decisions of the First Vatican Council, especially those that concentrated power in the Pope and the largely Italian bureaucracy that surrounded him. Gradually, groups of dissident Catholics in the Netherlands, France and Switzerland became known as “Old Catholics.” An independent Catholic church emerged in some of these northern European locations as a consequence of the First Vatican Council. These were the dissenters to the First Vatican Council. These bishops assumed they had the right to ordain new clergymen who would have all the powers and prerogatives of Roman Catholic priests.
Francis Hodur, a Polish seminarian, came to the United States and was ordained as a priest by the Roman Catholic bishop of Scranton, Pennsylvania in 1893. He realized that Polish immigrants were not being well served by the official Roman Catholic bureaucracy in the United States. He also knew that the Old Catholic movement offered an authoritative and bureaucratic structure within Catholicity that might be useful to Polish Catholics in the United States.
In 1895, parishes of the Old Catholic Church were founded in the Polish communities of Chicago and Buffalo. They were chartered, not by the local Roman Catholic bishops, but rather by bishops in Europe who had been members of the Roman Catholic Church until the First Vatican Council, then switched their allegiance away from the Roman Church and toward the “Old Catholic Church” that followed Vatican Council I and papal infallibility. In 1897, Father Hodur established a St. Stanislaus Bishop and Myrter parish in Scranton, Pennsylvania. The following year he was excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church for doing this.
The Roman Catholic hierarchy in the United States, tried—with considerable success—to keep most Polish Catholics as members of the Roman church, but throughout the United States, Polish immigrants created their own churches, schools and seminaries with or without the approval of the local bishop. In 1900, Father Hodur and his followers considered creating a Polish National Catholic Church independent of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States. There were theological disagreements, but very importantly, there was controversy about who controlled the parishes that Polish immigrants and their Polish priests had established and the substantial funds that Poles contributed for their own parishes. In 1904, a synod was called and the Polish National Roman Catholic Church was established independent from the Roman Catholic Church. I believe they choose Polish, rather than Latin, as the language for their liturgies. The following year they began training their own priests. Since that time, they have been an established Catholic religion not affiliated with the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox churches.
I do not know how many Polish National Catholic parishes were established in the United States. I infer than quite a few were in the larger Polonias—Buffalo, Chicago and Detroit. At least four Polish National Catholic Church minister to parishioners in the Detroit area in this century: Our Savior Polish National Church now located at 610 North Beech Daly Road in Dearborn Heights’ All Saints Polish National Church located at 5555 Seventeen Miles Road in Sterling Heights, Holy Cross Polish National Church at 2311 Pulaski in Hamtramck and Resurrection Parish on West Temperance Road in Temperance, Michigan.
A Polish Catholic parish was founded about 1916 near the corner of Conant and Trowbridge in Hamtramck by Father Stanislaw Weglarz. As reported, it was not unusual for a priest from Poland to establish a parish for the Polish immigrants who came to the United States with him, with or without the approval of the local Roman Catholic bishop. I infer that there was uncertainty about whether this new parish would affiliate with the Roman Catholic diocese in Detroit or with the emerging Polish National Catholic Church. The congregation was able to erect a church, but there was much controversy and the structure they built was eventually sold to Our Lady Queen of Apostles Roman Catholic Church—a parish administered by the bishop of Detroit. This is an active Roman Catholic Polish Parish with a large church, built in 1950, at 3851 Prescott in Hamtramck.
In 1920, a congregation of Polish immigrants affiliated with the Polish National Catholic Church was organized by Father Mazur in Hamtramck. The parish did not thrive, but by 1922, they were able to purchase the land occupied by the attractive, if modest, church shown above. At that time, the street was known as Dublin. The name was changed to Pulaski, reflecting, I presume, an ethnic change in this Hamtramck neighborhood. They constructed a large below-ground hall that would serve as a foundation for their church and used it for their place of worship for some time. By 1925, they were able to begin constructing the church that you see. At this time, the congregation was known as Matki Bosciej Czestochowskiej—Our Lady of Czestochowa. The church was completed, and in 1930, the parish had the resources to open a Polish-English language elementary school. Toward the end of the Depression decade, the parish ran into very severe financial difficulties because of their indebtedness. They closed their school and reorganized the parish as Holy Cross Parish, the name it bears in the Twentieth-First Century.
The well-maintained website for the Polish National Catholic Church reports that there are 31 parishes in Canada, the United States and Italy.
Architect: Unknown to me
Date of construction: Cornerstone laid 1922, construction completed in 1925
Architectural style: You may see Gothic elements.
Use in 2010: Active Polish National Catholic Church
Website for the Polish National Catholic Church: http://www.pncc.org/
State of Michigan Registry of Historic Places: Not listed
National Registry of Historic Sites: Not listed
Photograph: Ren Farley; July 22, 2010
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