Our Lady of Czestochowa parish is the oldest Polish parish in Montreal, which is why the parish chronicler, the late Father Szymon Grodzki, referred to the Parish as “Our Lady the Mother of all the Polish churches in Montreal”.
The first information about the Poles in Montreal commences from 1894. They came here from the United States as skilled workers to work in the Singer factory (around 30 families) and they settled down in the eastern part of town. Afterwards in the years 1900 – 1902, a larger immigrant group arrived mainly from Austria. In 1904, the Polish colony along with the Lithuanians (having a very close relationship with the Poles) totaled about 1,500 people in Montreal.
The Polish immigrants arrived in Montreal during the first 40 years of the twentieth century. The Polish population of Montreal really expanded after World War II.
After the War, there were a few more waves of immigration, primarily Polish soldiers and officers from eastern Poland who did not want or were unable to return to the Polish republic. Along with them appeared thousands of engineers in Canada, academics, and representatives of Polish aristocracy.
The second rather smaller number of immigrants were the victims of anti-Semitism who were forced to emigrate after March 1968.
From the fall of 1980, a greater number of immigrants came from Poland. They came almost weekly by plane and ship. After the introduction of martial law in Poland, they arrived by the hundreds. This immigration was typically for financial reasons along with a small number of political refugees who were forced to leave Poland by the Communist regime.Thanks to the new wave of immigration, the parish increased greatly and became clearly younger. As the years went by, the new arrivals became financially stable, reached a higher plateau, established careers, and moved from the center of Montreal to the suburbs. In the last few years, the number of parishioners is gradually decreasing.
THE PASTORAL PERIODBeing far from their motherland, as well as being unfamiliar with a foreign language, the Polish immigrants experienced difficulties to integrate into a strange environment. They felt a necessity to organize themselves into a patriotic, unified, religious, and Catholic community.
At first, the Poles attended French and English parishes. Their main concern was to go to confession in their own language around Easter. They contacted Father Bronislaw Jankowski, pastor of the closest Polish parish in Wilno (Kaszuby, Ontario). Until 1907, he would come at least once a year to Montreal during Holy Week.
Father Jankowski would offer mass in the rented French and English churches, have sermons in Polish, and above all he would hear confessions from the Poles in Montreal.
Thanks to his initiatives, the Poles in Montreal began to form various organizations from which one emerged as the Society of the Sons of Poland which later became the White Eagle Society whose main objective among others was to build a Polish parish in Montreal. The society formed a special committee whose main responsibility was to get signatures from the Polish nationals in Montreal who were interested in creating their own parish, and to send the petition to the Archdiocese concerning a request for a permanent Polish priest to reside in Montreal.
CREATION OF THE PARISH, CONSTRUCTION OF THE CHURCH AND ITS’ OBJECTIVES
After trying for many years, the results began to appear in 1907 when the Montreal diocese under Bishop Paul Bruchesi nominated Father Boleslaw Szlamas Szumski (of Lithuanian origin who spoke Polish fluently) as the main organizer of the Polish parish. The bishop also had pastoral faith in Father Szlamas concerning the Lituanian and Russian faithful.
During the pastoral celebrations, which were celebrated alternately in Polish and Lithuanian, they would rent the French church nameD St. Vincent de Paul near St. Catherine Street East.
After six months, the Lithuanians and Ukrainians disassociated themselves from the parish and all the weight of the upkeep fell upon the Polish ethnic community. The greatest wish of the Polish faithful was to become independent by building their own church. As of October 1907, they had already bought the land for the construction of the church, however, the actual completion was only 10 years later.
The first pastor was Father B. Szlamas who was there for less than a year. After about a year later his replacement was Father Stanislaw Chalupka from the U.S. who also remained for about a year. Occasionally a French priest Father Geoffrion took charge of the Polish faithful and from December 1909, Father E. Vrydaegs (redemptorist, of Belgian origin who spoke a minimum of Polish) was nominated as pastor. He was in charge of the parish until March 1915. Under his auspices he was able to establish close ties with the Archdiocese and as a result the church was well organized and maintained.
Father Vrydaegs resigned from his position as pastor due to health reasons and his successor in 1915 was a 51 year old Franciscan from Krakow, Father Fraciszek Pyznar. He worked in the U.S. for 17 years (1898-1915). He was unable to return to his homeland due to the war in Europe. As a result of this, he spent 6 years until May 1921 working effectively among the Polish community in Montreal.
His main objective from the start was to build a church which would join all the Polish people together. It wasn’t an easy task. The worst part was that the Poles living in Point St. Charles, the western part of Montreal, started their own Mission in 1916 called Holy Trinity, however Father Pyznar did accomplish his task.
New land on Montgomery Street, close to Ontario was purchased for construction whereas the land bought previously was confiscated by the city of Montreal due to non-payment of taxes. On March 28, 1915, the parish received a permit for the construction of the church. On November 15, 1916, the first symbolic stone was blessed as a start of construction and on the 27th day of May, 1917, exactly on Pentecost, the newly built church was blessed. In the steeple of the church, a bell was hung which was named after St. Stanislaw Kostka, the Patron Saint of Youth and in the main altar a copy of Our Lady of Czestochowa was placed. Due to the celebration of the blessing of the church, a reproduction of the picture of Our Lady of Czestochowa was given as a momento.
In May of 1921, Father Pyznar returned to a free Poland and on March 2, 1951, he died in Krakow at the age of 85. After his leave for Poland, conflicts arose again as to who was to administer the church.
This was not the best of times for the church committees as the clergy was frequently shifted. Pastor Father Franciszek Dembinski (a redemptorist from the US) took charge for one year. He left the parish in June 1922 and following him for half a year was Father Jan Drzewiecki who administered the parish. Father Jedruszczak took over for less than two months. In January 1923, Father E. Vrydaegs returned for half a year. Finally, Father Wojciech Sosna remained longer than his predecessors because he was pastor from 1922 to 1930.
In 1930, these past conflicts and uncertainties forced the Archbishop of Montreal, George Gauthier, to call upon the Franciscan Order of St. Anthony of the U.S.A. to take permanent pastoral charge of the Polish community in Montreal. In November of that same year Father Provincial Justyn Figas signed a decree and entrusted Father Bernard Kazimierczyk to Our Lady of Czestochowa Parish and Father Szczepan Musielak to Holy Trinity Parish. On August 24, 1932, a definitive pastoral transfer of power to the Franciscan Order took place. Father Bernard Kazimierczyk, the new pastor, enthusiastically started his mission and took full charge of the church affairs. There was a good rapport between the church committee and the pastor.
Presently, the following parishioners are members of the church committee:
The main driving force in all the church affairs for 23 years (1930 – 1955) was Father Bernard Kazimierczyk except for 1942 to 1944. He took full charge of the first church renovations in 1937 – 1938 on Montgomery Street. At the same time, a church hall was built for social and religious events, meetings etc. as well as a library was set up. The blessing of the newly renovated church took place on March 6, 1938 by Archbishop George Gauthier. For this occasion, a memoir was published highlighting with pictures the life of the Polish religious organizations within the Parish of Our Lady of Czestochowa.
In the forties, the Polish community in the eastern part of Montreal was growing so rapidly that the present church became too small. Father Kazimierczyk mobilized the parishioners to build a larger church that would fulfill their needs.
The first building fund began in 1944. The collected funds and appeals from the pastor for further donations made it possible to purchase the land on the corner of Hochelaga and Gascon. The start of construction was June 9, 1946. The terrain was blessed by Bishop Lawrence Whelan on the feast of Pentecost and the first rock was symbolically encased in the foundation as the church was being built. Mr. Henri S. Labelle, a Quebec architect, prepared the plans and his assistant was the Polish architect Zygmunt Kowalczuk who led the construction. After one year, the parishioners were able to move to the new church even though it wasn’t fully completed. Father Bernard was totally in charge of the construction and the interior finishing of the church until his death on September 1, 1955. Father Fryderyk Baldyga took over the completion of the church.
The frescos were painted by the Polish artist Stefan Katski which on one side of the church portray the scenes from the life of St. Francis of Assisi and on the other side they depict the history of the Polish church in Poland, the baptism of Polish Christianity, the redemption of the body of St. Wojciech from the Prussians, and also the revival of Piotrawina by St. Stanislaw, Bishop of Krakow. The church arches, carved in cement by the Italian sculptor Sebastian Aiello (1908 – 1987), involve religious symbols, the Franciscan crest, and royal eagles. The wood carvings are the work of the famous sculptor Paula Barbauda. The stained glass windows were executed from glass imported from France. One of those windows also portrays the white eagle.
Above the main altar mounted in precious gems was encased a copy of Our Lady of Czestochowa. In 1956, this precious masterpiece was stolen. It was replaced by a new painting recreated by a Polish artist from France.
That was the way one of the most beautiful churches in Canada was established. The only other church comparable in beauty and art work is Montreal’s Notre Dame Basilica. For the golden anniversary of the church, detailed illustrated brochures entitled; “Our Lady of Czestochowa, the jubilee year 1946 – 1996” and “the heritage of the sacred artifacts” was prepared by the historian Maurice Bricault.
The well known painter Stefan Katski for decades filled the interior of the church with many murals embossed, painted, and gold leafed on goat skins. The last one being the depiction of the beatification of Maksymilian Kolbe which was blessed on November 7, 1977 a few months before his death at age 80. (May 24, 1978)
In addition to the church is the presbytery serving as a residence for the friars. After the death of Father Bernard Kazimierczyk, the parish had the following 10 pastors.
Father Fryderyk Bałdyga (1955 - 1964),
Father Łucjan Królikowski (1964 - 1966),
Father Ryszard Gruza (1966 - 1968) - zginął w czasie pożaru plebanii 29. 10. 1968),
Father Jan Bambol (1968 - 1973),
Father Rajner Ziemski (1973 - 1974),
Father Szymon Grodzki (1974 - 1985),
Father Jerzy Naglewski (1986 - 1989),
Father Krzysztof Cybulski (1989 - 1992 i 1995 - 2003),
Father Marek Ignaszewski (1992 - 1995),
Father Wacław Sokołowski (od 2003).
During this time, over 30 vicars have passed through our parish amongst them Father Fryderyk Baldyga, Father Lucjan Krolikowski, Father Szymon Grodzki, and Father Jerzy Naglewski who all later became pastors of our parish.
During the Jubilee year (2007), the following Fathers are working in the parish; Father Waclaw Sokolowski (pastor), Fathers Andrzej Szulta and Josef Brzozowski (vicars).
The followers of Father Kazimierczyk had an easier task in reference to the church and the presbytery. They came when everything was ready for them. In case of necessity, they had to supervise the renovation and conservation of the church properties. One of the major changes in 1987 under Father Jerzy Naglewski, was the installation of a copper roof and the rebuilding of the steeple which amounted to over $110,000. In 1990, Father Krzysztof Cybulski commissioned the artist Edgardo Durisett, former apprentice to Stefan Katski, to renovate the interior of the church, frescos, walls and murals.
In September 1974, there was a change of guard in the Polish parishes of Montreal. The pastoral responsibilities were taken over by the Polish Franciscans from the Americans. Custody of the Franciscan Fathers was initiated as a part of the Polish province named “Immaculate Conception”. The last American pastor was Father Rajner Ziemski who left the parish on September 22, 1974. Two days later, Father Szymon Grodzki, a former vicar, became pastor.
THE RELIGIOUS LIFE OF THE PARISHThe pastoral work concentrates mainly in the church. Sunday masses are said following the liturgy. The attendance of the people isn’t ideal but usually every Sunday about 700 people attend the services. Father Szymon Grodzki estimated that about 30% of the parishioners are present.
The pastoral domain involves Polish religious customs along with the liturgical year, i.e. midnight mass, the celebration of the purification of the Blessed Virgin, the Lamentations, Good Friday, the Resurrection (Easter), Corpus Christi, the month of Mary (May), the month of the rosary (October), the novenas before the celebration of the Immaculate Conception, St. Anthony of Padua, and St. Francis of Assisi. The vigil of St. Francis known as “Transitus” means the passage from this world to God the Father. The celebrations are mainly performed to Our Lady of Czestochowa, the Queen of Poland.
The Polish Franciscan missionaries from Africa or Latin America, or the nuns from the Polish homeland, are invited to give retreats and recollections during the Lenten season. From the very beginning of the existence of the parish, the pastors’ main priority was to prepare the children for First Communion and Confirmation. Resurrection Sisters Stanislawa Kacpura and Agnieszka Damps for the past few decades have been preparing children and youth for First Communion and Confirmation.
In 1966, the reproduction of the painting of Our Lady of Czestochowa was welcomed in the parishoners’ homes as it was done similarly in the Polish homeland.
Due to the fall of communism in Poland, there were many rapidly growing church gatherings with representatives of Polish hierarchy. The most distinguished and notable being the visit of Cardinal Karol Wojtyla to Montreal in the summer of 1969.
The pastoral calling to the priesthood and sisterhood which came from within their own parish was the fruit of the main accomplishment. They were: the late Father Ludwik Wiercinski (1992) a former seminary professor; Father Bernard Przewozny, a Franciscan; Father Edward Klimuszko, an Oblate; Father Siok, ordained in 1984, worked in one of the English-French parishes in Montreal and presently is working in Ottawa.
The following jubilees were solemnly celebrated. Usually the celebrations start in November and December of the Jubilee year with a mass presided over by a bishop, followed by a banquet at the Polish White Eagle Society. The end product of the jubilee was the publication of the memoir involving the parish activities.
For the silver jubilee, a 30 page brochure was produced entitled “The Silver Jubilee of Our Lady of Czestochowa of Montreal, Canada (1907 – 1932)”.
For the 50th Jubilee, a well documented brochure was produced by Zbigniew Waruszynski entitled “Our Lady of Czestochowa Parish in Montreal” (1959 – 89 pages).
For the 70th jubilee of Our Lady of Czestochowa in 1977, a mass was celebrated followed by a banquet at the White Eagle hall.
Similarly on December 12, 1982, a diamond jubilee was held composed of a concelebrated high mass and a banquet in the parish hall. The celebration of the mass and the sermon was given by Bishop Leonard Crowley. This jubilee was preceded by 3 days of prayer known as a triduum. Some historical documentation was published in the parish bulletin.
EXISTING PARISH ORGANIZTIONSMany religious committees and organizations are involved in the religious life and various pastoral functions of the church. Andrzej Halas wrote in his lexicon a geographical and historical background of the Polish churches in Canada (Lublin 1992). He said that only a handful will attain the celebration of the 100th Jubilee.
In 1915, still under Father Pyznar, the 3rd Franciscan order was established in the parish. After the Ecumenical Council of Vatican II, the Franciscan order was renamed as the Global Franciscan family.
The Society of the Living Rosary, Militia Immaculata after WWII replaced the Marian Association in popularity. The Society of St. Ann has survived to the 100 year Jubilee.
Throughout the years, a prayer group has assembled every day to pray before the morning mass.
The altar boys and girls, lectors, and ushers are actively involved in the celebration of the mass.
Z inicjatywy o. Naglewskiego w 1984 r. wznowił działalność istniejący do dziś chór starszych, który pod batutą In 1984, Father Naglewski initiated an adult choir which still exists today under the direction of Stanislaw Bala. This choir sings on Sundays every 2 weeks and participates in important parish events.
CHARITABLE PARISH ACTIVITIESCharitable parish activities have existed from the very beginning of the founding of the parish. The White Eagle Society and the St. Vincent de Paul Society really stood out. In 1915, the parish sent a donation of $2,800 for the Polish war victims. The committee helping the war victims was headquartered in Sweden under the chairmanship of H. Sienkiewicz. In 1916, $400 was sent directly to Poland. The parish also supported financially the United Nations Fund in Chicago and another fund known as the Polish Aid Fund. After WWI the church organized collections for the General Haller army veterans. It must be mentioned that after the start of WWI, the church was very actively involved in organizing volunteers for the army and the Red Cross.
In 1934, a movement was started to help the flood victims in Poland. During WWII, the parishoners were strongly involved in helping their countrymen. From 1941, the parish was helping the war victims who came to Montreal to find employment and to obtain their permanency in Canada. From 1943, a great sum of money was collected for the Polish children living in Iran and India.
That assistance was also continued after the war. In 1945, a large fund was again established for clothes and for the hospitals in Poland. In 1947, the parish intervened in the placing of 100 Polish orphans from war and also 80 Polish immigrants who came permanently to Canada. In 1948, a special collection was held for the Polish orphans in Europe.
In 1963, there were systematic collections in the parish held for the seminarians (KUL) and also for the construction and reconstruction of churches in Poland.
In the autumn of 1981, the parish greatly supported immigrants who came before the introduction of martial law in Poland. In October 1981, according to the parish chronicle, it was stated: “During about 3 weeks, the parish hall was occupied by young men who came from Poland. Over 20 new mattresses, blankets, pillows, bed sheets, and towels were purchased. During this time, they received two daily meals in the church hall”.
The parish was engaged in helping the members of solidarity to establish themselves in Canada. Many families were sponsored to come to Canada. Arrangements were made for them to learn the language, familiarize them with their rights, and facilitate their arrival to Canada from different refugee camps in Europe.
SOCIAL AND CULTURAL LIFEFather Franciszek Pyznar’s main concern was the behaviour of the Polish population towards their national identity: language, culture and tradition. As a result, his principal preoccupation was to set up Polish schools in the church. On August 15, 1915, an agreement was made between the municipal council and the archdiocese to start a Polish elementary school funded by a world organization for the Polish people living in the district of Frontenac. Polish school registration was held and on September 1, 70 children started to attend the school. Two years later, Father Pyznar established a school for girls from 16 years of age to improve their Polish language. He also set up Polish, English and French language courses for the boys. The school and the courses functioned until 1926. There is no documentation about the Polish schools between 1927 and 1951. In 1951, Pastor Father Bernard Kazimierczyk again initiated the Polish schools on Saturdays. He was deeply moved hoping that the youngest parishoners born in Canada would not forget the Polish language and would assimilate their Polish culture, tradition, and love for the homeland.
In 1951, Father Kazimierczyk chose the Sisters of the Resurrection to organize and take full control of the schools. At the end of 1951, about 30 children registered. Lessons started after the Christmas holidays in January of 1952. The school was run under the auspices of the parish and as a result the school was named “Our Lady of Czestochowa”. The children attending this school actively participated in many pastoral activities for example, St. Nicholas and Christmas pageants.
Sister Stanislawa Kacpura was the directress of the school and has dedicated over 50 years to the pedagogical service of our Polish children in Montreal.
The Polish school existed until June 1999. Due to a declining number of children at Our Lady of Czestochowa School, in 1999-2000 the school had to amalgamate with St. Queen Jadwiga School.
In 1962, a Polish folklore group was formed named “Tecza” (rainbow) which through their performances beautified the parish functions like “Oplatek and Swieconka”.
In February 1974, Father Jerzy Naglewski arrived in Montreal. He set up at the end of the year a youth choir of over 50 members (Jutrzenka) and two years later a theatrical group called “Rapsodia”.
A choir was inaugurated under the direction of a young musician Stanislaw Cyprys, and from November 1981 by Joanne Wieczorek. The youth and adult choirs under the accompaniment of Richard Wieczorek provided masses and special liturgical celebrations with religious music and songs. The youth choir possessed such a large repertoire of religious songs that it was able to produce its own record entitled “Francizkowy Spiew”.
The “Rapsodia” theatrical group prepared every year one performance and presented it at the festivals of ethnic groups. Many ambitious dramas were presented i.e. Dzien Gniewu (Roman Brandstaetter), Warszawianka (Stanislaw Wyspianski), Iwona Ksiezniczka Burgunda (Witold Gombrowic), and Czlowiek Solidarnosci, a patriotic presentation prepared by Father Naglewski in 1982.
Both groups ceased to exist when Father Naglewski became rector of the Polish mission “SW. Wojciecha”.
After a break of a few years, in the year 2005 a new theatrical group called “Razem” was formed. The actors were recruited from different Polish parishes in Montreal. The director and producer is Mariola Goral. The performances of the theatrical troupe give splendor and appeal to parish affairs such as “Oplatki”, “Swieconki” and other religious and patriotic celebrations.
From 1973, a seniors’ club was formed by Father Rajner Ziemski in the church for a few years. It was a social gathering where members met weekly in the church hall. The parishoners eventually disbanded the church seniors’ club to join the well organized Golden Age Club at the White Eagle Society.
THE ENDIt remains only to wish the Jubilarians at least a beautiful, wealthy and fruitful history in the upcoming 100 years.
o. Andrzej Guryn
Translated by: Zbigniew Kowal, Alex Lupinski, Barbara Bebnarz Lupinski