Friday, November 17, 2006

The Origin and Growth of the First Polish Parish in Detroit, Part 2 of 2

The following is excerpted from Poles in Michigan, Vol. 1

The Origin and Growth of the First Polish Parish in Detroit, Part 2 of 2
by Ludwik Gozdawa

Fr. Wieczorek went to Canada when relieved of his post by the Bishop who was angered and unfavorably inclined toward him because of his plan to construct a school building near the church of St. Albertus.

In his "Exeat" given to Fr. Wieczorek, Bishop Borgess gave the building of the school as his reason for the removal:

"We certify that the Reverend Fr. Simon Wieczorek is not burdened by any sort of anathema. Indeed, he is favored with good manners but because recently, contrary to our orders, written and oral, several times repeated, he began to build a school or, at least, allowed others to build it and did not notify us before beginning construction, as he had orders to do in our letter of December 30, we are, for this reason, relieving him in peace. Detroit, June 7, 1873. C. H. Borgess."

Fr. Simon Wieczorek died in Toledo on May 9, 1901. Father Theodore Gieryk became his successor, the second pastor of St. Albertus and remained in the parish for only two years from August 5, 1873 to May 13, 1875. During this short period of time, he managed to organize the "Polish Literary Society," publish the Polish Catholic Gazette", the first Polish newspaper in Detroit and Michigan, and to call together the first Polish Congress in the annals of the Polish immigrants in the United States.

This unusual priest made frequent trips to Chicago to explore the possibilities of creating a Federation of all Polish organizations. It is certain that he discussed his plans with leaders congregating in the library of Ladislaus Dyniewicz, editor of the "Polish Gazette," and with Jan Barzynski, the most talented Polish publicist. These talks and discussions resulted in Fr. Gieryk's invitation to Detroit in 1873 to "all secular and spiritual persons to a conference" which became the first Congress of Polish Immigrants in the United States. It is true that this Diet did not lead to the creation of one super Polish organization in America. However, from it was born the Polish Roman-Catholic Union, the second largest Polish organization in the United States with nearly 200 thousand members.

Fr. Theodore Gieryk again took over the office of president of months ago, Detroit societies, members of the Union celebrated the 80th anniversary of the founding of this organization.)

At the second convention of the PRCU, held this time in Chicago on the 14th and 15th of October, 1874, Fr. Gieryk opened the discussions. The delegates from Detroit were, besides him, John Lemke, the "Patriarch," first president of the first Polish Society in Detroit (he had brought his family to Detroit in 1857.)

Fr. Theodore Gieryk again took over office of president of the newly selected supreme administration with Jan Barzynski as his secretary. Both were Detroiters. Another, Detroiter, Jullian Piotrowski, later the owner of the first Polish printing-house and first Polish bookstore in his locality, was selected to the so-called "senate."

A few months after this second convention, Fr. Gieryk gave up his duties as parish priest of St. Albertus Church. This active and truly Polish priest apparently did not please the Bishop C. H. Borgess who was a German by descent. Fr. Gieryk's last signature in the register of the parish of St. Albertus is dated March 21, 1875.

The late historian, M. Haiman, wrote the following about this Diet convened by Father Gieryk in Detroit: "aside from a handful of fragmentary details, we know very little about this first Diet of the Emigrants . . . Many delegates could not come, especially from the West because of a lack of funds but in spite of this, a relatively large number of secular and spiritual persons came to the assembly. Fr. Leopold Moczygemba, the dedicated founder of the Texas settlements, was chosen chairman."

At this assembly Jan Barzynski placed his mandate as president of the "Polish Organization in America" in the hands of the Diet and signed an agreement for a change of name of the supreme Polish organization to the "Polish Roman-Catholic Union."

Reminiscing about this historic moment in a sermon at the opening of the 33rd Diet of the Polish Roman-Catholic Union, Fr. Edward Kozlowski of Bay City (later auxilliary Bishop of Milwaukee) declared that "indeed, it was not great numerically, but fired by love of God and Country the fragmentary retinue of Poles erected the foundation of the organization whose aim was the union of Polish Catholics for national-religious work in the name of the holy motto God and Country.

Thus, not only was the Polish Roman-Catholic Union born in Detroit but its headquarters and supreme administration were also located here for a time.

Toward the end of 1875, Fr. Gieryk had gone to Chicago he later became a pastor in the town of Radom, Illinois, a Polish settlement founded by Captain J. Gloskowski. Fr. Gieryk died October 3, 1878.

In the Polish cemetery of St. Michael's parish in Radom, Illinois, a beautiful monument was erected to the memory of Fr. Gieryk through the efforts of the Polish Roman-Catholic Union, and solemnly consecrated May 3, 1937.