Illinois Staats-Zeitung -- January 20, 1879The Poles in Chicago
Among the many nationalities in Chicago, the Poles play a leading part. During the last years, especially after the Chicago Fire, they increased noticeably, so that they now number about twenty-five thousand. The first Polish pioneers arrived in Chicago as early as 1852; they lived in various sections of the city, virtually strangers, since there was no specific Polish settlement in the city at that time. As most of them were of the Roman Catholic faith, they became affiliated with the German Catholic churches, although a desire prevailed to build a Polish church. In 1869 a club was finally organized to raise funds. Within a short span of time several thousand dollars had been gathered and the erection of a church commenced in earnest. The site was at Noble and Bradley Streets. When the fact became known, hundreds of Polish families from all parts of America and particularly from the Kaschubei in Germany flocked to Chicago. The Kaschubes are of Polish origin. Their language shows much borrowing from the German. These people live in the vicinity of Danzig, Berend, and Neustadt in Upper 2Silesia, Prussia, and represent a low cultural level, due to the Prussian school edict whereby all Polish children must study the various school subjects in German, a language which is strange to them. The Kaschubes are fervent Catholics, frugal and economical. Many of them have ten thousand to thirty thousand dollars.
The first wooden church, later converted into an elementary school, was dedicated in 1869; Reverend Jaskowski was the first Polish priest.
It is generally conceded that most of the foreign people founding a new home on these shores lose all sense of discretion in so far as the word liberty is concerned, due to a rapid change from monarchical to democratic surroundings involving the abolition of class consciousness. Therefore, the new arrivals practiced no self-restraint; self-interest ran rampant, and this fault also manifested itself occasionally among the Poles. A Polish priest sits on a volcano, as it were; every member of the parish intends to rule, and gives 3advice to the priest on how to conduct himself within and beyond the confines of the church. Anonymous letters are a daily occurrence; the Lord have mercy on [a minister] who transgresses and lacks energy--that man is lost. Many of the sixty-five Polish communities of this land could give their own interesting versions of certain peculiar incidents, but in so far as these internal affairs are concerned, I shall enshroud them in secrecy.
The people had conscientious scruples, because they could not order masses to be read for their deceased relatives. Money for masses poured into the church coffers in copious quantities and the impecunious priest became affluent. [Translator's note: This is a literal translation. Possibly the apparent meaninglessness is due to the omission of something from the Staats-Zeitung.] But this egotistical ambition [of the minister] to amass wealth had its repercussions and created enemies. Besides, he had the misfortune of being encumbered with a charming and beautiful "cousin," who today would be called ciotka (aunt).4
Dissatisfaction [in the parish] became rampant; finally a horde armed with cudgels visited the unsuspecting priest and returned with broken weapons. The maltreated disseminator of the gospel fled at that very hour, and a Polish settlement in Minnesota provided a sanctuary.
His successor was the Reverend Bakanowski, an erudite gentlemen well versed in Polish, German, French, Italian, Latin and English. Besides being endowed with a sympathetic sonorous voice, he was endowed with exceptional talents in rhetoric, and his general conduct inspired friendship. To all these mental attributes must be added, unfortunately, bodily perfection. Like Alcibiades, he was the most beautiful specimen of his race. Attendance at his sermons was large; all nationalities congregated at his distant church on Sundays, to listen and admire the "Beautiful Polish priest". Naturally, the fair sex was most numerous. Invitations galore were sent to him, requesting his presence here and there for the purpose of holding religious meetings and consoling beauteous ladies in their parlors. Would it be reasonable to 5condemn the pious man for yielding to his desire to save souls and accepting such offers? Of course not. Among the mass of Polish penitents was a charming, intelligent, lovely lady, wife of a local physician. Above all, it became increasingly important to save her soul. And while religious solace was given here, the sick, and children in need of baptism, waited vainly at home. The doctor's residence was in another part of the city. The oft occurring absence of the priest aroused antagonism. The burden of his duties in the parish induced the priest to obtain an assistant. This brings to the scene the Reverend Wolowski, a suspicious, conniving man, who had lost one arm during the Polish Insurrection against Russia in 1863, according to his version. Scandalmongers assert, however, that Wolowski, caretaker of the war chest of his regimental division, made a trip to somewhat remote regions, supposedly to protect the precious property from Russian marauders; but the Polish patriots protested against the pretext, and as punishment cut off the pernicious arm. With the officiating of this gentleman the halcyon days of Aranjuez came to a sinister end. Envious of his colleague's success, the 6assistant sent a voluminous denunciation directly to Rome.
Reverend Bakanowski was called to the Holy City to defend himself and did not return. Like Niobe, the not fully converted beauties pined away from secret sorrow, remembering only the past exhilarating moments while hiding from human scrutiny the grief that engulfed them. But vengeance was in the offing for the insolent schemer who so rudely curtailed clandestine bliss. His attempt to found a Polish school--a measure calculated to bolster his waning popularity--proved unavailing. He was doomed, in so far as Chicago was concerned.
The following priest, Reverend Zwiardowski, shortly after taking the reins of the parish, dismissed the sinister chap. The school was not to be abandoned, however.
As dissension arose at the time among the then functioning teachers and the 7priest, and as there existed an absolute dearth of other suitable pedagogues, Reverend Zwiardowski decided to let nuns manage the school. The sisters were mostly Germans and expressed German nationalism in no uncertain terms; it brought a remonstrance. The dissenters found a leader in Mr. Dynsewics, editor of the liberal Polish paper, Gazetta Polska, a publication in existence for the last ten years. Their slogan or, may we say, "the war whoop," was the terse sentence: "In Germany Bismarck Germanizes us, and here a Polish priest!"
The people were so incensed, that the priest, whose health was none too good, considered it advisable to leave his field of activity. The vacancy thus created provided a berth soon after, in 1874, for the Reverend Vincent Barzynski, who still functions in his ecclesiastical capacity. Few leaders faced greater difficulties. There were more than fifteen thousand people of Polish extraction in Chicago at that time, representing every part of the former great nation (in the period of a bygone century--1667 to 1772--this 8former kingdom represented an area of 21,334 geographical square miles), and everyone was imbued with the ruling complex, insistent on telling the minister what to do.
Father Vincent was thirty years old at that time; he came from a highly respected family living in the Russian part of Poland. He attended the best schools in his native land and continued his studies in Rome. He is very eloquent--capable of exacting admiration from his adversaries through his powers of persuasion. He is intelligent, pious, but not a hypocrite, and has an excellent reputation. He is fully aware of the traits of his countrymen and his plans take cognizance of them. In many respects his conduct reminds one of Octavius Augustus: If various efforts meet with indifferent success, then he threatens to leave the parish, whereupon every request is promptly granted, and upon urgent entreaties from the congregation he condescends to stay for a while. Various business matters incident to such a large congregation he has placed in the hands of several committees; but, 9basically, he is the sole leader. "Roma Locuta Est, Causa Finita Est," he tells an occasional opponent who cannot be reconciled to the priestly views. He is on a par with Gregory VII, a man of tremendous will power who would rather perish than relinquish a plan designed to elevate the community spiritually and materially. But, Facta Loquuntur.
Under his capable leadership the Polish school attained increased attendance; six hundred children are at present enrolled and given instruction in their native language by Polish nuns. Music, which in former years induced Polish youths to leave the path of rectitude and seek dance halls, taverns, and other libertine diversions, is now mute.
Since the small church proved inadequate for the large congregation, an additional house of worship was built: The Church of the Holy Trinity, near Milwaukee Avenue. The Poles, living in the immediate vicinity, virtually surrounded the structure with stores, mostly saloons, and this contingent 10later asked the bishop that their connection with the old church be severed and a priest of their own choice be installed. The antipathy of certain Poles toward Father Vincent is attributable to the fact that he hails from Russian Poland and belongs to the Order of the Resurrectionists. Almost the entire Polish Liberal Party, here and abroad, maintain that the priests of this Fraternity show insufficient patriotism, and that their interests are only centered on Catholicism. While this assumption may be partly justified, it is entirely inappropriate in so far as Father Barzynski is concerned. His sermons express fervent patriotism, and the well-edited, ultramontane Polish paper, Gazetta Polska Katolicka, which is published under his direction, always defends Polish interests. Moreover, the numerous changes he inaugurated and, above all, the founding of a Polish high school, give conclusive evidence of the priest's patriotic sentiments.
Bishop Farley did not accede to the wishes of the Poles desiring an independent church, as Father Vincent and his assistants proved sufficient.11
Increasing dissatisfaction became apparent, resulting in an eventual rift and at long last two parties, steeped in bitter animosity. Church meetings developed into a replica of the Polish Congress, and a threat was made to apostatize. Time and time again Father Vincent advocated reconciliation but to no avail; he was even insulted and, on one occasion, arrested at the behest of some depraved creature.
When all efforts in behalf of peace proved fruitless, the Reverend Father carried the "sanctissimum" to the mother church and left his church to the dissatisfied element. Thus the house of worship remained forsaken for almost a year, when a Polish priest, Mielcuszny, appeared. Many Polish people knew him when he lived in the Grand Duchy of Posen, (Germany). He had been active in New York, but was compelled to resign. Cardinal Closkey objected to the priest's wordly activities, because the latter fitted out a saloon, combined with a dance hall, in the basement of the church; this proved a lively place after church services. Mielcuszny, an accomplished dancer, 12usually opened the festivities.
This priest proved most welcome to the recreants and, contrary to the bishop's wishes, was installed. Intense enmity now involved the two factions, but this is not the place to adjudge theological principles. Suffice it to say, therefore, that according to church canons the installation of priests is one of the ecclesiastical duties delegated to bishops, and this community, in the strict sense of the creed, is not Catholical. After the disgruntled element had affiliated itself with the long-closed church, now given a new lease on life under the leadership of the Polish priest from New York, the parochial domain of Reverend Barzynski again enjoyed the blessings of peace. As the available space provided by the church proved inadequate, a new church was built. Thus far eighty thousand dollars have been spent on construction, and an additional thirty thousand dollars will be required to complete the edifice.
The not overly large mortgage is being paid by voluntary contributions and 13pew rentals, which amounts to approximately eight thousand dollars per year.
The paintings for the church have been entrusted to a talented Polish artist, Zabinski, who came directly from Rome (Italy). His studio is at the parish house. A visit will prove very interesting. Several splendid sketches and the full-size, partly completed painting, "The Death of Stanislaus Kostka," give eloquent proof that a genius conceived them.
For some time Father Vincent considered founding a Polish high school, and to realize that goal he spent large sums of money; however, serious difficulties were encountered. Indifferent success did not deter him, however. Repeatedly he admonished his congregation, and spoke in stentorian tones about public indifference. Finally, the community decided to build a higher institution of learning, and to defray the cost. The school was opened this year, January 2, , and two eminent instructors were secured.14
Professor Stein, thirty years old, passed his examinations with flying colors at the gymnasium in Thorn, on the River Weichsel, and the seminary in Posen. To complete his studies he traveled throughout the greater part of Europe. [In the interim] he taught in Posen and Bromberg at public schools, and academies for young ladies. In America he taught successfully in New York and Detroit. Here, he will give instructions in the German and Polish languages, as well as mathematics.
Professor Wenslow studied at the Jesuit College here; later he studied philosophy.
The institution [the Polish high school] accepts students regardless of religion or nationality. At present forty-three students are enrolled; the evening school register shows seventy-two have matriculated. The future of the school is assured, as attendance increases daily.
The community now entertains the highest regard for its spiritual leader; it 15feels convinced that no personal ambition or selfish interest motivated his action; he was concerned only in the true welfare of his countrymen. Since the storm subsided and outstanding success crowned the priest's efforts, it is expected that the majority of the estranged members will return to the mother church soon.
This brief sketch does not pretend to give all the details which, after all, would be superfluous. I have merely stated facts, because Chicago has many Polish families, and a large number subscribe to this paper. Perhaps I may have an opportunity at some future time to give an account of the Polish community of the South Side, its church, the Polish press, clubs, and, possibly, some interesting details of prominent Polish people who live in our city.
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