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September 20, 2017, 9:37 am

HISTORY OF THE POLISH PARISH IN HOUSTON

 

In the 1970s many persons of Polish ancestry moved to Sunbelt states, including Texas. According to historian John Radzilowski, by the end of the 1980s the population of Texans who traced their roots to Poland increased by 41.8 percent. Many of them were born in Poland but left the country in the 1980s when the Solidarity labor movement was suppressed by the communist regime of Soviet-occupied Poland. Most of them settled in the Houston metropolitan area.

The growth of the Polish-speaking Catholic population in the Galveston-Houston Diocese created a need for the Polish-speaking Catholic priests to minister to this new flock. In the 1970s, a monthly Polish language mass used to be said at the Christ the King Church in Houston. This turned out to be insufficient, for the flock was large and growing. The then-Bishop of the Diocese, the Most Reverend John L. Morkovsky, responded to these needs. In a letter dated January 6, 1981, he asked the United States Episcopate for assistance in obtaining a Polish-speaking priest for the Diocese. On March 20, 1982, representatives of the Houston Polonia sent a petition to Archbishop Flores of San Antonio asking for a Polish priest. Subsequently, Bishop Morkovsky and the Rev. Władysław Gowin, a representative of the Society of Christ (a Polish order of priests whose vocation is to minister to Poles living abroad) agreed that a Polish Catholic Pastoral Mission would be established in the Galveston-Houston Diocese, and that the Society of Christ would become responsible for sending a Polish-speaking priest to serve as its pastor.

The Mission was established by a Decree signed by Bishop Morkovsky on July 13, 1982. Its temporary location was the chapel of the Dominican Order on Holcombe Boulevard. The Rev. Wojciech Baryski, an energetic, capable, and articulate priest, became the Mission’s first pastor.
 
According to the Decree, the Polish Catholic Pastoral Mission was to “serve all native Poles and Polish-speaking people who live in the Diocese of Galveston-Houston.” The Mission was entrusted to the Society of Christ “for as long as the spiritual needs of the Polish people in the Diocese of Galveston-Houston require the use of their mother language.” Membership in the Mission was defined as including all those Catholics who “choose to affiliate with this Mission.” The pastor of the Mission was given full canonical jurisdiction only over those who chose to be formally affiliated with the Mission.
The formal enrollment in the Mission of all those who felt themselves part of the Diocesan Polish Catholic community became a necessity if the Mission were to continue into the future. Those most involved in the creation of the Mission made sure that persons of Polish background were informed of the existence of the Mission and were given information about the possibility of enrollment. Polish Americans in Houston responded, and the rolls of the Mission began to grow. After the inaugural mass on August 1, 1981, 98 families formally joined the Mission. In August of the same year, members of the Mission elected their first Mission Council consisting of fifteen members. The Council organized itself into Liturgical, Financial, Cultural Events, Educational, and Youth Commissions. The most pressing task, however, was to find a permanent location for the Mission.
In March 1984, with the help of a loan from the Diocese, the Polish community purchased the property located at 1731 Blalock. The building that became a temporary church was consecrated by Bishop Morkovsky on August 12, 1984. In 1985, a John Paul II Hall was added to the church facilities. It consisted of a remodeled house. By the mid-1990s, the Mission had grown to over 300 families. Its regular liturgical celebrations included Polish masses at 6 PM on Saturdays and 11 AM on Sundays, and a 9 AM Sunday mass in English, for those parishioners who preferred to attend an English-language mass but chose to belong to the Polish ethnic Mission. Religious and civic instruction for children was soon added to the activities of the Mission. The childen were taught these subjects, and also the Polish language and rudiments of Polish history and culture. Concerts, lectures, and theatrical performances began to be held, and the well-attended Sunday breakfasts began to bring an additional small income to the Mission’s coffers.
 
Expanding the size and range of activities of the Mission led to its elevation to the status of a parish. In a Decree of September 30, 1994, the Most Reverend Joseph A. Fiorenza, Bishop of Galveston-Houston, stated that “because of the growth in the Polish Catholic community in Harris county. . . and because of the increase in sacramental, pastoral and educational ministry provided by the Mission, it is advisable to raise the canonical status of this community by its erection as a separate non-territorial parish.” The Decree took effect on October 1, 1994, while he Rev. Jerzy Frydrych was pastor. The new nonterritorial Polish Parish retained the name of Our Lady of Czestochowa. Three years later, on March 2, 1997, the Parish Council decided to remodel and enlarge the existing church to meet the growing needs of the faithful. Discussions about the enlargement led to the decision to build a new place of worship. The then-pastor of the Parish, Rev. Jerzy Frydrych, presided over the drive to build a new church. We continue to be grateful to Father Frydrych for his leadership in this regard, and also for secruing for us the title of an ethnic parish.
Four years of planning, fund raising, hard work of many parishioners, and devising imaginative solutions to the potentially costly problems led to the construction of the new church we presently have. On August 26, 2001, the Most Reverend Vincent M. Rizzotto, Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of Galveston-Houston, in a festive and happy ceremony consecrated the new church of Our Lady of Czestochowa.
 
Statistics show that the Parish continues to grow. In 2004, the Parish had 3 weddings, 14 christenings, 10 first communions, and 3 burials; in 2005, the corresponding numbers were 2, 4, 8, 4, plus 22 confirmations; in 2006 the Parish had 4 weddings, 16 christenings, 8 first communions, and 3 burials. At the end of 2005, 350 families belonged to the Parish; this number increased to 380 by the end of 2006. Finally and very significantly for future growth of the community, in 2006 the Parish purchased the adjacent lot located at 1735 Blalock Road. Our present pastor, Rev. Jacek Nowak, presided over this purchase.
The pastors of the Our Lady of Czestochowa Parish have been the following: Rev. Wojciech Baryski (1982–89), Rev. Edward Traczyk (1989–92), Rev. Marian Ogorek (1992–93), Rev. Jerzy Frydrych (1993–2003), Rev. Jan Fiedurek (2003–2005), and Rev. Jacek Nowak (2005–present). To-date, the most significant advancements of the parish were made during the two longest stewardships of Fathers Baryski and Frydrych. Limited space here does not permit to name the parishioners who made exceptional contributions to the liturgical, financial, educational and physical well-being and growth of this faith community. The Father, in whose cause they labored, will remember.
 
Our Lady of Czestochowa Parish was honored to host such Polish notables as Cardinal Józef Glemp, Primate of Poland, President (and legendary Solidarity leader) Lech Wałesa, and Archbishop Szczepan Wesoły of Rome. In his congratulatory letter on the occasion of the consecration of our new church, Archbishop Wesoły stated that “[s]piritual ministering to immigrants, in this case to Polonia, goes beyond the need stemming from their unfamiliarity with the language of their host country. It is closely tied to the spirituality and culture of their country of origin.” Each country, he continued, “has distinct forms of piety, which are connected with its historical and cultural past, with all that constitutes the cultural heritage of each nation. . . Our [Polish] forms of piety. . . . have become an expression of our . . . identity.”   We cannot but heartily agree with Archbishop Wesoły, thereby proclaiming our continuing need to maintain the Polish Parish in Houston, and hopefully to make it grow.
 
Sources: parish documents
personal remembrances
correspondence with Dr. John Radzilowski concerning his forthcoming article “The Location of the Polish-American Population, 1980–1990.”

Dodano: 2009-12-07 | aktualizowano: 2009-12-20 19:56:52 | odsłon: 4042

Witold J. Łukaszewski