Friday, December 29, 2006

Politics, dancing and Pierogies

There are two things that Poles like their politics and their dancing. They like their politics like their dancing – fast and passionate. The politics in the Polish Community is replete with rough and tumble political races with lots of fast activity and mud slinging. You had to move fast and think on your feet because your opponent was going to be coming after you full-speed ahead. Almost like a Polka Dance with fast movements with sharp curves. Both politics and dancing in the Polish Community got the heart beating very rapidly with sweat beads forming on the brow.

Here’s a great example of the politics and dancing working hand-in-hand. The Young Men’s Democratic Club endorses P.C. Jezewski for Mayor for the City of Hamtramck. The YMDC sponsors a dance on Sat., Feb. 20, 1932 at the Metropolitan Hall in the heart of the Polish Community in Hamtramck at the corner of Jos. Campau and Evaline. The dance features the Michigan Stompers – if that’s not a heart pumping name I’ll eat your Pierogies at the corner of Campau and Holbrook! The doors open at 7:30 P.M. with dancing till?? Sounds like a great night of dancing and politics to me.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Assimilation, abandonment and ghosts...

St. Stanislaus Polish Roman Catholic Church was/is located at Dubois Street and Medbury Avenue in the Polish enclave on the east side of Detroit. The year 1898 marked the commencement of the founding of the parish. Bishop Foley founded the parish and appointed Rev. F.G. Zella to its rectorship. As of 1910 the parish built a parochial school attached to the parish that could readily accommodate one thousand pupils. As of that date the enrollment was eight-hundred and fifteen children under the tutelage of the Felician Sisters from the Motherhouse at St. Aubin and Canfield Sts. (Fremont St. at that time.)

Rev. F.G. Zella was identified with the church from its inception until the date of the 1910 survey and beyond. He received his early education in the Detroit College (Later to become the University of Detroit.) and his theological and philosophical training at St Francis' Seminary in Milwaukee. He was ordained by Bishop Foley in 1893. In his parochial work he is assisted by Rev. N.W. Zbranice.

There was much hustle and bustle around this church and school from its inception until its sad closing in 1989. I had many friends that attended this school. I attended the high school graduation ceremony on June 21, 1961 which was a big event for me in many ways in my young life that has continued to have repercussion in my life to this very day.

Now, all that is left is memories and ghosts of those persons that past this way into life and on into eternity. I was casually perusing ebay when I came across these pews up for auction from St. Stanislaus Polish Roman Catholic Church. They’ve been relegated to the dustbin of history or more correctly to someone’s garage to be sold on ebay.

It is sad to see the Polish Community become dismantled right before my eyes. I look at the churches in Europe and so many of them have lasted for hundreds of years and in fact are still active parishes. I lived in Texas for many years and toured the Missions of San Antonio where they are all over four-hundred years old and are still active parishes with vibrant ethnic communities. Why can’t we do this in Polish Detroit, too? I think the answer is assimilation and abandonment of the “old neighborhoods”, the curse of continuity, history and culture!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Marching Poles...

The Poles loved a good parade and never missed an opportunity to get a marching band out to strut their stuff and get everybody worked up into a patriotic frenzy both American and/or Polish. Look close you may find one of your Polish uncles, cousins, fathers, brothers or what have you in this vintage photo of this Polish Legion of American Veterans State Corps Marching Band from Detroit, Michigan. And, if you look closely at the bottom right hand side of the photo you will see that the photo was made by Hoffman Studios which was an institution in the Polish neighborhood for weddings, baptismals, 1st Holy Communions and other important events in the lives of the Polish immigrants.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

I remember...

Christmas Eve of 1949 would make this photo 57 years old and there I am with my Hopalong Cassidy shirt on with my cousin. Our traditional 12-course Polish Wigilia dinner served on Christmas Eve didn’t vary much from year to year, but it was always meatless and usually included gefilte fish which as far as I remember only my grandmother ate. We figured this was proof enough that she wasn’t Polish Catholic but a Polish Jew! The dinner included cucumber, onion and sour cream salad; herring in sour cream and sweet vinegar sauce; hearty rye and pumpernickel breads; peirogi with sauerkraut, potato, cheese and fruit; carp when we could; and, sweets such as the following: dried fruit; kutia, a treat made from wheat, poppy seed, honey and almonds; poppy seed or honey cakes or strudel; rolls or bread.

The first thing is the tradition of sharing the Wafer (Oplatek) - Before beginning to eat. My grandmother and grandfather would begin the tradition by breaking and sharing of the Oplatek – a thin wafer (similar to communion host). They would face one another, then brake and share a part of the other's wafer. They wished each other fulfillment of their wishes. Then each one of my family members would brake and share the Oplatek with each other family member present.

Later in the night would be Pasterka or Midnight Mass but when I was little I couldn’t keep my eyes open past 10:00 P.M. Tonight I remember all those Polish relatives of mine that I shared Christmas Eve with that are no longer with me.

Saturday House Cleaning -- Polish Style...

The Polish people are people of great faith and for the most part they are part of the Roman Catholic Church. This home is located at 9801 Winfield in Hamtramck, Michigan more specifically it is located at the SW corner of Winfield and Evaline Sts. And, it is directly west of Zussman Park named for 2nd Lt. Raymond Zussman, Medal of Honor recipient born in Hamtramck, Michigan and entering the service at Detroit, Michigan killed in action on September 12, 1944 at Noroy le Bourg, France during a heroic action commanding two tanks and an infantry against a superior number of enemy Germans. Which in turn is directly west of Hamtramck City Hall that was built as Hamtramck Municipal Hospital later changed St. Francis Hospital.

This particular house doesn’t have one Blessed Mother on its porch. They have two Virgin Mary’s attesting to their faith. And, if you will notice that this house is well taken care of and neat and clean. While I was growing up in my predominately Polish neighborhood, we did have one Russian Lady that lived on the corner and we called her “the Russian Lady”, Saturdays were the day to clean the house on the outside. Everyone, even “the Russian Lady” cleaned their house on the outside in a ritualized manner because everyone was watching and you wanted to make sure your house was as clean as everyone else’s house.

The way it started was that you would get the step ladder, garden hose, a pail with soapy water in it and a broom. You would hose the whole front of the house from the top of the peak all the way down to the sidewalk. Then you would put the step ladder in front of the house and with the soapy water and broom you would start scrubbing the entire front of the house from the second floor on down to the first floor making sure to get the windows extra clean. Then you would go onto the porch with another pail of soapy water and do the same thing except you would clean the front of the porch along with the floor and take it all the way down the steps clean and scrubbing with that broom full of soapy water.

But, that wasn’t it because then you would take a third bucket of soapy water and scrub the sidewalk from the bottom of the porch stairs, down to the main sidewalk and the entire front sidewalk all the way down through the little patch of sidewalk that went from the main sidewalk down to the street. Now, you were all done with the cleaning and scrubbing. All that was left was the rinsing of the soap with the hose and I found this the most fun and satisfying because you could see all the dirt just rinse away. And, that was the Saturday Morning house cleaning ritual. Those were good day! I wonder what “the Russian Lady’s” real name was?

Saturday, December 23, 2006

8th State Convention of the P.L.A.V....

Polish-Americans are very sociable people that love to associate in fraternal organizations. There’s nothing like taking up the pluralistic notion of getting together for common interests – as American as Apple Pie! So, here’s an example of the Polish Legion of the American Veterans and Ladies Legion or P.L.V.A. conducting their 8th State Convention in Hamtramck, Michigan on August 27-28, 1938.

The cover of the program melds American with Polish Patriotism together in a natural brew of unity and solidarity. First of all the colors red, white and blue stir up the emotions of the red, white and blue American Flag and the red and white Polish flag. There’s Lady Liberty carrying the American standard in one hand and a flaming torch symbolizing liberty in the other hand. Kneeling next to Lady Liberty is a American Doughboy with a rifle with an attached bayonet representing the veterans that the convention is representing.

In the bottom right and corner is the emblem of the Polish Legion of American Veterans with the eagle perched on top of the defensive shield framed by an olive wreath interspersed by a pentagon star. To the right of Lady Liberty is an information block punctuated by a quill used by a scribe to record for posterity what transpired at this convention. All of this sits on one of the most important yet sublime symbols on this cover. A winged shield surrounding two unobtrusive letters U P standing for a United Poland – the dream of Poles the world over for hundreds of years.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

History and continuity...

Our Lady Help of Christians Polish Roman Catholic Church in Detroit, Michigan conducted its final Mass on October 29, 2006. The reason for this is that the Archdiocese of Detroit decided to close down this Parish. The Archdiocese also decided to sell the OLHC Church Complex to the Muslim Community of Michigan. It was a money for real estate transaction pure and simple. As I said in an earlier post the farther away from the grass roots of the Parish the farther you get from the real purpose of the church. A Black Church

on the next street over, on the NE corner of Mitchell and Halleck Sts. wanted to buy the Our Lady Help of Christians Church Complex but they didn’t have the “Benjamin’s” to buy the complex.

The good news in all of this bad news was that Fr. George A. Rutkowski, the last pastor of OLHC, found a needy church in Poland to donate all of the statues, relics, pews, furnishings and icons associated with the 83 years of this venerable old church. The good Fr. Swierad Pettke, CCG, Pastor of Our Lady of Fatima in the region of Włocławek in Plocka, Poland is going to take charge of all these items for his Parish. The photo includes Fr. George A. Rutkowski in the back, center and in the right back is Fr. Swierad Pettke, CCG.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Immaculate Conception Polish Roman Catholic Church...

This is where it all started in the U.S.A. at Immaculate Conception Polish Roman Catholic Church in Panna Maria (Virgin Mary), Texas established in 1854. The first Mass was held at midnight on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1854 under the oak tree showing in the picture. This Christmas Eve it will be the 152nd Anniversary of that first Mass by the first Polish immagrants to this country.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Queen of Apostles...

This is Our Lady Queen of Apostles Polish Roman Catholic Church located at 3851 Prescott and Conant Sts. in Hamtramck, MI. This photograph is of the mosaic mural depicting the Queen of Apostles, designed and executed by Pietro Cantu, Arta Musiva, Milan, Italy after a mural by Adam Styka, Poland’s great artist.

Patriotic Polish-Americans in Fraternal Association…

Post 1 P.L.A.V. is the Polish Legion of American Veterans located at 3105 Holbrook St. in Hamtramck, MI. Poles have volunteered because of their patriotic commitment to their new country for every war the U.S. has been involved in and have distinguished themselves valorously and intrepidly. This is one of the veterans organizations they have organized for their natural desire to associate with each other fraternally.

This is the way they have organized and laid out their charter:

Mission Statement

The Polish Legion of American Veterans is an organization of veterans whose membership shall not be discriminatory on the basis of race, color, religion or national origin.


We are committed to the ideals of patriotism, charity and volunteerism through allegiance to our Country, honor of our Country's standards and aid in the rehabilitation of disabled veterans.


Our goal is to dedicate time and effort to insure that no benefits are denied to those who served their country and to support legislation intended for those who earned the right to the benefits being considered.

I am very proud of this Polish-American Veterans organization and the principles it stands for.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

The Felicians...

Some of those important people that made up Our Lady Help of Christian Polish Roman Catholic Church were the Felician Nuns that were the cornerstone of the Parochial School Education in the Polish neighborhoods. You hear all kinds of bad stories about Nuns but let me tell you for the most part they were dedicated and sweet educators. Now, you did have some that were pretty tough but then again they needed to be to deal with some of the scrappy student body. I always contended that they gave us some of the best education anytime, anywhere. Now a day’s people complain when there are 30 or 35 students in a classroom. Some of the class sizes the Nuns had to deal with on a regular basis was 60 to 65 students.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Solemn and Sad Final Mass...

It was a beautiful, yet solemn Final Mass at Our Lady Help of Christians Polish Roman Catholic Church. The church was packed with a standing room only crowd of parishioners just like back in the “old days” for Sunday Mass. Even before the Mass started there wasn’t a dry eye in the house and as the service wound its way to the conclusion the outpouring of sadness and grief was heard throughout the church. The saying, “The Smallest Parish with The Biggest Heart” was beating very audibly and reverberating throughout the hallowed walls of this holy place. The author was just as caught up in the emotion along with everyone else in this ceremonial final service of this living entity.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Death of a Polish Roman Catholic Parish...

On October 29, 2006 Our Lady Help of Christians Polish Roman Catholic Church conducted their last Mass in the 83 year history of the Parish. It was a sad day for all those that attended this solemn Mass. Many, including this author’s, whole early years revolved around this Polish Catholic Church. It was and is a loss that is incalculable by those of us who have lived to see this day. This event will require many photos and many words but none of it will change what has taken place. The best that can be garnered by the facts may help work through a lifetime of feelings over this loss. More, much more, later!

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Polish Tribe...

Is the loss of the identity of our own tribe the price we have to pay for assimilation? Are we drops of Polish water that will get consumed by the ocean of the American Tribe? Is this in our best interest or is this just another case of being put under the boot of domination not by the Russians or Germans this time but by the Americans? When we maintained our pure Polish heritage we were kings among the kingdoms of the world. On September 12, 1683 Jan Sobieski insured that the countries of Europe would maintain their own individual identities and not speak Turkish or submit to the Moslem religion or rule. I say that we need to hold onto our identity with the strength of both hands and will in our hearts!

Poles with faces but no names...

I bought this photo of this wedding party on ebay sometime ago. I bought it because the studio was M. Derkach Art Studio at 11352 Jos. Campau Ave, Hamtramck, Mich. And, I knew that this studio did many of the Polish weddings, 1st Holy Communions, high school graduations and what have you in the Polish Community. I don't know who the people are but I think it would be a safe bet to say they are Poles. It's one teeny-tinny slice of Detroit Polish history with no names or any story to go along with the picture. So, I thought I would share it with you and maybe somebody out there will see this and maybe know who the people are and share some of their story with us. Do you know these people? If you do go down to the commenst section and leave me some information about who these people are and a little about their lives.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The passing of a Polish Prince of the Roman Church..

Here is a regal resting place for a prince of St. Albertus, the 1st Polish Roman Catholic Church in Detroit, Rev. Dominic Kolasinski beloved by many and reviled by the church hierarchy and opposing detractors. Fr. Kolasinski was a lightening rod in the Polish community that elevated the Polish Settlement to a public spectacle in the City of Detroit during many turbulent years. His death on Easter Monday, April 11th, 1898 attracted 18% of the entire population of the City of Detroit to his funeral on April 13, 1898 an unprecedented gathering of people for anyone at anytime in history of the city.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Polish Priest and Prince...

The most Rev. Dominic Kolasinski was maybe the most influential and important Polish priest to tend his flock in the east-side Polonia of Detroit but if he wasn't he was certainly the most controversial. He was the priest that built the magnificent edifice that is the current St. Albertus Polish Roman Catholic Church, the 1st Polish Roman Catholic Church in the city of Detroit. Later, he built Sweetest Heart of Mary, the almost equally magnificent Polish Roman Catholic Church that use to be three (3) blocks west of St. Albertus on the same E. Canfield St. but since Riopelle St. was eliminated at Canfield it’s only two (2) blocks, now. Photo courtesy of the book DETROIT'S OLDEST POLISH PARISH: ST. ALBERTUS 1872-1973 CENTENNIAL.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

2nd Polish Roman Catholic Church in Detroit...

St. Casimir Polish Roman Catholic Church was the 2nd Polish Roman Catholic Church in the city of Detroit taking some 100 families from St. Albertus Parish in its trek to the west-side. It became the linchpin of the west-side Polonia located at Myrtle and Twenty-third Streets now known as Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. and 23rd St. The original edifice was a magnificent structure as seen in the photo courtesy of the Burton Historical Collection of the Detroit Public Library. This beautiful place of worship was replaced some years later by this, might we say, modern structure below that still more years later was sold to the Clinton Chapel A.M.E. Zion Church in October of 1989.