Saturday, March 06, 2010

East is East and West is West – Or Is It?, Part I

Editor’s Note: The following story and photos were contributed by Mike Sadaj and constitute what we hope to be a two- or three-part story. The WSDPAHS is truly grateful to Mike for this wonderful contribution to our e-Newsletter and for granting us permission to reprint his story and photographs. Both the story and photographs are © Copyright Mike Sadaj. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author
: Mike Sadaj grew up in the Our Lady Help of Christians Parish in the 1950s and lived within walking distance of the parish, where he served Mass and grew to love his Religion teacher, Sr. Mary Fabian, CSSF, for instilling his love for our Lord in him. He graduated from high school in 1963, joined the U.S. Military, and is a proud veteran of the fighting in the Vietnam War. Mike graduated from Wayne State University (Detroit) with a B.S. in Business and spent the greater portion of his adult life in Texas in the oil & gas business as a computer technician and high tech photographer in many parts of the U.S. and world prior to his retirement from business. Mike now pursues his photographic and writing interests as they pertain to his Polish Roman Catholic heritage.East is East and West is West – Or Is It?
By Mike Sadaj
In 1890 Rudyard Kipling (1865 – 1936) wrote The Ballad of East and West and spoke to an idea that all Detroiters know, and that is:
OH, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet....
Detroit, like no other major metropolitan city, was divided east and west. You were either from the east side or the west side; it was as if a raging river, the “Woodward Avenue River,” ran through the city to divide it into two distinctive areas. Being an east sider, I rarely remember venturing to the west side except on those rare occasions when my father drove the Felician Sisters from our Polish Roman Catholic Parish, Our Lady Help of Christians (see photo, below), to McDevitt’s Religious Articles Store on the far west side.
The Catholic Church was the center of life in the Polish Catholic community while the other Polish-influenced institutions, places and activities rounded out our religious and social lives. The venerable Polish Roman Catholic Churches, SS. Albertus, Josaphat and Sweetest Heart of Mary (see photos below) respectively

were what we called “The Trinity on Canfield,” and we as Polish Catholics were very proud of these beautiful edifices. Other places that were integral to our Polish community were the schools associated with these beautiful churches.
We attended dances at the PNA Hall and the Dom Polski, where we might meet our future life mates. We said our goodbyes at places like Anthony Wysocki and Gilewski Funeral Homes that were always close to and associated with our parishes. There was the Polish Roman Catholic Union or PRCU Hall where we celebrated marrying our childhood sweethearts and toasted and remembered our lost loved ones. We buried our loved ones in places like Mt. Olivet and Mt. Elliott Cemeteries. We enjoyed movies at places like the White Star and Martha Washington Theatres and shopped at Kowalski’s for meat and the New Palace Bakery for pączki, rye bread and chruściki. On a rare occasion we might go out for dill pickle soup, pierogi, and/or gołąbki at the original Zosia’s on Chene St. And, of course, who could forget the Parish Friday Night Fish Fries during Lent? We referred to all of this collectively as the east side Polonia.
Well, it took me 64, almost 65 years to “ford” the “Woodward Avenue River” and discover to my absolute delight that there is another rich Polonia on the west side of Detroit, aptly named the west side Polonia. In trying to discover more about my Polish ethnic roots, I mapped out my plan to discover the richness of this wonderfully ethnic community of more of “my tribe,” the Polish Roman Catholics. I am fortunate that in my lifetime I have discovered that thing that Joseph Campbell refers to as my “bliss” and that thing is photography. I am determined to photograph all of those things in Detroit that are of historical significance to the Polish Catholic Community before they disappear into the dustbin of history. The Polish American Historic Site Association, or PAHSA (see photo, below), and Matt Baka, the President of that organization, have been very supportive in my effort to make a good start in the east side Polonia.

-->Standing L to R: Larry, Celeste Grabowski, Paul Tylenda, Dave Grabowski Robert Duda, Jane Grabowski, Carl Goings, Mike Sadaj; Sitting L to R: Sarah Grabowski, Matthew Baka, Brian Baka
It seemed to me that in making my initial foray into the west side Polonia, I should start with what is arguably the oldest active Polish Roman Catholic Parish in Detroit, St. Francis d’Assisi; and, if not the oldest active Parish in Detroit, then certainly the oldest active parish in the west side Polonia. Making a determination of the oldest parish in Detroit or in the west side Polonia is determined by who you talk to and on what day of the week. Since I do not have deep roots in the west side Polonia, I was having a difficult time making contact with the proper person or authority to get permission to photograph the inside of St. Francis d’Assisi which, by the way, is at Wesson and Buchanan Streets. I reached out for some help and with the assistance of Laurie Gomulka of the West Side Detroit Polish American Historical Society eventually gained permission and access, to my great delight.
I have literally photographed scores, if not hundreds, of Polish Roman Catholic and Polish National Catholic Churches around the country and the world. I knew that St. Francis d’Assisi (see photos, below)

was one of the oldest Polish Roman Catholic churches in Detroit. In my travels, I have seen first-hand the beauty of the oldest examples of these institutions, architectural masterpieces, and works of art and in some cases sculptural beauties. But I was not prepared for the beauty, elegance, strength and majesty of the inside of St. Francis d’Assisi. When I walked into the side entrance of the church with all of my equipment in my hands, it literally took my breath away! I had to sit down and look all around me in wonder at what I was seeing and was soon to be photographing. I had never done that before, and I hope these photos help to convey the beauty I experienced during the time I was honored to be able to photograph this church.

I will allow these photos to speak for themselves, now, except for the descriptions of what you are seeing. The lighting was exquisite in the way it provided a regal red tint to the entire inside of St. Francis d’Assisi almost, appropriately, like a high-red vestment symbolizing the representation of the Holy Spirit that feels so strong in this beautiful and regal Polish Roman Catholic Church. The lighting is a work of art in and of itself. (See photo, below).

The leaders and maintenance staff of the church, including Rev. Robert J. Wojciechowski, the Pastor, and Mr. Tom Rys, Maintenance Director, are to be commended for the perfect lighting (of the hundreds of light bulbs, not one was burned out) inside the church and for the fine manner in which they have maintained this venerable old Polish Roman Catholic Church. And, thanks to Charlotte, secretary, for making sure everything administrative runs on an even keel like a finely tuned Polish watch!
The present St. Francis d’Assisi Polish Roman Catholic Church was designed by Kastle and Hunger. The cornerstone was laid in 1903 and the building completed in 1905. It is constructed of Malvern brick with carved Bedford trim and designed in the Italian Renaissance style. The church has a seating capacity of 1,700 people.

The stained glass windows were produced by the Detroit Stained Glass Works (1861 – 1970). All the main floor windows depict scenes from the life of our Blessed Mother (see photo, below).

Our Polish Roman Catholic Churches are part of complexes and in most cases huge complexes that resemble cities. The churches themselves are the hub of the wheel with schools,


parish offices

(St. Francis d’Assisi Parish Center is pictured in photo, below),

rectories (photo, right, top, is of St. Francis d’Assisi rectory), convents (photo, below, is of St. Francis d’Assisi convent),

parish centers, chapels, funeral homes and parking lots emanating from that central hub like the spokes of the wheel. The religious staff that includes pastors, priests and nuns and secular staff including teachers, coordinators, administrators and maintenance staff act as the finely lubricated bearings to allow the wheel to roll forward carrying the people successfully through this world into the arms of our Lord to our eternal reward in heaven.

If anything, we Polish Roman Catholics embrace our faith as an important and integral part of our lives. This is the legacy we received from our parents and grandparents who came to this country as poor peasants in many cases and built these beautiful, wonderful houses of worship called Polish Roman Catholic Churches.
It seems appropriate that since we have talked about St. Francis d’Assisi Polish Roman Catholic Church, we remember his prayer:
“Prayer of St. Francis”
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith. Where there is despair, hope. Where there is darkness, light. Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; for it is in giving that we receive, it is in
pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

A Note From the Author: The next installment, Part II, will take us deeper into the west side Polonia, traveling from Jos. Campau, Caniff and Davison Avenue in the east side Polonia to Junction, Michigan Avenue and Lonyo Street in the west side Polonia. And, we’re going to sample those pączki from the New Palace Bakery on the east side and the Proctor (Lombardia Bakery, now) Bakery on the west side. Then how about lunch on the east side at Zosia’s, or for you newcomers, Polish Village Café on Yemans Street in Hamtramck or Krakus Restaurant on Jos. Campau in Detroit with dinner on the west side at either Starlite Restaurant on Michigan Ave. in Detroit or Sabinas Restaurant on Oakwood Boulevard in Melvindale. See you in the next installment of the West Side Detroit Polish American Historical Society e-Newsletter. Do zobaczenia!

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