The Polish Vice-Province
The establishment of the Congregation of the Mission in Poland dates back to the time of Saint Vincent himself. Throughout its history the Polish province had to suffer much from persecution, restriction, and adversity. After being virtually destroyed during the disastrous partitions of Poland (1772, 1793, 1795), the province was reestablished in 1866. Less than forty years later it would be called on to send missionaries to the New World.
In May 1903 Archbishop Frederick Katzer of Milwaukee invited the Vincentians of the Province of Cracow in Austrian Poland to staff a parish in his see city. Although the Vincentians received their appointment and were prepared to leave for America, the archbishop’s sudden death caused the project to be aborted. Later in that same year the Polish provincial received a request from Brazil to send a team to give missions to the large Polish population in that country. Since he already had a band that had been prepared to leave for the New World, he decided to send them. Their route took them through New York, and there their journey ended. They were invited to give a mission to the Poles of Saint Casimir’s parish in Brooklyn. During the course of the mission Bishop Michael Tierney of Hartford, Connecticut, asked them to take over Saint Stanislaus parish in New Haven. The parish was also intended to be a mission center. In 1905 Bishop Tierney gave the confreres a second Polish parish, Saint Michael’s in Derby, Connecticut, to be used as a central house and mission center.
The first pastor and superior was Father George Glogowski (1872-1920), a native of Zabrze, Poland. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1898 and was the first superior of the mission (19031920) and the person considered to be the founder of the Polish mission in the United States. In addition to New Haven, he was the pastor and superior of the parishes and mission centers at Conshohocken, Philadelphia, and Erie, Pennsylvania. He is credited with being the first vice-provincial, though it seems that vice-provincial status was granted after his death.
In 1906 the Polish Vincentians founded a parish in Conshohocken, where they also briefly directed a high school. In 1908 Tsar Nicholas II relaxed restrictions in Russian dominated Poland, and as a result several of the Polish confreres returned to their homeland. Within two years the situation had altered again, the Vincentians were expelled, and resumed their American mission. In 1909 in response to an invitation from Andrew Ignasiak, a diocesan priest of Erie, Pennsylvania, they preached a mission there and with the help and encouragement of Ignasiak decided to establish a school for Polish boys. In 1910 the Polish provincial, Gaspard Slominski, made a visitation of the Polish mission in the United States. He decided to withdraw his men from Conshohocken, sell the house, and use the money to open the high school in Erie. Saint John Kanty College, as it was called, opened in September 1912.
From 1907 to 1922 the Polish confreres staffed Saint Hedwig’s parish in Philadelphia. In 1923, at the invitation of Bishop Thomas Molloy, they assumed responsibility for a large parish, Saint Stanislaus Kostka, in Brooklyn. In 1926 there was another opening in Connecticut, Saint Joseph’s in Ansonia, divided from Derby. In 1920 the Polish mission became a vice-province within the territorial boundaries of the Eastern Province. It was notable for a vigorous educational and parish mission apostolate. The first vice-provincial was Paul Waszko (1920-1929), who was born in Twardawa in 1873 and ordained to the priesthood in 1898. He served successively at New Haven (1904-1906) and Derby (1906-1923), Connecticut, and Brooklyn, New York (1923-1927). He served as pastor and superior of the latter two houses while vice-provincial and was instrumental in founding a mission house in Whitestone, New York, in 1922, and in building a residence in Erie for another mission group in 1927. He died in 1929 at the age of fifty-five and was succeeded by Stanislaus Konieczny (1929-1931), a native of Przeworsk, where he had been born in 1876. After serving in the educational apostolate in Poland, he came to the United States in 1905 and served in various parishes. In 1907 he returned to Poland, but came back to the United States four years later. Most of his apostolate was spent in the missions and as editor of the Family Treasure magazine. He died in 1940.
The next vice-provincial was Anthony Mazurkiewicz (1931-1956), born at Torun, Poland, in 1877, and ordained in 1903. From 1908 until 1925 he was superior and pastor of various parishes and mission centers. From 1925 untill 1929 he was pastor of Saint Vincent’s parish in Bydgoszcz, Poland. On his return to the United States he was superior and pastor in Brooklyn (1929-1935), and New Haven (1938-1963), during which time he was also vice-provincial. He died in 1963. Paul Kurtyka (1956-1957) was appointed vice-provincial when Mazurkiewicz stepped down after twenty-four years in the position. Born in Poland in 1891, Kurtyka served as head of the Polish mission in Wenchow, China, from 1932 to 1946 and then came to the United States to join the vice-province. After one year, he handed over his duties to his successor, Casimierz Kwiatowski (1957-1964). Kwiatkowski was born in Poland in 1896 and ordained to the priesthood in 1920. Most of his priestly life was spent in parish work, and his term as vice-provincial overlapped with his superiorship of the house in Ansonia. During his term of office another mission house was built and staffed in Utica, New York, in 1962. He died in 1969. His successor, Edward Gicewicz (19641966), was the first American born vice-provincial. He was ordained in 1938 and during World War II served as a chaplain in the air corps, achieving the rank of major. Both before and after his term as vice-provincial he served in all the principal apostolates of the vice-province.
He was succeeded by Henry Sawicki, who served as vice-provincial (1966-1975), and briefly as provincial of the New England province (23 April to 10 October 1975). In addition to the other apostolates of the vice-provincie, Sawicki had also served in the China missions (1937-1945). In 1975 the Polish vice-province became the Province of New England and after Sawicki’s brief tenure as full provincial, Julian Szumilo became provincial (1975-1981). During his tenure as provincial, a provincial house was founded in West Hartford, Connecticut; a new apostolate was accepted at Bishop Brady High School in Concord, New Hampshire; a small parish taken over in Lisbon Falls, Maine; and Saint John Kanty Prep School in Erie was closed in 1980 after sixty-eight years of service. Waclaw Hlond (1981-1987) followed as provincial. In 1983, the province accepted direction of Saint Peter’s parish in Concord.