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POLISH APOSTOLATE

  


With pride and admiration we can look at Polonia pastoral care in the United States. The first Polish parish was established in 1854 in Panna Maria, Texas, and later, together with the growing immigration from Polish lands, many more were opened. Up until today, nobody was able to establish precisely how many Polish parishes there were, only estimate that there were about 800. However, taking into account mixed parishes, for example Polish-Lithuanian or Polish–Slavic, which according to some authors belonged to polish parishes, to Slavic or Lithuanian according to others once, could sum up about 1000 Polish parishes. These are impressive numbers. When we add to this number the establishment of Polish Seminary in 1885 in Detroit, the eager work of thousands of polish priests and nuns, beautiful polish churches, and well maintained parochial schools of different levels, we really should look with pride at great accomplishment of pastoral care of Polish immigration.

This great development of Polish parishes continued until around the time of the Great Depression, during the thirties of the 20th Century. The inter war period and two to three decades after the Second World War, were times of relative stability, when not too many new parishes were established, but also existing ones were not closed. It is true that at this time the immigration of Polish people shrank, but the Polish parishes were still well populated. In spite of a continuous process of assimilation and integration, the consciousness of belonging to the Polish ethnical group between our fellow-countryman was enormous.  Many researchers emphasize that American Polonia is integrated well into American society, but not lost its identity.

In the post-conciliar era, there were many and deep changes in the American church. In the opinion of some researchers, the church was shaken from “top to the bottom” and contained almost of all its structures.  To some extent, all this rebounded back on Polonial pastoral care. Moreover, at the same time we could observe the accelerating process of disintegration of polish environments.  Where once they assembled into compact ethnical groups (ethnical ghetto), in recent decades they eagerly left them. New immigration, negligible does not arrive within the old Polish communities with the intension to live there forever.  As a result those communities are not revived with regard to Polonaise. Therefore, many Polish parishes are then depopulated and grow old, and as a consequence they are led to close or merge with others.  As much as in the high point in the United States there were about 800-1000 Polish parishes, presently that number is less than half and the next parishes are being closed. If we factor in the use of Polish language in the liturgy as criteria for their livelihood, currently there are only about 300 of them.  That many are still ordering the hymnal “Pan z Wami”. Every year, few more Polish parishes cancel their subscriptions while many others systematically decrease the number of ordered copies, explaining that fewer and fewer people come to Polish masses. Taking into consideration the situation of Polonia environment and situation within overall American Church, it seems that it is a permanent tendency which proceeds in the direction of reduce Polonia pastoral care.

The question is arising about future of Polonia pastoral care. In current form, when it is based on the net of Polish parishes, continuously its sphere is being diminished. More and more our country-fellowmen remains besides its reach. In new neighborhoods to which they move usually they do not want to create own parish. There are too few of them or they are integrated well enough within the American communities that they are able to use general pastoral care without any problems.  This in general can reassure our conscience and prompt our passiveness to these changes. Possibly, in a few more years Polonia pastoral care will not exist besides maybe in few big cities. This is possible if we do nothing not to create a new model of Polonia pastoral care, one which will adjust to current circumstances.

I am not going to give concrete solutions, but I assume that this new vision must underline the role of Polish priests and not only polish parishes. Current church jurisdiction allows the formation of the ethnical pastoral care within American parishes. The Bishop can nominate vicars who will provide pastoral care for our fellow-countrymen within jurisdiction of few parishes, the whole city, or the diocese. In spite of being responsible for everybody, we cannot stop being concerned about “ours”. It is true that this kind of pastoral care is more difficult and demands special susceptibility for Polish manners. American pastoral service has been settled. Polonia parishes were based on the pastoral care in Poland and with the time incorporated local traditions. To work with smaller groups, in this new situation we have to elaborate our own style. We can do minimum like some time to time celebrate the mass in Polish or we can extend to use rich and beautiful polish traditions.

There are known examples, when in the neighborhoods where there are many decline Polish parishes, pastoral care intercepts only one of them. It is questionable resolution because it can lead to rapid liquidation of others but in the extreme situation probably acceptable. These are only a few of my suggestions, but there could be many more of them. Priests know the best what and should be done in this matter. The worst choices are passiveness, resignation, and surrender everything to fate.

In front of the Polish apostolic mission there is necessity to recognize possibilities of Polonia pastoral care (vitality of Polish parishes) and expectations from Polonia. The socio-culture conditions constantly are being change and together with them should go deep pastoral reflection