The History of St. Mary’s Parish
St. Mary’s is one of over 125 parishes of the Polish National Catholic Church, which stretches throughout the United States, Canada, and portions of Europe. Though many members of St. Mary’s are not of Polish descent, the parish has its roots in the Polish Immigration movement at the turn of the 20th Century.
Today, the Parish maintains its ethnicity in a changing world, with a diversity of membership. The roots of this Parish are Polish, and few can deny that the Polish customs and music of Christmas, Easter, and other church celebrations add an extra dimension to the worship of the Lord at St. Mary’s.
Prior to the turn of the 20th Century, movements amongst the Polish people in Buffalo, New York, Chicago, Illinois, and Scranton, Pennsylvania led to the formation of the Polish National Catholic Church. The PNCC was formed due to the religious, spiritual, and cultural needs of the Polish people not being met by the local bishops and churches.
The Rev. Francis Hodur, an immigrant seminarian from Poland who had settled into the Scranton, PA area seeking Ordination to the Priesthood, was asked to lead the congregation of Saint Stanislaus Bishop & Martyr in South Scranton. Due to frustrations over cultural, linguistic, and ethnic disputes, a number of congregants had broken away from the nearby Sacred Hearts of Jesus & Mary parish. Upon accepting the plea to become pastor, the church’s attempts to be accepted as a parish in the Diocese of Scranton fell upon deaf ears. It was after a petition submitted to the Vatican and a follow-up visit to Rome that Father Hodur was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church.
Following his excommunication, it was then that the PNCC, under Father Hodur’s invigorated leadership, began to take off in other areas of the country. At the First Synod of the PNCC in 1904, he was elected to be the first bishop of the new denomination. Father Hodur sought Consecration to the Episcopacy and received it from the Old Catholic Church at St. Gertrude’s Cathedral in Utrecht, Holland, thereby legitimizing the burgeoning movement in the northeast United States.
The same sort of ethnic frustrations hit the Cleveland area within the decade. In 1905, a small group of immigrants living in the Henniger Rd. area of Old Brooklyn formed St. Barbara’s Roman Catholic Parish. Joining the Old Brooklyn Polish church was a group from Poles from Denison Avenue across the valley. The church was built on Valley Road, but soon afterward it burned down. The decision on where to rebuild the new church caused a fatal rift among the 300 or so faithful. The Denison Avenue group, being larger, won out and the new church rose on Denison Ave. at West 15th Street.
On April 23, 1915 at Wojciech Cabaty Hall, a meeting took place during which several of the members of St. Barbara’s expressed disenchantment with their parish and pastor. Beyond this dissatisfaction, though, ran a common theme: identity with their Polish heritage. All agreed to unite the Polonia of Brooklyn in their effort. During the next four months, plans were made to petition the Roman Catholic Bishop for a new parish and school. However, several problems prevented the group from ever reaching the Bishop. Instead, on June 25, 1915, a majority of the people voted to align with the Scranton-based Polish National Catholic Church.
The Reverend Ludwik Wrzesinski, the pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Polish National Catholic Parish on West 14th Street in Cleveland, served as co-organizer of the parish and as the first Administrator of the parish. Together with the chairman of the organizational committee, Andrew Gasior, Rev. Wrzesinski worked towards bringing this community to grow in Christ, in devotion, and in parishioners. Stanislaw Pawlowski led the Parish Committee and was subsequently elected as its chairman. In the next few months, the new group collected funds and recruited new members. The community was outgrowing its current home and a new house of worship was needed. A church building at 3510 Broadview Road in Old Brooklyn was purchased, and on November 11, 1915, the First Mass was celebrated.
The democratic nature of the new parish allowed for growth and opportunity. In time, , the parish organizations which developed to serve the needs of the parishioners were: the Maria Konopnicka Society, Ladies’ Love of God Sodality, King Casimir the Great Society, Zwiazek Narodowy Polski (Z.N.P.- Polish National Alliance) #1543, Towarzystwo Floriana (Society of St. Florian) #17, United Polish Association (U.P.A.), Polish National Union Branches #112 and #199, and Towarzystwo Młodziezy (Youth Association).
From the parish’s inception in 1915 until the appointment of the Rev. Bernard Goławski in 1932, St. Mary’s was a mission church of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish. The following pastors of Sacred Heart served St. Mary’s: Rev. Ludwik Wrzesinski, 1915-1926; Rev. August Krause, 1926-1927; Rev. Jan Czyzak 1927-1930, Rev. Adam Niklas 1930-1931, Rev. Teodor Głowinski, 1930-1931; and Rev. Zygmunt Ancerewicz, 1931-1932. From the time of the acceptance and assignment of the Rev. Goławski, who was also pastor of Good Shepherd Parish located at East 73rd Street and St. Clair in Cleveland, the parish began to grow greatly.
Then, in 1950, as the Old Brooklyn location struggled to meet the needs of the growing parish, the members decided to move south into the growing suburb of Parma. In 1952, a city block of land at the Corner of Broadview Road and Wexford Avenue in the city of Parma was purchased for the purpose of relocating the church. In 1953, a house for the rectory of the relocated church was bought at 1901 Wexford Avenue. On August 23 of that same year the groundbreaking for the new church was held and construction began, with much of the construction done by the parishioners themselves.
The dedication of the St. Mary’s new facility in Parma took place on October 2, 1955 and was celebrated by the Right Reverend Joseph Lesniak. It was after the move to the corner of Broadview and Wexford that St. Mary’s enjoyed its largest influx of new families joining. To further encourage that growth, in 1962 two lots at the corner of Broadview Road and Marietta Avenue in Parma were purchased for use as a parking lot, picnic area, and a site for fundraisers.
In 1977, the new Fellowship Hall and School of Christian Living classrooms were built onto the existing church. The Fellowship Hall holds weekly coffee hours after church and is air-conditioned. During the renovations leading to St. Mary’s 100th Anniversary, it was used for Sunday Mass. The four School of Christian Living classrooms have housed classes since their construction. They are built in a separate wing of the complex. They have also been utilized by a Friday evening Polish Language school.
Rev. Goławski served as pastor from 1932-1966. In 1944 the Rev. John Tokarski substituted for him. In 1961 Rev. Goławski was assisted by Rev. Walter Proniewicz and Rev. Peter Stasikowski. Other priests who have served as pastors of St. Mary’s are: Rev. Joseph Jaworski, 1966-1968, Rev. Casimir Wilczek, 1968-1974, Rev. Stephen Włosinski Jr., 1974-1981; Very Rev. Francis Kolwicz, 1981-1986, Rev. Dr. Jan Dawidziuk, 1986-2003, Rev. Roman Misiewicz, 2003-2011, Rev. Stanley Bilinski, 2011-2013, and Rev. Jason Soltysiak, who is our current Pastor and was assigned on November 11, 2013.
In the parish’s history, pastors who became Bishops of the church included Rt. Rev. Bernard Goławski, who was consecrated in 1964, Rt. Rev. Dr. Jan Dawidziuk, who was consecrated in 2001, and Rt. Rev. Stanley Bilinski, who was consecrated in 2012. Rev. Greg Gronn is the only parishioner from the ranks of St. Mary’s who went on to become a priest. He was ordained in 2007 and celebrated his First Mass at St. Mary’s.
Today, St. Mary’s ministers to around 250 souls. Unfortunately, though the Cleveland area was once a hotbed of growth in the realm of the Polish National Catholic Church, St. Mary’s is the last area parish. Most members live close by in Parma, Seven Hills, and Cleveland but some live as far away as Florida and Texas. Today, more than ever, parishioners are involved in the work of the National branch of the PNCC at synods, conventions, and youth activities.
Parish Groups and Organizations that are active today include the Ladies’ Love of God Sodality, Parent Teacher Organization, Youth Group, Choir, School of Christian Living, Young Men’s Society of the Resurrection (YMSofR), Bowling League, Polish National Union; Branch #112, Lector Ministry, Greeter Ministry, Collector Ministry, & adult Bible Study. Two different local Alcoholics Anonymous groups meet in our facilities on a weekly basis.
Through the years, the history of St. Mary’s parish has been more than meetings, buildings, and purchases. It has been a 100-year history of people, many of Polish ancestry, worshipping and being guided by Jesus Christ. Worship services, holy celebrations and observances, the reception of Sacraments, Christian education and fellowship, involvement with the PNCC on a greater level, and the beautiful feeling of belonging to the caring and Spirit-filled St. Mary’s family are the hallmarks of our history.