Polish parish celebrates 100 years - Catholic Courier

Polish parish celebrates 100 years

AUBURN — The sounds of hymns sung in Polish drifted out of St. Hyacinth Church and into the quiet morning air July 10. Inside the church, youngsters dressed in traditional Polish children’s attire walked up and down the aisles, handing out small souvenir booklets. In the school building next door classrooms had been converted into virtual museums of Polish history in general and St. Hyacinth’s history in particular.

St. Hyacinth Parish celebrated its heritage July 9-17 during its Polish Heritage Week, just one of the special events the parish has planned to celebrate its 100th anniversary this year. It’s only fitting to celebrate this heritage because it is one of the characteristics that makes St. Hyacinth’s so unique, said parishioner Nellie Michalowski.

Polish Heritage Week kicked off with an open house July 9, during which parishioners and visitors could browse through the items in the school or take a self-guided tour of the church. One classroom in the school housed dozens of photographs of the early graduating classes of St. Hyacinth School, and Polish toys, artwork and dishes were on display in another.

The booklets handed out by the costumed children were meant to help those taking the self-guided church tour and made mention of the building’s main points of interest. Among these were the paintings of the evangelists and the Pentecost scene on the sacristy’s ceiling; mural paintings of biblical scenes on the ceiling over the pews; and the arched canopy over the main altar. The arch is decorated with a pelican, which represents the church, and its young, which represent the faithful that make up the church, according to the souvenir booklet.

The jubilee year began with a Jubilee Commencement Mass last New Year’s Eve and will conclude with another Mass Dec. 31. During the commencement Mass, the parish’s original church bell was rung and parishioners rang smaller bells “as a symbol of our unity and grateful remembrance of our ancestors’ sacrifices in making St. Hyacinth Church a reality for all of us,” said Andrew Leja, chairman of the parish’s jubilee-celebration committee. The parish will also celebrate its 100th anniversary with a 10 a.m. Mass Sept. 18, followed by a banquet at the Auburn Holiday Inn at 12:30 p.m.

Bishop Bernard J. McQuaid founded the parish in 1905 at the request of Polish immigrants living in Auburn, and construction was completed in 1907. Classrooms and living quarters for the nuns who taught there occupied the first floor, and the church was located on the second floor.

By 1909, St. Hyacinth’s had grown to include more than 1,100 parishioners, according to a brief history written in 1955 in honor of the parish’s 50th anniversary. In 1926 St. Hyacinth’s founding pastor, Father Stanislaus J. Szupa, was reassigned to St. Stanislaus Parish in Rochester, and Conventual Franciscan friars from St. Anthony of Padua Province in Ellicott City, Md., took over direction of the parish. Since that time nine friars have served as pastor.

A parish rectory was constructed next to the church and school in 1948, and in 1964 a new church was built on the other side of the rectory. The parish school closed its doors in 1990.

Although the church has grown and changed throughout the years, it still maintains a strong sense of Polish identity, parishioners say. Their common heritage as Polish immigrants originally brought the founding parishioners together, and it continues to influence today’s parishioners, Leja said.

“While that heritage has grown over the years to welcome other ethnicities into our fold, the parish has never failed to maintain it’s unique identity,” Leja said. “It has willed itself through changing times to keep the immigrant spirit of perseverance, discipline and hard work alive and well.”

St. Hyacinth parishioners keep their Polish heritage alive in a number of ways, most notably through the parish’s pierogi kitchen. The St. Hyacinth Pierogi Workers meet regularly to make pierogi using a recipe handed down by the group’s founding members, and the pierogi are then sold to raise money for the parish.

It’s this kind of dedication to tradition that sometimes leads people to refer to St. Hyacinth Parish as “the jewel of Auburn,” Leja said. Another characteristic of the parish is the strong bonds between its members, he added.

“I can’t begin to describe the sense of inner strength, family unity and loving commitment I have felt flowing throughout the parish,” Leja said, noting that this strength, unity and commitment seem to be especially strong during this jubilee year. “While every parish likes to regard itself as a family, the parishioners of St. Hyacinth take that concept to a new level.”

Parishioner Carolyn Napoli was baptized in the original church in 1953 and married in the new one in 1973. Her grandparents were some of the founding members, and St. Hyacinth’s has been a part of her family’s history for many years, she said.

“I think St. Hyacinth had a great, unique presence in Auburn because of the Franciscan friars and their traditions. Learning the teachings of St. Francis and bringing them closer to everyone’s way of life … was our spiritual difference that inspired our parishioners over the years,” Napoli said.

Although the Franciscan friars will withdraw from the parish at the end of 2005, Napoli is optimistic about the parish’s future.

“It is ironic for us that in our jubilee year everything has begun to change again, but it must be our choice as to where we go or where we stay,” Napoli said. “As St. Hyacinth’s celebrates its wonderful, faith-filled past I strive to remember (Pope) John Paul II’s words, ‘be not afraid,’ and those of St. Francis, ‘Where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light.'”

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