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Holy Rosary Parish - Baltimore MD

A parish history from the 1987 Jubilee Book

The Centenary of the birth of Holy Rosary parish of Baltimore Maryland, is not only a solemn and at the same time joyous commemoration of a purely local interest, but it also speaks of the achievement and contribution of the Polish American community to the history of the Catholic Church in the United States. This Jubilee gives credit to the vitality and organizational skill of people who were able to develop national parishes at the time when they were most urgently needed and which magnificently fulfilled their purpose. Moreover, these parishes continue to fulfill the same purpose for thousands of Poles who are now escaping communist oppression and persecution.

The first of the Polish people to arrive in the United States were a handful of highly skilled glassblowing and pitch-making craftsmen invited to Jamestown, Virginia, by the famous Captain Smith himself. However, an immigration of real consequence did not start until after the unfortunate partitions of Poland in the 18th century and the subsequent unsuccessful uprisings in 1830 and 1863. Kosciuszkos, Pulaskis and Krzyzanowskis as well as lesser known families came, and endeared themselves equally to Poles and Americans. All were seeking personal and religious freedom, but economic reasons played also a significant role since the opportunity of personal gain and improvement was greater here than elsewhere.

The growth of the Polish American community necessitated the organization of Polish parishes, schools, and societies. According to the statistics given in the sixth volume of the Sacrum Poloniae Millenium, Rome 1959, the Polish American community approached then nine million members who were organized in 10,000 various associations. The community maintained 800 parishes and supported 785 Catholic elementary and secondary schools administered by 1800 sisters of Polish descent who taught about 271,700 students. The community contributed 1600 priests to the Catholic Church in America.

The history of the Polish American community in Baltimore begins in 1870. Curtis Bay, Locust Point, and East Baltimore became the new home of the immigrants. A special St. Stanislaus Society was formed by the community with the explicit purpose of laying ground for a Polish parish, where the members could learn God's truths, sing, pray and confess their sins in their native tongue. In 1880, when a sufficient amount of funds was secured, and the approval of Cardinal Gibbons obtained, the group began the building of the first Polish American church, St. Stanislaus Kostka, at 700 South Ann Street. Father Peter Koncz, a priest from Poland, was the first pastor of the parish.

The Baltimore Polish American community grew by leaps and bounds and it became evident very soon that St. Stanislaus parish was too small to meet the needs of the entire group. The same St. Stanislaus Society, which brought about the formation of St. Stanislaus Kostka parish, took upon itself the founding of a second Polish parish. Father Peter Chowaniec, also a priest from Poland, was the mainspring of this inspiration.

A former Protestant church at Eastern Avenue and Bethel Street, was acquired and rebuilt to meet the specifications of Catholic liturgy. In 1887, Cardinal Gibbons officially founded the second Polish parish in Baltimore to be known under the name of Holy Rosary. Father Chowaniec, who was appointed his first pastor, celebrated the first Mass in the church on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Thus, December 8, 1887, is the beginning of the Holy Rosary parish of Baltimore.

The pastor of the parish was quick to establish a school in the same year and procured housing for the Felician Sisters, whose successors ever since guide and teach our youth, now, with the help of lay teachers. In 1889, grounds for a parish cemetery were acquired. thus, one hundred years ago, the priest, the religious and the people went about their way to lay foundations for the vigorous and successful parish of today. It is impossible to name all those who deserve credit for their selfless pioneer work, but there are several family names which will always be remembered with special gratitude: Toczkowski, Welzant, Milanowicz, Sluzewski, Zacharski, Molls, Milerski, Chylewicz, Brzozowski, Cichocki, Wachowiak, Rosiak, Jarzynski and Jaworski.

Hardly was the work begun when God called back his faithful servant, Father Chowaniec, who died and was laid to rest at Holy Rosary Cemetery in 1892. Cardinal Gibbons appointed. Father Melvin Barabasz, educated and ordained in Poland, to be the new pastor of the parish.

Father Barabasz was a generous and industrious man, compassionate and zealous priest, as well as a great patriot, skilled public speaker, and well known writer equally successful in verse and prose. During the twenty two years of his pastorate, the Holy Rosary parish expanded rapidly. The church was enlarged by a structural extension of the Sanctuary. The school had its third floor added to the existing structure so that it could accommodate its 900 students enrolled in eight elementary grades.

Father Barabasz's life was cut short on December 9, 1914. He was then only fifty one years old. Mournful parishioners buried their second pastor at the Holy Rosary Cemetery. For a short time after the passing of Father Barabasz, Father Bernard Gebert administered the affairs of the parish. In March 1916, Cardinal Gibbons appointed Father Wachowiak pastor of Holy Rosary parish. The young, thirty year old priest, born and raised in the parish, and ordained by Cardinal Gibbons at the Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary on September 24, 1914, took over its third spiritual leader.

Involvement and Stewardship of the Community

Poland was deprived of her liberty, persecuted and exploited economically for a long period of one hundred fifty years, between 1772 - 1918. At the end of the First World War, she began a singlehanded fight for her independence. She cried out in anguish to her children in the United States for help. She needed brave men who would carry arms for her; she needed economic support to establish a new government; and she had to feed, clothe and educate her people.

Our parish, under the patriotic leadership of Monsignor Wachowiak,answered the plea sending 1200 willing men to fight. This supreme sacrifice was followed by gifts of food, clothing and several hundred thousand dollars in cash. Polish government bonds were purchased by the generous parishioners to start the country of their origin on her way to recovery and stability. Without the endorsement and encouragement of the pastor the operation "Help," would have never had its momentum.

But Poland was not alone with its postwar problems. Here in America troubles grew and in our own community we had our own trying period of economic depression. Again, there were anguished cries for help as human misery had to be alleviated. Monsignor was quick to form a special Charity Society which took upon itself the provision and distribution of hot meals and supplemental food for children. Gifts of food, clothing, fuel and cash were distributed and carried to the needy. Through this interplay of give and take, the bonds were strengthened between the leader and his charges, and the whole parish grew closer together. In, 1935, with his help and guidance, the Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate, originally from Poland, settled in Baltimore within the Holy Rosary parish area. They devoted their energy to the care of the preschool children and the aged, establishing the well known Day Nursery and St. Joseph's Nursing Home. Years later, he was again instrumental in the relocation of the St. Joseph's Home to its new quarters in Catonsville.

It may be fitting to recall, at this point, that Monsignor Wachowiak's hospitality was enjoyed by many prominent dignitaries from Poland as well as American dignitaries of Polish descent. To name just a few: Archbishop Cieplak, whose beatification cause is now under consideration; General and Statesman Joseph Haller; Archbishop Gawlina, Archbishop Krol, Bishops Bona, Woznicki, Klonowski, Wycislo, and many others.

For his dedicated work and leadership the pastor Stanislaw Wachowiak was appointed Papal Chamberlain in 1924 and in 1929 Domestic Prelate by Pope Plus Xl and later in 1959 Prothonotary Apostolic by Pope John XXIII.

Monsignor Wachowiak, beloved pastor and Polish community leader died on April 28, 1971 and was buried by his grieving flock at the Holy Rosary Cemetery.

A Bit of Poland

The needs of the older Polish speaking parishioners, and especially of the young families who joined the parish in the aftermath of World War 11 during the late forties and throughout the fifties, and again in the eighties after the Solidarity crisis in Poland, were ministered to by the Polish born and trained (former inmate of the German Dachau concentration camp) Father Mieczyslaw Filipowicz for twenty years. When God suddenly called him back home in 1970, Monsignor Mieczkowski invited Members of the Society of Christ to take over the task. Society of Christ was founded by Cardinal Hlond for the exclusive task of ministering to the religious needs of Poles residing outside their homeland. Father Jozef Smyczyk arrived first and later was joined by Father Franciszek Okroy (another former inmate of the German Dachau concentration camp), to be later joined by Father Stanislaw Drzal. On his arrival in 1973, Father Okroy revived the St. Cecelia Choir, making it the mainstay of good congregational singing. He also introduced the weekly Polish (yellow) bulletin featuring one page homilies reinforcing the liturgy of the day, and one page of appropriate Polish hymns enabling the congregation to learn new liturgically updated songs since it is next to impossible to secure Polish hymnals from today's Poland. Many a time, tearful visitors or new immigrants marvel how well the Polish liturgy has been preserved in this far away land of America. Father Drzal's contribution was to organize relief action for the crisis ridden Poland of the eighties. Food, clothing and medicines were shipped in huge containers on Polish merchant ships to ease the pain and misery of the land. Because the Society of Christ could not continue to supply Holy Rosary with two Polish speaking priests, efforts were made to obtain first Father Stanislaw Staniek and more recently Father Jozef Weligala to help with the Polish and English in the parish.

The Holy Rosary clergy, choir and associations were prominently involved in the very successful first Polish Festival held for two days at the War memorial Plaza in 1974. Starting with 1976 through 1985 Holy Rosary parish has been the scene of its own annual, at first multiethnic, and later exclusively Polish festivals sponsored by the Polish Heritage Association of Maryland. the 120 voice Columbia Pro Cantare Chorus presented in the Holy Rosary Church (attended by close to 1500 listeners) program of Polish sacred music in 1982 and another in 1983 to benefit the Maryland Action for Poland relief work.

On August 19, 1976 at the conclusion of the International Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia, 17 Polish Bishops led by the then Cardinal Wojtyla interrupted their American tour to be hosted by the Holy Rosary parish. Little did we know then that we were greeting the future Pope, John Paul II. In 1979, the Polish Heritage Association installed a commemorative plaque to secure the memory of this happy event for the next generations of Holy Rosary parishioners. In 1982, on the occasion of the 600th anniversary of the Miraculous Icon of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa, Archbishop Borders proclaimed a special diocesan celebration to be held at Holy Rosary on December 5. For this celebration the restored historical painting of our Lady of Czestochowa was displayed at Holy Rosary. This painting was donated to Cardinal Gibbons in 1888 by members of the Baltimore Polish community.

In conclusion a word should be said about the many parish societies which played and still play such a vital, indispensable and continuously important role in the spiritual, social and financial life of the Holy Rosary and Polish community. Some date back to the very beginning of the parish and others were formed later to answer new needs and fulfill new goals. We owe all of them our deep gratitude. Recently, on a limited basis, Holy Rosary facilities have been opened to non-parish groups and associations in the spirit of brotherly love and cooperation.

Today the parish stands solidly on one full city block, its buildings blending into an architecturally harmonious whole. It is as sound financially as it is architecturally. Once more the parish is facing an already accomplished shift of population. The younger Polish American generations have moved out to the suburbs, the older who stayed behind are slowly moving out to better and greener pastures. Half full school and convent spacious church rarely filled to capacity speak silently of the bygone glory. Let us thank God the the past 100 years and ask Him to bless us and give us wise leaders who will guide us into the future. Those of us who are living the life of the parish day to day, love it deeply and wish it to be alive and well, God willing, for the next one hundred years.

Pastor, Monsignor Chester Mieczkowski, native of New York City and alumnus of Baltimore's St. Charles College and St. Mary's Seminary was assigned to Holy Rosary in 1945. He has served our parish for forty two years absenting himself from our midst for one year only, when in 1967 Cardinal Shehan appointed him Pastor of St. Mary's Church in Pylesville. As Assistant Pastor at Holy Rosary for the first 22 years of his priesthood, Monsignor worked at many different tasks such as the Carnival, the training and supervision of the altar boys, the Catholic Charity Fund Appeal, Moderator of the Holy Name Society, the Archdiocesan Census, Cardinal's Campaign and Catholic Youth Organization. Three new organizations were founded under his guidance, the St. Vincent de Paul Society, the Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Men and the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine.

When placed at the helm of the parish as its new pastor in 1968, he was immediately faced with the difficult task of presiding over the critical, at times painful, post Vatican II transition. With utmost skill he led his flock along the fine line of fitting the new to the old, conforming to the decrees of the Council and the directives of the archdiocese while at the same time ministering to the needs and circumstances of the ethnic character of our territorial parish and community. "Like the head of a household who can bring from his storeroom both the new and the old. Mt. 13:53) he ably spared the parish from turmoil and dissent so common in other communities.

His first and immediate innovation was the reestablishment of the parish bulletin. Ever since, the bulletin has become the main source of parish news, announcements, Mass intentions, instructions, requests and inspirational boosters, even occasional poetry (as on the occasion of the election of the Pope from Poland). In the late sixties and throughout the seventies the Holy Rosary Pastor: formed the Parish Council, established a CCD program for public high school students, introduced Folk Masses, Saturday Masses (well attended to this very day), Healing Liturgies, Thanksgiving Day Masses combined with special food collections. He invested several times in ever changing liturgy booklets and hymnals, rebuilt confessionals to facilitate optional face to face confessions, and established a new English choir in addition to the existing Polish one. The list could go on and on. However, in his wisdom, he did not do away with the old traditions. The parish retained May and October devotions, the uniquely Polish "Gorzkie Zale"(Lenten lamentations on the Passion of Our Lord). Stations of the Cross, 40 Hours Devotions and last, but not least, the Polish daily and two Sunday Masses.

Maintenance and repair of the entire Holy Rosary Parish plant requires constant attention and expense, and often goes unnoticed by the untrained eye. A long list of continuous improvements and upkeep effort bespeak of the pastor's deep commitment and love for his flock. For the last few years we have witnessed very visible changes: repainting of the church interior, improvement of the sound system, replacement of the rug and unveiling of a new altar graced with a magnificent Italian woodcarving of our Lord's Last Supper.

The grateful parish celebrated with Mass and banquet the 25th anniversary of Monsignor's ordination to the Priesthood on April 5, 1970 and his 40th anniversary with Mass and open house on March 17, 1985, but September 26, 1982 was a source of special joy when Pope John Paul II appointed our beloved pastor a Prelate of Honor with the title Monsignor in recognition of his long and dedicated service. This special event was celebrated with a solemn Mass and open house on October 3, 1982.

During the administration of Pastor Wachowiak, the parish reached the peak of its growth and development. It was considered the largest not only in Baltimore, but in the whole archdiocese of Baltimore. It served at one point, the needs of 2500 families, opening its school doors to 1700 students. The ever increasing membership of the parish made the expansion of the physical facilities imperative.

The new pastor began immediately an ambitious program of renovations by first redecorating the church, then erecting a badly needed cemetery chapel and ultimately constructing a new school and a new convent at Eastern Avenue ready for occupancy in 1924. But there was no rest in sight. Hardly were the debts under control when the pastor was faced with a pronounced eastward shift of the parish population. With great courage and foresight, he went about relocating the parish church and facilities to the present site at Chester Street.

The corner grounds and properties of the 400 block Chester and Bank Streets were quietly acquired, 47 homes were demolished and the construction of the new church and rectory designed by architects Baldwin and Radziszewski as contracted out to Frame Brothers and Haigley builders. On April 24, 1927, the parish celebrated the laying of the cornerstone of the church and a few months later, eight thousand happy and proud people of Holy Rosary attended the first Christmas Midnight Mass in their new church, regarded (and now at times toured by interested groups) as one of the most beautiful in the city of Baltimore.

The Holy Rosary church is built in a Romanesque style. Its spacious interior is unobstructed by supporting columns making its marble carved altar the main focus of the congregation. The altar's life size group repeats in sculpture the subject of the miraculous painting (presently in Pompei, Italy) of the Blessed Mother giving the rosary to St. Dominic while St. Catherine looks on. Two huge paintings in the sanctuary depict the Presentation of Our Lady on one side and the Coronation as the Queen of Heaven and Earth on the other. Additional 15 smaller paintings represent mysteries of the Rosary so well identifying with the name of the Parish. The picture of Christ the King above the sanctuary arch is flanked by ten Polish holy men and women: St. Stanislaw Bishop, St. Stainslaw Kostka, St. Jadwiga, St. Jacek, Blessed Wiadyslaw, St. Jan Kanty, St. Kinga, St. Andrzej Bobola, St. Wiadyslaw (king) and Blessed Andrzej Zurawek. The paintings of St. Wojciech adorns the Sacred Heart altar and St. Kazimierz looks down at the congregation from above the St. Joseph's altar. The ceiling paintings of the main nave depict twelve Apostles and the sides of the choir loft show the Nuptials of Mary and Joseph and the death of St. Joseph.

Pleased though the parishioners were, they nonetheless waited anxiously for their good pastor to complete the plan that once seemed so bold and courageous. He did not disappoint them. Little by little, the corner grounds of Chester Street and Eastern Avenue were bought out and a new modern school and spacious convent were built. At long last the children and the Felician Sisters were jubilantly transferred to their new quarters in 1953. God certainly blessed the administrative skill of the pastor and the generosity and cooperation of parishioners when the resolute dream became a reality.

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Last Updated on October 19, 2011