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Sacred Heart Parish - Greenfield MA

A brief parish history from the 1962 Jubilee Book

The first mention we have of Polish people coming to this country is in 1608, when a group of Polish tradesmen came, with Captain John Smith, to settle the Virginia colony. Most of them were skilled craftsmen, carpenters and blacksmiths and they were also expert glassmakers. They built factories and sawmills. Captain John Smith said that they saved his colony from extinction. Polish people took part in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.

About 100 years ago Polish immigrants started to come to this country in great numbers. They settled in practically every state and helped build the new and growing country. The late President Coolidge once said, "The Polish people are industrious, thrifty and loyal. They love their Church, they love their country, and they love freedom." The first Polish Parish was organized in Panna Maria, TX in 1855 . Panna Maria means Saint Mary and the name was given to the town by the Polish people. Presently there are 6,000,000 people of Polish ancestry in this country with a large concentration in Chicago, over 750,000. At this time there are about 900 parishes whose congregations have a predominantly Polish background.

The population of Greenfield is 17,690 according to the 1960 census. It is an industrial town which produces taps, dies, hand and power tools, silverware, shovels, rakes and electronic components. Greenfield is the shire town of Franklin County and the shopping center for approximately 60,000 people. Greenfield's first inhabitants first settled in 1686, when it was a part of Deerfield and was called the Green River district. The people of Greenfield wanted a town of their own as is shown in the records of the Massachusetts legislature which states that in 1753 the inhabitants of a place called Green River in Deerfield were under great difficulty in attending the public worship of God in the town of Deerfield, so they petitioned the legislature for a town of their own. A bill was passed on June 9, 1753 authorizing the separation of the new district.

The first Catholic Mass in Greenfield was said by Father John Daley in 1 845 when there were but four Catholic families in town. Occasionally Masses were said by Father O'Callahan who came from Vermont and Father Brady who came from Chicopee. Services, at first, were held in a house on School Street and later in the Town Hall . The first resident priest was Father Henry Robinson, who came from Boston in 1 868 . Almost immediately he began the building of Holy Trinity Church. Shortly after the completion of the Church he was succeeded by Rev. P. McManus. Up to this time the parish included all of Franklin County but in 1 872 Turners Falls was set apart as a new parish.

There were few Polish people in Greenfield prior to 1900, but by 1905 60 families of Polish origin had become residents. The people were poor and worked hard to make a living for themselves and their families. Their chief assets were willing hands, stout hearts and strong backs. By being thrifty they were able to save funds which enabled them to bring other members of their families to America. As their numbers increased, it was but natural that they desired a church and priest of their own who would hear their confessions and preach sermons in their native tongue.

The congregation at the start was too small to support a church, but Bishop Thomas Beaven in 1912 assigned the care of the Polish people of Greenfield to Father Zdebel of Turners Falls. The first Mass said by Father Zdebel was on September 8, 1912 , which was also the feast of the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This service took place in the chapel of Holy Trinity Church.

This arrangement continued for five years until 1 919 and, during this interval the congregation operated as a mission under the jurisdiction of Turners Falls. While under the direction of Father Zdebel, land and a house on Chapman Street were purchased as the site for a Polish church. As a post-script, it is interesting to note that transportation was provided Father Zdebel by the generosity of the late C. Eugene McCarthy who operated a livery stable and undertaking establishment in Turners Falls at that time.

In 1919 Bishop Beaven sent a new priest to the Polish people of Greenfield in the person of Father Andrew 1. F. Nowak. Older members of the parish will recall that his early ministry here was attended by personal hardship through lack of funds. However, he was young and energetic and the work prospered. Father Nowak sold the property on Chapman Street and purchased the present property on Deerfield Street from a German Fraternal Order. This he converted to our present church and following renovation, the first Mass was said on March 20, 1920. About the same time Father Nowak purchased six acres of land on Wisdom Way to establish our parish cemetery.

On June 23, 1929 Father Nowak was transferred to South Deerfield to be pastor of St. Stanislaus Church. He was succeeded by Father John Langow who came here from St. Aloysius Church in Gilbertville. He was here only a month when he was transferred to South Deerfield, and Father John Kuszaj became our pastor on July 23, 1929.

Father Kuszaj soon realized that the church was too small to accommodate the growing congregation, so he enlarged it by building an addition 30 feet long at the south end. Two classrooms were made in the basement for religious classes. When the reconstruction was completed the church presented a very pleasing appearance.

In 1935 Father Kuszaj was instrumental in bringing three Felician Sisters here to teach religion and the Polish language. They first lived in a rented apartment next to the church and the following year they moved to a Mill Street tenement.

The parish was to celebrate its 25th anniversary in 1937, so a committee was formed, with Father Kuszaj as its head, to make plans for redecorating the church. At that time the country was just beginning to recover from a depression so money was far from plentiful. By willing sacrifice, the congregation provided funds to make the needed improvements. New siding was applied to the exterior of the church and the interior was painted and redecorated. A bell was installed in the tower which was blessed by Father Zdebel. New light fixtures were installed, a new tabernacle with bronze doors was provided for the main altar, and rubber tile was laid in the aisles, sanctuary and sacristy. Father Kuszaj and the Jubilee committee were greatly assisted in the work by the people of the parish individually and by the church societies. Further assistance was given by four new Felician Sisters who came, not only to help in the Silver Jubilee, but to open the Catechetkal Center as well. The first Superior was Sr. Mary Scholastica. Father Kuszaj bought a residence at 32 Powers Square which was converted to a convent and the Sisters occupied their new quarters on February 25, 1942 . Our present Superior is Sr. Mary Beata who also serves as organist at the church. In addition to their local duties the Sisters teach religion in Turners Falls and Hatfield once a week.

Members of our parish who have taken holy orders include Father Joseph A. Kowalski, born in Greenfield in 1910 . He was ordained a priest in Louisville, Kentucky in 1942 and died a year later while serving as pastor of a Dubuque, IA church.

Father Walter Swider, born in 19 17 in Worcester, received his Grammar and High School education in Greenfield. He attended St. Mary's College at Orchard Lake and then took his theological studies at the Grand Seminary in Montreal. He was ordained in 1943 and worked in the Springfield diocese.

Five priests have served as assistants in this parish: Father Ladislaus Szymczyk in 1939 , Father Casimir Switalski in 1940 , Father John Wieloch in 1942 , Father Joseph Niedzwiecki in 1943 and Father John Klekotka in 1943 . In 1948 Father John Kuszaj resigned as pastor because of ill health and Father Klekotka succeeded him. Father Klekotka served as spiritual advisor for thirteen years until his transfer on January 15 , 1961 , when he became pastor of Holy Family Church in Pittsfield. During his stay in Greenfield, he was conscientious in maintaining the fabric of the parish. The church was painted inside and out, and an independent heating system was installed in the classrooms, which were also painted. This same area was given a new tile floor. Father Klekotka, with the help of volunteers of the parish headed by Mr. Casimir Lopatka, repapered and painted the entire convent in 1960. A major betterment occurred when Father Klekotka purchased the present rectory at 75 Prospect Street in April of 1952 . Structurally this house was well suited to the needs of a rectory and redecorating was all that was required to put it to use. The old rectory in the rear of the church was razed, because it was in such poor condition that it was beyond repair. Fr. Klekotka saw the need of a young women's group in the parish. He organized the Sacred Heart Guild in 1950, which is active in the parish. It has as objectives to promote the welfare of the children of school age and to create a spirit of friendliness and good will among the younger generation. It serves a communion breakfast to the High School pupils and the First Communion Class. It has donated $100 towards the purchase of tablet arm chairs for one classroom. It gave $100 in scholarships.

Father Ladislaus J. Szymczyk assumed the duties of pastor on January 14 , 1961 , coming to us from Northampton. The new pastor, in preparation for the celebration of the Golden Jubilee has had new confessionals made of solid oak, which are lined with acoustical tile and equipped with hearing aids. A new vestment case and working cabinets were installed in the sacristy. Carpeting was laid in the sanctuary and the aisles of the church, while vinyl asbestos tile was put under the pews and in the sacristies. At the cemetery the roads were tarred to make better access for funerals. Besides the Felician Sisters, we have Mr. Paul Caouette, a high school teacher, to teach the high school pupils religion. He is also president of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine and directs the Adult Religious Discussion Club.

The Polish people brought from Poland many truly Christian customs and traditions, which are imitated by others. Adlal Stevenson, the ambassador to the United Nations, after an extensive visit to European countries said: "Poland s the most Christian country in Europe today." Polish people always have been attached to their Church. That is why their churches are beautiful. We hope our church will continue to be a fit and proper dwelling for our Lord, and an attractive place for all the parishioners to come and worship God.

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Last Updated on October 20, 2011