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St. Casimir Parish - Yonkers NY

A parish history from the 1965 Diamond Jubilee Book

First Poles, mainly from the Prussian annexed sector, came to Yonkers about 1865. They were not numerous. Immigration increased after the Franco Prussian War (1870-71) when almost completes Germanization and more drastic pressure directed at Catholics was forced by the Prussian government. The rapid growth of industry in Yonkers favored settlement of Polish immigrants in the City. They worked chiefly in the carpet and hat plants, in the Sugar House, and later at Otis.

They eased their religious needs in English churches or traveled to the St. Stanislaus Parish in downtown New York. Situation improved after St. Valentine Parish was established in 1890 in Bronx-Williamsbridge. Discontented with the long rides to distant parishes and guided by the needs of heart and by patriotic spirit, Yonkers' Poles founded the King John III Sobieski Society in 1888, and in 1893 the Star of Freedom Society. Rev. Dr. Joseph Dworzak, pastor of St. Valentine's (1895-96) frequented their meetings. At that time he proposed a project of establishing a Polish parish in Yonkers.

On September 10, 1899, Poles of Yonkers sent a delegation to Rev. Dworzak with an official request for cooperation in organizing a Polish parish here. On the 21 st of September Rev. Dworzak came to a meeting held at 274 Ashburton Avenue. Attitudes of agreement and enthusiasm permeated the gathering. With no objections a committee consisting of: H. Jaworski, K. Zygarowski, F. Koncusz, and W. Iwanowski headed by Rev. Dr. Dworzak was elected. Monthly tax of $1.00 for every working person was approved. The St. Casimir Society was created and Rev. Dworzak was authorized to petition the Church authorities for the establishment of a Polish parish in Yonkers. Three days later, on September 24, 1899, H. E. Archbishop M. F. Corrigan granted permission.

The first resident pastor of St. Casimir Parish from December 19, 1899 to February 14, 1901 was Rev. Michael Slupek. In the beginning phase, Rev. Slupek betook of the hospitality of Rev. K. Corley, pastor of St. Mary's. There on January 21, 1900, in a side chapel he celebrated mass and gave the first sermon in Polish. A chronicler registered that during the service, $33.15 was collected. Compared with the first collection for the purpose of founding the Parish ($7.50), one has to admit that this represented an already sizeable group of faithful. Rev. Slupek soon moved from St. Mary's Rectory to 92 Nepperhan Avenue. On June 7, 1900, through George H. Streeton, he bought four acres of land (100 x 100) for $4,000 near Nepperhan opposite Yonkers Avenue. It was also Rev. Slupek who saw to it that the Parish was incorporated.

THE SECOND pastor of the newly established Parish from March 10, 1901 to Dec. 1902, was Rev. Anthony Jakubowski. Father Jakubowski moved from 92 Nepperhan to 24 Riverview Place. It was he who organized a committee to build a church. The committee, consisting of J. Blazejewicz, M. Gec, H. Jaworski, J. Filipski, J. Nowicki, J. Sledzinki and M. Florkowski engaged to review the plans drafted under Rev. Siupek and to watch over their development. Under their supervision plans were narrowed.

Julius Slazejewicz obtained a loan from Emigrant Industrial Savings Sank of New York in the amount of $25 thousand at 4% interest. On September 5, 1902 contract for building a church and rectory was signed with J. McKeefrey firm of New York according to plans of architect H. Streeton. On the 11th of September ground breaking and consecration for the Polish Roman Catholic Church of St. Casimir took place. An eye witness accounts the weather was splendid. Consecration was performed by Rev. Msgr. Lings who also gave a talk in English. Rev. F. Saran of Elmhurst, New York, gave a sermon in Polish. Rev. J. Kloss from Florida, New York, and Rev. J. Srzoziewski also addressed the congregation. Rev. J. Lenc, Rev. A. O'Reilly, Rev. S. Srady and Rev. Fullam participated in the celebration. Among the dignitaries present were Mayor P. M. Walsh and Councilman M. Reagan. Societies were well represented. Festive parade marched down Nepperhan Avenue, Elm Street, Ashburton Avenue and Nepperhan. Small journal in English was published on the occasion with proceeds from sale going toward the Church.

THE THIRD pastor who fully deserves the title of the founder of the Parish of St. Casimir of Yonkers was Rev. Dr. Joseph C. Dworzak. His pastorate extended from January 24,1903, to 21st February, 1951. Rev. Dworzak inherited from his predecessor $1,575.40 as the Parish's capital. Day after coming to Yonkers, on the third Sunday after Epiphany, he celebrated the first high mass in a chapel at St. Mary's preceded by a sermon in Polish. The number of parishioners, according to a list drawn by Rev. Dworzak at the time, amounted to 925 persons. The first church and rectory was built through the generosity not only of Catholics but other denominations as well, even those of other nationalities. Watching and supervising over the entire machinery of building St. Casimir's from the bare grounds up was Rev. Dr. Dworzak.

On May 26, 1903, Father Dworzak moved into the newly built rectory. A chronicler noted that cost of the rented quarters at 24 Riverview Place was $16.50 monthly.

On the Feast of Most Holy Trinity, June 24, 1903, Rev. Dworzak celebrated the first mass in the new church. Local newspaper gave the following account:

Yesterday, St. Casimir's, a new House of God for the faithful of Polish origin was opened near Nepperhan Avenue, facing Yonkers Avenue. The first mass at 8:00 A. M. and high mass at 10:00 during which parish choir sang. In the afternoon, vespers and Blessing with the Most Holy Sacrament. The pastor celebrated the services and Stanley Winnicki, organist, directed the Choir of St. Cecilia. During the Polish sermon Rev. Dworzak stated: "We have a great reason for joy, we have our own church."

At the time of the consecration of the first church in 1903, parish administration included: Pastor Rev. Dr. Dworzak, Clement Zegarlowski and John Litwa, Trustees. J. Nowicki, W. Cieslinski, F. Sachnicki and F. Sysol and J. Walega as house collectors. Francis Zegarlowski and Francis Zielinski functioned as trustees in 1900, and Julian Slazejewicz and Martin Gec in 1901-1902.

Consecration was performed by Rev. Msgr. J. F. Mooney, Vicar General. A Journal in Polish was published on the occasion. It's a gold mine of information on the first period of the Parish as it was written by an eye-witness. The Journal's report on the consecration of the church bell which took place on May 10, 1903, may well serve asan example:

The church bell was ordered from the McShane firm of Baltimore, Md., through the efforts of the Thaddeus Kosciuszko Club and purchased for $332, weighing 1,266 pounds. Inscription on the bell is as follows:

"For the Glory of God and Praise of St. Casimir I was cast in Baltimore. Md .. in 1903 A. b. through the efforts of H. Jaworski, J. Kitwa, F. Sysol, M. Gec, members of the Thaddeus KosCiuszkO Club. Witnesses were: Rev. J. Dworzak, M. Szubert, S. Baran, J. Wielgosz, M. Galasz and Rev. J. Lenz."

Consecration of the bell was performed by Rev. Msgr. J. F. Mooney. The sermon given by Rev. L. Kwasniewski, Pastor of St. Adalbert's Church, Bronx, can be summarized with these words: "Make for the services whenever you hear the sound of the bell from St. Casimir's steeple."

On June 7, 1903, at 7:30 a.m. St. Casimir's bell echoed for the first time. Rev. Dworzak sounded the first reverberations and Stanley Winnicki concluded the ringing. From that moment it rings four times daily during the week and seven times on Sundays. On July 15th it tolled at the funeral of Constance Sztetgar (nee Kalczynska). On July 20th it announced the sad news of death of the great Pope Leon XIII, and on August 3rd, elec'tion of Piux X. At present the bell is in one of the towers of the new church.

Building of the New Church

The old church seated only 450. Father Dworzak realized the need for additional space in church and in the school. Recurring to the Silver Jubilee of the Parish (using the date of January 21, 1900, when Rev. Slupek officially celebrated the mass as a pastor for the Polish people of Yonkers) Pastor Dworzak proposed a project of expansion. Plans were secured from Mr. Giele, architect, and upon approval by Church authorities construction commenced immediately. Parishioners were enthusiastic about the expansion. This can be seen in the fact that the first appeal netted over $50 thousand.

Grounds for the new church were broken on August 23, 1925 by Rev. Msgr. Chidwick. In September of the same year classes were already occupied on the first story of the new school. On February 27, 1927, the new church and school were ceremoniously opened, and on March 2nd the pastor privately consecrated the church. On Ash Wednesday, March 6th, Rev. Dworzak celebrated the last mass in the old church and in solemn procession carried the Most Holy Sacrament to the new sanctuary. Festive consecration of the church, on May 13, 1928, was performed by H. E. Cardinal Hayes in company of five monsignors, nineteen priests and multitudes of faithful.

Cost of building and equipping the church amounted to $750,000. The Parish's debt at completion of building was $375,000. This figure was repaid in full by 1948. On January 25th ceremonious burning of debt took place. Journal in Polish was published on that occasion.

The present house of worship is nearly half century old. One has to agree it was conceived on a monumental scale. The church seats 1,400. It leaves an impression not easily forgotten with its monolith-like exterior, its internal magnificence. The white Cararian marble main altar, bequested by A. Zielinski, cost $10,000. Side altars are of the same material. The Holy Mother of God altar, donated by the Immaculate Society cost $5,000. The St. Joseph altar was contributed by Rev. J. Dworzak. The church contains highly aesthetic stained glass windows brought from Munich. Altar of the Souls in Purgatory was imported from Tyrol. The pulpit, ballustrade and pews were executed by the finest American manufacturers.

The stasis of labor of the great priest, friend of the faithful people of God, patriot and sharer, came at the beginning of the fifties. In the Sook of Records on page 194, under 21 st February we read:

At 12:00 Noon, Rev. Msgr. Joseph Dworzak died in .the presence of Rev. Kochman, Rev. Fabisinski, Rev. Szubinski, M. Lenhart, Mrs. Zajac, and Mrs. Zief, R.N.

On the commemorative picture the following was imprinted:

Right Reverend Monsignor Joseph C. Dworzak, Founder and Pastor of the Parish of St. Casimir, Right Reverend Monsignor Joseph C. Dworzak, Founder and Pastor of the Parish of St. Casimir, Yonkers, New York

Born November 11, 1867
Ordained April 16, 1892
Appointed Monsignor, 1930
Died February 21, 1951
Funeral, February 24, 1951

In his name, the following Sunday, parishioners were thus addressed:

Very deeply saddened by the death oj our beloved Pastor Rt. Rev. Msgr. Dworzak, we the assistant priests united with you by brotherly hand in Jesus Christ Our Lord, with numbed with sorrow but clear words oj our Father and Shepherd oj our Parish, we say:' "Dziekuje ... Thank you. .. God be with you ... To everyone and everywhere. "

Everything we see today in the Parish of St. Casimir, except the Convent, is the work of one man. His name was Rt. Rev. Msgr. Dr. Joseph C. Dworzak.

THE FOURTH pastor who guided the parish from 1951 to 1969 was Rev. Vincent J. Raith. Sorn on Sept. 20, 1898 in New York City, ordained June 14, 1924, he assisted Rev. Dworzak at St. Casimir's from 1924 to 1927. Rev. Raith served as pastor of St. Stanislaus Parish, Pine Island, N. Y., from 1927 to 1933, and in Florida, N. Y., until 1951. In 1969 Rev. Raith reSigned as pastor of St. Casimir's to retire in a private home in Goshen, N. Y.

Appointed Monsignor on April 6, 1955, and Prelate on November 19,1966, Msgr. Raith died on October 30, 1973.

Building of the Convent

Rev. Raith's main objective on taking over pastorship of St. Casimir was building of a new convent for the teaching sisters. He appealed to parishioners on February 1, 1954 and received a commitment of $157,000. On May 2, 1954, Rev. Raith broke grounds for the new convent. Joseph Nowicki, local attorney, spoke at the occasion, and Rev. John Felczak, pastor of St. Stanislaus, Pine Island, N. Y., delivered the sermon. The same year, on the Feast of Immaculate Conception, Father Raith, in presence of assistant priests and sisters ceremoniously carried the Most Holy Sacrament from the old convent (present rectory) to the new one. Parish bulletin announced the pastor celebrated the first mass of thanksgiving in the chape1nf the new convent on Christmas Day, 1954, at 6:30 a.m. It was a true "Glory to God in the highest, and peace to people of good will."

The crowning of efforts on the new convent for Sisters of the Resurrection ($350,000) took place on March 13, 1955, when H. E. Cardinal Spellman personally blessed the Convent. On that occasion Cardinal Spellman announced publicly in the Church that His Holiness Pius XII has elevated Pastor Raith to monsignor.

On Dec. 5, 1955, parish priests moved to the present rectory which was renovated and adapted for the purpose at $77,767.15. With the completion of sisters' convent, the period of building and expansion of the Parish of St. Casimir in its seventy five year history was completed. Improvements, renovations and upkeep of the parish certainly involves no small sums. One of the more important undertakings in recent years was the demolition of the old church at cost of $10,000.

St. Casimir's Parochial School

In the beginning of this century as Polish parishes mushroomed parochial schools were established with them. First classes were held wherever possible, even before building of separate school buildings. Teaching was conducted by whoever could, and however he was able, until Polish nuns came. Earliest schools entailed four grades but with the time level of American elementary schools was reached and every parochial school had eight grades.

A quick glance at St Casimir's School bears these facts out. A brochure issued at the founding of the school (1903) contains pastor's appeal to the Polish people. In passionate words he calls on everyone to work further and build a school. Patriotic motives are added:

Only a school will bring up and educate a young generation that will continue the work undertaken by us with such difficulties ... We must teach our children to read and write in Polish that the treasure-troves of our literature may be opened to them, that they may learn to love the nation from which they've originated.

Rev. Dworzak was a man of action. One month after consecration of the Church he began a Sunday school of catechism and Polish language. Stanley Winnicki, the organist, assisted him. In September, 1906, the pastor inaugurated a regular parochial school in a hall under the church with 58 students. In 1910, at the pastor's invitation, Sisters of the Resurrection came to St. Casimir's and commenced their work with two classes comprising of 155 children. Every year, as the number grew, additional classes were added.

The first sisters were Sr. Ludmila, Sr. Carmela, and Sr. Helena Kowalewska, Principal. They stayed at the rectory until Sept. 1911, when they moved to a new building. The present rectory which served as the sisters' home from 1911 to 1955 was bought from a Mr. Copcutt for $26,500. Moving the building and refurnishing it to suit for the sisters' living quarters and for four classes cost additional $26,000. In 1920 a separate school building containing four classes was constructed. In 1921 an eight grade school was achieved. It consisted of five grades before then. The first graduating class in 1922 had seventeen students. Among them were: Rev. Joseph Grono, Sr. Maria Alphonse C.R. This state of affairs continued until 1925 when building of a new church and school was undertaken.

The new school building has four levels. It is fireproof, bright, and spacious with wide hallways. It contains twenty classrooms, a gym, a hall refurbished from a former bowling alley, and a play room at the lowest level on St. Casimir Avenue.

The situation with the school changed drastically within the last 25 years. During the Golden Jubilee year of the parish (1950), 556 students attended 16 classes, and in later years this number grew even bigger. One must mention that the closing of M. H. Eucharist School affected the significant increase in student body from Italian and Irish families. In 1959 the number exceeded 700. Since then, first a gradual, then a sudden drop took place. This came to be due to changes in economico-social conditions. In later fifties and in the sixties, cities containing the largest Polish communities swelled with new population in search of jobs. This resulted in a new exodus. The older sections of the cities became unbearable for their earlier settled population. Escaping the inner city, or simply looking for better environment, cleaner air and greenery, forecasted no future for parishes within cities. Even today, Polish people easily renounce, with no special regret, the labor of their predecessors, dispersing into American communities.

The continuously rising cost spiral is reflected especially well in private schools, the upkeep of which exceeds the parishioners' means without government aid. Bishops' and Catholic organizations' repeated appeals have met with rulings of the Supreme Court which as a watchdog

of constitutional interpretation ruled many times, and recently gave a definitive opinion that financial aid for Catholic schools is contrary to the Constitution. The only solution would be in a new amendment to the Constitution which is beyond reality owing to the fact that Catholics constitute only 24% of total U.S. population.

It's worth adding that due to the separation of Church and State, Catholics pay double school taxes. Everyone pays the special school taxes which benefit the public school system, and if Catholic school education is desired, greater portion of that cost is added. Even if a Catholic doesn't have children in the parish school, he pays as well because a significant portion from the Sunday collection goes toward the school.

The decrease in the number of sister teachers greatly added to the cost of school as their work was done on a "serve" basis and involved only minimal financial compensation. Cost of lay teachers at present is three to four times greater. Arterial construction has removed dozens, even hundreds of families from the parish roll. For these reasons, the student body of St. Casimir's School fell from 710 in 1959 to 200 at this, the Parish's Diamond Jubilee year.

It fits to proudly state that despite the general difficulties in private education St. Casimir's parochial school, thanks to the efforts of the parishioners and sister teachers, is continuing. Its program of education meets with the new currents, methods, and requirements of State Education Department. With the greater emphasis on science subjects in recent years, achievements of our students have shown St. Casimir's School to be, by comparison, well above the average.

Future faring of our school will greatly depend on the general conditions of the country. With the Arterial completion the entire parish complex is gaining a new look. There is much parking space and the evenings are brighter. Apartment project for those displaced by the Arterial, if ever achieved, will certainly bring more parishioners and also students. Resumption of kindergarten last year, after a ten year break, shows we are moving progressively. The founding fathers together with their pastor feared no challenge. They sacrificed much to leave us a beautiful school and an incomparable church. More than the buildings, we sense the spirit of the great pastor who poured into our founding fathers attachment to God and to what is Polish. By the very fact that we live in Yonkers we are obliged to take on his spirit as a national inheritance, conscious that for no price can we relinquish it.

Liturgico-Spiritual Course of Events

We learn from the chronicles that the first priests who provided Yonkers' Poles spiritual guidance were Rev. H. Klimecki and Rev. F. Fremel. Under the able, guardian eye of Rev. Joseph Dworzak, foundations for the future spiritual post were laid by the first pastors Michael Siupek and Anthony Jakubowski.

True spiritual shepherdship was developed by Rev. Dr. Dworzak. In a brochure published at consecration of the first church we find 35 suggestions of the pastor to Polish Catholics that are filled with true faith and spirit of patriotism. They begin with a call that all Poles participate in the Holy Mass on Sundays and Holydays, and are concluded on a note that Polish Catholics should respect their pastor and pray for him. In this spirit Rev. Dworzak organized the first missions in 1904 bringing O. O. Redemptorists to the parish. Second missions took place in 1909, and the third in 1915. In 1905 Archbishop A. Symon visited the parish to administer the first confirmations (206 persons). In later years confirmation was given every four years. The sisters carefully prepared the children for their first communion. In 1939, 42 children received first communion and 110 in 1954 which represents the largest number in anyone year. In recent years the number does not reach 50 and even tends to get smaller. In 1916, 26,000 Holy Communions were given and in 1928 38,000. Today, on the average, 30,000 are received. The first Forty Hour Devotions were held in 1910 and the fact that they've continued to this day testifies to the true devotion to the Most Holy Sacrament.

The fiftieth anniversary of the parish served as a real spiritual awakening for all parishioners. On Nov. 12, 1950, H. E. Cardinal Spellman celebrated the High Mass. Special masses were celebrated during the week that followed: Monday, for the deceased priests; Tuesday, for the benefactors; Wednesday, for the sisters; Thursday, for school children; Friday, evening Jubilee Concert given by the parish choir.

First mention of the choir appears in the sources on consecration of the first church (1903). The first organist of St. Casimir's from 1900 to 1942 was Stanley Winnicki. He was succeeded by Raymond Florczyk and then briefly by Mr. Mario. Since 1961 the position of organist and choir director is ably filled by Mrs. Ilda Gallinari. The choir, under the organist's direction, always played a significant role in liturgical life of this parish, and recently under Mrs. Gallinari even outside St. Casimir's. In 1966, at Poland's Millenium celebrations, the choir sang in St. Patrick's Cathedral, and in recent years performances were given on several occasions at Graymoor, N. Y. An unforgettable experience every Palm Sunday is St. Cecilia Choir's rendition of an oratorio "Seven Last Words of Christ."

Celebration of Poland's thousand years as a Christian nation left also a significant impact on the religious life of St. Casimir's parishioners. The impact was all the more direct having Pastor Raith heading a committee of priests from the New York area. Thanks to the committee's work, on April 2, 1966 at 11 :00 a.m., H. E. Archbishop J. Maguire celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving at St. Patrick's in the presence of Cardinal Spellman. Sermon in the overflowing cathedral was delivered by H. E. Bishop Stanley Brzana of Buffalo, N. Y. Ceremony was repeated on September 25th with American Polonia's own Cardinal John Krol in attendance and with sermon delivered by H. E. Bishop Wladyslaw Rubin from Rome. Millenium Year was concluded on Sunday afternoon, May 21, 1967, at Manhattan Center with a lavishly prepared 'program.

A proven and lasting demonstration of St. Casimir parishioners' participation in Poland's Millenium is the chapel of Our Lady of Czestochowa in the church. It was executed by Jan Krantz, Polish artist. Under the madonna's image was placed:

"To Our Lady of Czestochowa in Commemoration of One Thousand Years of Christian Poland 966-1966 - Parishioners."

Liturgical changes at the Second Vatican Council resulted in adapting the altar to Church's new laws. Since that time the priest can celebrate the Sacrament of Mass facing the faithful.

Much telling facts of the fruits of labor for the good of St. Casimir parishioners' souls in the 75 years are: 12 callings to priesthood; 69 to women's, and 7 to men's religious orders.

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Last Updated on October 20, 2011