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St. Hedwig Parish - St. Louis MO

A parish history from the 1929 Silver Jubilee Book

When His Grace, the Most Rev. Archbishop John J. Glennon, appointed the Rev. Father Stepka to organize a Polish parish in South St. Louis, the locality, known as "Mount Pleasant," was practically an open field. There stood several isolated houses, owned mostly by truck gardeners, who tilled the soil to eat their bread. Streets, of course, were yet to be made, and the land, to be laid out into lots. Such streets as were found at this time, were naturally unpaved, and any fair rainfall, would render them practically impassable. The early settlers well remember the high wooden steps, leading from Virginia Ave., up to Pulaski St., (formerly Hiawatha St.), around which Polish people had been settling.

Time worked a tremendous change in "Mount Pleasant." With the laying of the corner stone for the St. Hedwig Church, improvements were soon in progress. A paved street here, a paved alley there. Houses were erected. Polish people were gradually coming in to live in South St. Louis. The property increased in value. The truck gardener sold out his land at an increased price, and moved out to more open spaces. Mount Pleasant soon looked more like a city than a country.

The once open spaces are now built up by fine residences, surrounded by beautiful lawns and shade trees, while good, clean streets, have for many years, added to make the neighborhood of St. Hedwig's, one of the finest and healthiest.

The thought of organizing a parish had been taking form with the Poles for some time before the year of 1904. Just at this time, most of the Polish people on the "South Side" lived some twenty blocks north of Mount Pleasant, in a neighborhood known as "French Town." Accordingly, Father Stepka said the first Mass for the people, in the Slovak Church, at Park Ave., where the Rev. T. T. Pudlowski, of pious memory, was pastor. Present at the Mass was Mr. August Marchlewski, now deceased, who was the moving spirit in the organization of the parish, and the principal donor, whose zeal and faith were such as to prompt him to mortgage his home to the amount of $1,700.00, to make payment on real estate to be used for the church. Speaking for the several Polish families, who lived at Mount Pleasant, Mr. Marchlewski approached Father Stepka to come to that locality, as a more suitable one for a Polish parish.

Upon arriving at Mount Pleasant, Father Stepka found that Mr. Aug. Marchlewski and Mr. Joseph Wisniewski, had already brought together twelve families, which were willing to carry any burden to organize a parish. They were: August Marchlewski, Joseph Wisniewski, Wm. Doetzel, John Kwiatkowski, Frank Marchlewski, John Pytlinski, John Smugaj, Anthony Pisowacki, Adam Szulc, Michael Kalinowski, Joseph Marchlewski and John Kalinowski. Very shortly after came: Joseph Smugaj, Anthony Kaszewski, Marian Gruchala, Anthony Kalinowski, John Trudzinski, Ladislaus Kalinowski. Frank Kalinowski, Martin Luczak and Adam Kwiatkowski.

After several meetings had been called by the Rev. pastor, at the homes of Aug. Marchlewski and Adam Szulc, a committee, headed by the pastor, approached the Most Rev. Archbishop to ask his approval to start the parish. Approval, being readily granted, a parish committee was at once chosen to help the Rev. pastor. It is well worth mentioning that at their first parish meeting, the parishioners made a donation of $400.00 towards the new parish, of which sum Mr. Marchlewski alone donated $100.00. It was agreed that the new church be dedicated to St. Hedwig. The first Mass was celebrated in a temporary chapel, made in the basement of the home of Mr. Marchlewski, 4747 Nebraska Avenue, June 5, 1904, which date is reckoned as the date of the founding of the parish.

In the same year, at the instance of Father Stepka, Mr. Joseph Wisniewski and Mr.· M. W. Kalinowski, the parish purchased an entire block of property, bound by Pulaski and Itaska, Compton and Virginia Streets. In addition to this, part of the block, north of Pulaski St., was bought. Except the piece of property reserved for church buildings, the entire purchase was divided into lots and sold to parishioners. The net profit of the lots paid for the property reserved for the parish.

The Rev. pastor struggled on with his handful of people. The blessing of the corner stone for the new church took place in Oct. 1904. The blessing was performed by the Most Rev. Archbishop, who spoke words of encouragement to the people, and made mention, that he can rely on the faith of the Polish people, and that St. Hedwig Parish started with twelve families as though with twelve Apostles. The sermon was preached by the Rev. Urban Stanowski. It was an occasion for the gathering of a large concourse of Polish people. Nearly all the Polish sodalities and societies in the city were represented. It may appear remarkable now, but entire groups of sodalities and societies marched to St. Hedwig's from North St. Louis - a powerful demonstration of Catholic faith and loyalty.

The plan called for a combination structure of church, school, hall and living rooms for the priest. However, lack of sufficient funds slowed the work of construction, for the present, to the hall and the first floor. The half-completed structure was blessed May 20th, 1905. The hall was temporarily used as the church, while the first Roor was fashioned into classrooms and living rooms for the priest. Two of the four classrooms, served, for a time, as living rooms for the Sisters. The entire cost of the building amounted to $23,000.00. School was opened April 2, 1905, with an enrollment of 46 children. The school was placed in charge of the Venerable School Sisters of Notre Dame. The first teachers were, Sister M. Tita and Sister M. Leonina. In Sept., of the same year, school opened with 58 pupils. The first resident Sisters were: Sister M. Tita, Superior, and Sisters: M. Clementine and M. Vulmara. The first organist was Mrs. Anna Pisowacka.

The new parish was destined to undergo what appeared to be insurmountable material hardships. Expenditures, connected with the building and the various improvements, were high. The burden seemed too heavy for the handful of people. The parish did not increase as had been expected. It was a slow and laborious progress. There were many Polish families, who were hindered from moving into the parish, though they desired it, because it would take them too far away from their work, 'too far away, too, from the market, and because living conditions were much higher here than in North St. Louis.

In February 1906, after eighteen months of work, Father Stepka resigned, and the Rev. S. j. Zielinski was appointed to continue the work begun by his predecessor. Father Stepka achieved a noble work. He started with but twelve families, and with no funds on hand. Still, after eighteen months, Father Stepka left an ample piece of church property, a place of worship, a school, 43 families and 58 children in school. To Father Stepka belongs the credit of having started the parish under seemingly hopeless circumstances.

Zeal for the people, and energy in undertaking, marked the work of the new pastor, the Rev. S. j. Zielinski. His coming to the parish was followed by a notable influx of Polish families from the North Side.

The outlook assumed brighter colors. In Sept. 1906, the number of parishioners increased to 80. 126 children started school in that year, a surprisingly large increase over the previous year.

In October 1907, work was begun on the construction of the second story of the church building, which was completed in December of the same year, at the conservative sum of $15,000.00. The architect and builder was Frank Kratzer. The completed church was dedicated by the Most Rev. Archbishop, in the presence of a large gathering of sodalities. An appropriate and eloquent sermon was preached by the Rev. W. Zapala of Chicago. In his address to the people, His Grace, the Most Rev. Archbishop, congratulated the pastor and the parishioners upon the completion of the church, and urged them to continued faithfulness to God, and a spirit of generosity to their parish.

In June 1908, the Rev. Father Leo Czopnik, (R. I. P.) newly ordained, said his First Solemn Mass at St. Hedwig Church. While making his home with the Rev. Pastor for four months, Father Czopnik was appointed, by the Most Rev. Archbishop, to take care of Our Lady of Czestochowa Parish.

On July 5, 1908, His Grace, the Most Rev. Archbishop, preformed the first confirmation in the parish, numbering 111. The first Mission took place from the 15th to the 30th of October. The Missionaries were the Rev. Fathers: W. Rapacz and B. Cieslak of the Congregation of the Resurrection in Chicago. The closing of the Mission was marked by the blessing of the church bells. In November of the same year, the parish was host to the Very Rev. Bishop, Paul P. Rhode, the first Polish Bishop to be consecrated in the United States. In this year, the number of children increased to 186, and there were four classes.

With the increase of the number of children in school, there arose the problem of a house for the Sisters. There being no funds to build a house, the pastor bought, with his own money, an old frame house, which stood at Virginia and Dakota St., for the sum of $100.00, and had it moved on the church property, and placed at 3219 Itaska St. Remodeled and enlarged, the house serves as a comfortable dwelling for the Sisters, particularly, as it is surrounded by a spacious lawn with stately shade trees.

In 1909, the parish numbered 154 families. In 1910, one hundred and sixty nine families. In this year a "Savings Account" was started, with the chief purpose of teaching the young people of the parish, thrift and economy. At this time a good many Polish families were encouraged to move into the parish, for the reason that real estate came to a point, where a one-family brick house could be bought for the sum of about $1,800.00.

In 1912, the parish witnessed its first graduating exercises, as one boy, and six girls received their diplomas, after successfully finishing the eighth grade.

In the year of 1915, a rectory was built at the corner of Compton Ave., and Pulaski St. The cost of the building was the moderate sum of $6,000000.

Throughout the world war, the parish was keenly in sympathy with the cause of the Allies, and particularly so, with the cause of the freedom of Poland. In 1915, the first collection, amounting to $80.00 was taken up for the Polish Legions. It will suffice to state that up to Jan. 1, 1919, $6,000.00 had been collected for the cause of Poland.

In the years of 1917 and 1918, the parish was host to a group of Veterans of the Polish army, with Colonel Chodzko in command: to Captain Gonsiorowski; to the Military Mission from France: to a number of representatives of the Polish cause.

Whether in the purchase of Liberty Bonds, or in the work for the Red Cross, or in the undertakings of the Citizens Committee, or in the work for the Polish Army, the members of the Parish were unflinching participants. There were 61 young men in the parish, to enroll in the American Army, while one young man served in the war, under Polish colors. One of the boys, Corporal Bronislaus Jastrzemski, met with a heroic death on the field of glory, in France, Nov. 1,1918.

June 22, 1919, the Rev. A. J. Zielinski, a newly ordained priest, and a cousin to the Rev. pastor, said his first Solemn High Mass.

In the years of 1919, 1920 and 1921, the parishioners gave $2,127.00, while the ladies of the parish, collected clothing and various necessities, worth about $4,000.00, for the destitute people of Poland.

On Nov. 1, 1923, the parish was justly proud to welcome the great General Haller, the commander of the "Haller's Army" which was composed chiefly of Poles from the United States. A Solemn High Mass was sung by the Rev. Pastor, while an inspiring sermon was delivered by the Rev. Joseph Ziemba, C.R.

In 1923, the· parish numbered 225 families. There were 208 children in school.

On June 15, 1923, a newly ordained priest from the parish, the Rev. Edward S. Filipiak, said his First Solemn High Mass.

On the 24th of October, 1926, it pleased the Almighty God to call the Rev. Pastor to his eternal reward. On the same day, Father Anthony J. Zielinski, who for seven years served as assistant pastor of St. Casmir Parish, was appointed by His Grace, the Most Rev. Archbishop, administrator of the parish.

In the "Jubilee Year" the parish numbers 240 families, while 198 children attend school.

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Last Updated on October 20, 2011