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St. Joseph Parish - Webster MA

A short parish history from the 1937 Jubilee Book

The Poles began to emigrate to the Americas, and in large numbers to the United States, after the final partition of their native land and after the failure to win independence in 1863. They came here to escape the oppresion imposed upon them by their enemies, to improve their lot and to enjoy the freedom as well as the opportunity this country offered them.

Some of these who came to the United States settled permanently in New York. Many went deeper into the country. A number of these reached the town of Webster and became active members of the community.

According to the town records of 1862 the name of Herman Pawlowski is entered as a taxpayer. This fact makes him the officially established first Polish resident of Webster. The first children of Polish descent born in this town were: Louis Pawlowski b. March 17, 1862, Anna Pawlowska b. May 3, 1863 and Alexander Szymanski b. September 3, 1865. The first weddings took place among the following: Joseph Reglinsik and Frances Kreft in 1871, Nepomucen Sikorski and Casimira Kruewska, W. Janakowski and Antonina Kreft in the same period. Among the first to die in the new land were the three year old daughter of the Remiñski family, December 26, 1865 and Josephine Frawidynska, aged 25, June 21, 1874. The earliest families to settle permanently in Webster were the Kreft, Pokraka, Paradowski, Reglinski, Borzestowski, Brzeiniak, Ignasiak, Krystofiak, Kulla, Lubowszczyk, Malinowski, Rezner, Santor, Klejnian, Szymanski, Wonicki, Wilda, Gorski, Zurawska, Brylowski, Aleksandrowicze, Bembenek, Biskup, Dudek, Janakowski, Kasienowski, Kasprzak, Kokocinski, Makowski, Okupniak, Sikorski, Szymkowski, Radzik, Wielock, Gowinas, Zatorski, Monckiewicze, Gawronski, Buretta, Czechowicze, Glijka, Kozlowski, Kloss, Janczewski, Lechert, Pakuiski, Stochaj, Stoyna, Stefaniak, Teclaw, Wróblewski, Gapski, Chlapowski, Gagolinski, Kubiak and Zielinski.

These settlers were a Catholic people and so they sought to fulfill their religious and moral obligations. They attended Holy Mass at St. Louis Church, but they did not understand the English language and so were unable to partake of all the services and privileges which the Roman Catholic Church renders its faithful. Father James Quan, the incumbent pastor of St. Louis parish, earnestly cared for their welfare and at least twice a year obtained the services of Father Marcinkowski, a Polish priest from Brooklyn. The infrequent appearance of a priest who could address the Word of God to them in their own language was so touching an event in their lives that it moved them to tears and as many relate "they were wont to cry like children when they saw him and heard him speak to them after their own fashion." Each visit awoke a new hope in them.

When the settlement grew to include over seventy families and many single individuals, Father Marcinkowski advised to build their own parish. To this they responded with joy and a committee was organized to bring this about. John Stochaj was elected president, Joseph Reglinski, treasurer, and Josephine Paradowska, secretary. The chosen trustees were J. Sikorsski, N. Kasprzak and W. Iczakowski. The first collectors were August Bembenek, John Kozlowski, S. Stanek and Felix Wojciechowski. They taxed themselves two dollars per month. When their financial status permitted they bought land on Whitcomb Street, whereon to build their church, for it was said that this spot was a chosen one for the House of God. An old woman used to pray there fervently; an old stone was known to lie there on which the moss had grown in the form of a Cross. To them these were signs and there they would build.

A committee of three, Joseph Reglinski, Joseph Pokraka and Josephine Paradowska, then went to Bishop P. T. O'Reilly of the Springfield Diocese for permission to build the church. Their quest was cordially granted by the Bishop, who admitted their small numbers but told them to build with the help of God.

Now only the financial obstacle remained. A wooden church would cost $2,700.00, not including accessory costs. The treasury contained only $900.00. The Bishop supplied the needed balance with a loan. The men in the parish agreed to work cooperatively and a fine of 40 cents was charged to any member each time he failed to appear; thus the foundations of the church were laid, and the corner stone was blessed on Aug. 14, 1887. Mr. Corbin was then contracted as builder and Joseph Reglinski served as architect. The church was completed and soon after the rectory. On April 1, 1888 Bishop Patrick T. O'Reilly blessed the Church and the Rectory.

To obtain the services of a priest in command of the Polish language, a request was sent to Father Joseph Dbrowski, the founder and then rector of the Polish Seminary of Sts. Cyril and Methodius in Detroit, MI. Such a candidate was obtained in the person of Father Francis Chalupka, though a sum of $600.00 had to be paid for his tuition at the Seminary. This money was collected in two weeks and among the largest offerings were separate $100.00 gifts by three Americans, Messers. George Tracey, John W. Dobbie and Louis E. Pattison. With the financial obstacles removed, Father Chalupka came and celebrated the first Mass April 1st, 1889. Joseph Paradowski and Theodre Bembenek served at this first Mass; Charles Gelenau was the organist and August Sikorski was the sexton. The choir included the following members: Joseph Wonicki, Michael Stefaniak, - Chojnacki, Mary Eppa, Catherine Janczewska, Josephine Kozlowska, and Francis Kraus. This event was further blessed by gifts, a statue of the Holy Mother from Father Marcinkowski and a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and a bell from the youth of the newly organized parish.

Father Chalupka, though a Czech, spoke the Polish language well and devoted himself to his flock. Here he patterned himself after the historic St. Adalbert, a Czech too, who was the first apostle among the Poles.

Father Chalupka soon paid off the debts of the parish and bought land for the parish school. This was opened in Sept. 1892 with four Felician Sisters as teachers. By 1906, 500 children were in attendance at this school. Among the first pupils were Victoria Teclaw, Pauline Beigrim, Agnes Chuda, Joseph Paradowski, Matilda Regiñska, Anthony Rezner, Mary Zatorska, Stanislaus Marszal, Joseph Chudy, Josephine Kozlowska, Catherine Chuda, Felix Reglinski and others.

In the first year of his arrival Father Cha}upka bought land for a parish cemetery on Worcester Road.

In 1888 Valerian and Louis Kreft organized a band and its first recitals were given at the church auditorium. Later this group built its own hall on Clark Street.

Also in 1888, , the first mission was given by Jesuit Fathers and on this occasion the Society of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus was established. The following year the St. Joseph Fraternal Society began to function.

The first homes built in the parish were those of Alexander Kreft and Joseph Reglinski on Whitcomb Street in 1875, of John Kreft on Granit Street in 1880, of Joseph Reglinski on Whitcomb Street in 1881. The Malinowski and the Struynski families built their homes on Poland Street in the same period.

In 1895 Father Chalupka was transferred to the newly organized Polish St. Stanislaus Parish in Chicopee. In the meantime, other pastors served at St. Joseph's Parish. These were: Fathers Stanislaus Lczynski, Wenceslaus Lenz and the Franciscan Fathers: Tarnowski, Czeluniak, Bok and Jaskulski. In 1902 Father Chalupka returned to Webster, where he remained for six years more.

The St. Joseph's Society numbered 450 members in 1902. Following certain misunderstandings this divided into three groups, and one of these broke away to organize its own National Church in 1903, while the two remaining parties remained with St. Joseph's Parish. These are known as the St. Joseph's Society and the Society of King John Sobieski. As a result of this Father Chalupka resigned from the parish and in 1908 Father M. Kopytkiewicz was installed as pastor. He remained for two years.

In January of 1910 Father Anthony Cyran was appointed pastor of St. Joseph's Parish. His youthfulness and energy in cooperation with the enthusiastic support of his people resulted in many concrete achievements. In the year of his arrival the convent for the Felician Sisters was built. By 1914 a new church was completed. In 1924 the new school was finished and thenumber of pupils reached 1090 as the school year opened; at this event Bishop O'Leary of Springfield officiated. Finally, Father Cyran was responsible for the building of the new rectory. One must readily admit that Father Cyran came to a parish built of wood and left it moulded in brick.

Father Cyran's devotion to his calling resulted in his promotion as a Monsignor by His Holiness Pope Pius the Eleventh; this was received as a great honor by the parish and by the Poles of New England. It was the first distinction of this nature bestowed upon the Poles in New England. Unfortunately the many years of hard labor had exhausted Mgsr. Cyran, and he died September 14, 1933.

For the two following years the parish was administered by the curate, Father John Klekotka.

In July 1935, Bishop O'Leary appointed Rev. Dr. Andrew Lekarczyk, then in charge of the Sacred Heart Parish in Easthampton, MA., as pastor of St. Joseph's Parish. Father Lekarczyk immediately set to work with good will and enthusiasm. Although he has been pastor for only two years and during a period of difficult economic stress and unemployment, he was able to complete repairs in the parish plant and to reduce the parish debt by several thousand dollars. In addition, he purchased twenty five more acres of land for the cemetery on Worcester Road.

The value of the parish property is now in the vicinity of one half million dollars. The outstanding debt does not exceed 30 per cent of this value.

It remains to mention the assistant priests who have participated in the growth of St. Joseph's Parish. These were: Fathers Conlin, Kubec, Kielbasinski, Lenz, Krzywda, Bolawski, Lipka, Szczukowski, Meleniewski, Hany, Staiiczyk, Rys, Nasiatka, Wieloch, Mieczkowski, Kuszaj, and Oszajca. At present Father Lekarczyk's assistants are Fathers C. Chwalek and T. Janeczek.

The parish is proud of the number of sons it has given to the Roman Catholic Church. These are: Father Santor, a Franciscan, and Fathers Chlapowski, Teclaw, Wieloch, Szczepaniak, Kokocinski, Radzik, Maciejewski, Sitkowski, Lewandowski and Kochanowski.To further the cause of Roman Catholic Education the parish gave seventy two nuns.

Among the lay parish members who have obtained higher degrees are Drs. Stochaj, Piasta, Szwarc, Zurawka, Lawyer Jablonski and Engineer Kleczka. Many others have received college and commercial training. Over twenty young women have nursing degrees.

The parish has a number of laymen in business. Among the first to embark upon a business enterprise was W. Kreft, a grocer, and other fields were successfully exploited by Messers. Kulas, Hub, Marszalek, Jeziorski and others of later date. Polish farmers number in the vicinity of fifty. The Polish community also has a casket factory, two spinning factories, two soda factories, one fire insurance agency, three funeral directors, a major interest in the Webster Credit Union, tailor shops, boot shops, barbershops, a hand printing press, four automobile dealers and candy stores.

The first members of the parish to receive their citizenship papers were Joseph Pokraka in 1878, Joseph Jezewski in 1879, John Struzyna in 1879, and August Szymanski in 1880.

In the political field the activities of the Poles were numerous. Joseph Szymkowski was the first policeman, John Makowski, assessor, John Borski, road commissioner, Dr. John Stochaj,selectman. For the year 1937 the following individuals participate in town and government office: John Iwaszczyn is chairman of the board of selectmen, Stephan Bardy and Robert Wajer are road commissioners. Casimir Szczepanski is on the school board, Dr. Anthony Szwarc, health commissioner, Alexander Starzec, town cemetery and commissioner of parks, W. Kozlowski, assessor, Leo Pisarski, sewer commissioner, John Kios, police sergeant, Frank Kokocinki, Anthony Hojnacki, Stanislaus Biadasz, John Zmetra, Joseph Czechowski, Joseph Kula, policemen. S. Prokuski and Victor Szwarc work in the post office. There are other members of the parish on the fire department and in lesser town positions.

The parish youth has always interested itself in American sports from various ball teams to boxing. Special attention can be referred to Aniela Twardzik, who holds her own on a man's baseball team. In the present year there are three baseball nines in the parish: the Z. P. R. K., the Boosters, and the St. Joseph's A. C.

The parish members did not restrict themselves to local activities, they took active part in the national problems of his country and of Poland in time of need. The World War found 250 Polish boys in the American army, a number of these did not return. Over 100 went to France to join the Polish army. Two thousand dollars were sent to Poland directly for relief and about twenty five thousand dollars to Chicago to aid the National Fund for Polish Freedom. Polish bonds were bought for the sum of fifty thousand dollars and American Liberty bonds for one hundred thousand dollars.

The following list contains the societies connected with the Parish. The feminine organizations include: the Society of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Holy Rosary Society, St. Ann's Society, the Immaculate Heart of Mary Society, the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, the Children of Mary, the Polish Women's Alliance, the St. Theresa branch of the Z. P. R. K., the Polish Women's Political Club and the Daughters of the Z. P. R. K. The men's organizations are: the St. Joseph's Society, the King John Sobieski Society, the Polish Guard, the Library of Adam Mickiewicz, the Polish National Alliance, the Falcons, the Cadets, the Polish Amalgamated Council, the Polish-American Citizens Club and Scout Troop 173.

There are now approximately 5000 Poles in Webster. St. Joseph's parish embraces nearly 1000 families and the parish school lists about 1000 pupils. The town of Webster honors Polish traditions of patriotism and loyalty with Pulaski Square and Kociuszko Square.

Apart from this list of facts, the Poles in Webster have always maintained a high standard of morality. They are devoted to their church according to tradition and to their faith according to example. In the fifty years of their active life in this community they have never lost sight of their historic relation to the best values in the Polish culture. They have not lost their language, the Polish speech which crystalizes the genius of their fathers and keeps their own spirit rich and potential. These loyalties have helped to create a deep love for a free, democratic United States, of which they are now a rooted part. Though the vast majority labor in industry and farming, they own 60 per cent of the homes they live in, which bears witness of their permanent attachment to this country. The youth of the third and the fourth generations has not lost its respect and honor for the Polish language, nor has it lowered the standard of conduct of their antecedents. A large part of this is due to the unselfish spiritual and educational work of the parish priests and the Felician sisters. Each generation brings firmer confidence and deeper insight into the past and with that greater hope for the future. Those who live in close contact with these people dare to prophesy that the future will not lessen their faith nor undermine their strength and that God's Providence will continue to keep them good Christians and good citizens of these free United States.

In conclusion we may say, that not only in Webster Poles grew in number in so short a time, but throughout the United States, out of a handful of immigrants, Polish Catholic people grew in number to five million, so today we possess nearly 1,000 Catholic churches in this country alone, some of them more magnificent than our edifice in Webster.

Committee on History:

Francis Grzebieniowski, Pres.
Joseph Szczepaniak

Alexander Miller

November 14, 1937

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Last Updated on October 20, 2011