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St. Stanislaus Parish - Ambridge PA

A history of Ambridge Polonia and the parish from 1966

The Borough of Ambridge came into existence at the turn of the 20th century. Following the successful settlement of the litigation in the U. S. Supreme Court concerning the ownership and selling of certain tracts of land formerly belonging to the Harmony Society, an industrial boom struck this district with the dawning of the year 1902 when the American Bridge Company began the construction of the world's largest plant for the manufacture of structural steel. The new town was named Ambridge, an appropriate tribute to the American Bridge Company, which was responsible for its origin.

This gave impetus for other industries to locate here and induced an influx of settlers from far and near. In 1924 Rev. Stanislaus R. Labujewski conducted a study for the Economy Centennial and discovered that 57 European and Asiatic languages were spoken here, giving Ambridge its cosmopolitan air. The Poles, mostly immigrants, who arrived here shortly after 1900 were: Tomasz Grzegorek, Wladyslaw Kucharczyk, Piotr Olbrys, Wojciech Nowak, Wladyslaw Piotrowski, Jan Tomaszewski, Michal Kulik, Michal Wolicki, Marya Bajek, Anna Kubiak, Maryanna Dworakowska, Stanislaw Wroblewski, Franciszek Zaremba, Michal and Karol Stee, Adam Kubiak, Helen Tanska and Walenty Pietrzykowski.

The first Polish settlements were the Cracker Box, a row of ten adjoining two-story houses situated at the base of the present Ambridge Aliquippa Bridge between the river and the railroad tracks and Tube Row, a housing project of the Central Tube Company in the vicinity of 16th and Merchant Street. These sites were noted for - the Saturday night "Muzyka", which attracted compatriots from the neighboring communities. They gathered to sing, drink, and dance. In great demand as musicians were: the fiddlers, Tomasz Grzegorek, Stanislaw and Kazimierz Falkowski; the accordionists, the Nowicki Brothers.

The majority of the early Poles were employed: by the local industries; however, a few enterprising ones became businessmen The old Sanitary Bakery (1905) resulted from the endeavors' of 'Stanley Wroblewski, who on afternoons, his arms laden with baskets,  trudged on foot from door to door, delivering bread and rolls. In 1918 his bakery was purchased by his brother-in-law and continued to function as the Gutowski Bakery until 1965. Stefan Karolewski, who arrived here in 1904, started an ice cream parlor and variety store on Olive Lane which still operates today. A score were engaged as proprietors of butcher shops and grocery stores. The Economy Centennial Program (1924) lists Dr. Henry R. Gozdzicki as physician and Dr. J. T. Karabasz, dentist; Stanley Piotrowski as a dealer in real estate an insurance. In the 1930's and 1940's, Dr. Joseph Pore, physician, practiced in Ambridge. The Walter R. Kasper Funeral Home was established in 1927 and is now operated by the son of the founder. The Kulik Brothers founded the Record Printing Company in 1935 which today continues to serve the community.

Ambridge was still in its infancy when the Polish community, with assistance from the Brotherhood of St. Stanislaus, played a dominant role in the founding of St. Veronica's Church. Its first pastor was Rev. John Kubacki (1905-1907), a famed advocate of temperance, who frequently strolled into the saloons of the neighboring Harmony Township to preach his doctrine of total abstinence from intoxicants. A close examination of the minutes of the Brotherhood of St. Stanislaus for the year 1905 discloses the signatures of imbibing members who were compelled by Rev. Kubacki to sign temperance pledges. With the departure of Rev. Kubacki, the dream of establishing a Polish parish vanished. The pulpit was occupied by a non-Polish priest with whom the Polish parishioners found it difficult to communicate. Disappointment and dissension prevailed.

Through the efforts of Michael Kulik and Michael Wolicki and the concern of the Polish people over the problem of religious worship, St. Hedwig's Society, Branch 47 of the St. Joseph Union was organized in July 1907. The St. Hedwig's Society, stemming from the original Brotherhood of St. Stanislaus, undertook the task of raising funds for building a church with a Polish speaking priest in residence. With accumulated capital they purchased a parcel of lots at 6th and Glenwood Avenue. Meanwhile, they shared facilities with the newly organized Divine Redeemer Parish. This St. Hedwig's Society is the oldest of today's existent Polish lodges in Ambridge.

In 1916 its spectacular color guard, The Knights of St. Hedwig with Ignacy Jarzecki and Jan Worosz as captains, was formed and participated for more than four decades in all church processions and in keeping the vigil at our Lord's Sepulchre from Good Friday to Easter Sunday. Following World War II, those duties were delegated to the veterans of the American and Polish armed forces.

The occurrence of a death in the midst of the early Polish colony was an incentive for the organizing of a group that would provide the means for a suitable burial and comforting aid to the bereaved family. The formal organizing meeting was held November 22, 1908 with these charter members present: Felix Ciapala, Leon Demkowski, Joseph Jaworski, Adam Kamieniecki, Paul Kwiatanowski, Ladislaus Piotrowski and Emil Winnicki. In due course this lodge became affiliated with the Polish National Alliance and is known today as Branch 1013 headquartered at 8th Street. having the largest enrollment of all Polish groups.

With an initial investment of $45. this organization proceeded to establish a reading room and a library, supplying it with periodicals and classics which were later augmented by $10 worth of books donated by Stefan Karolewski.

Due to the untiring efforts of Leo Demkowski, Stefan Karolewski anti Joseph Sasiadek, an evening school for children was established in the meeting hall furnished by the American Bridge Company on Melrose Ave. between 3rd and 4th Streets. Here children received instruction in the Polish language and culture three nights per week. In 1914 it, with its collection of books was incorporated into the St. Stanislaus School, the first parochial school in Ambridge.

For the PNA lodges the year 1912 was very significant, because they achieved their goal of founding Alliance College at Cambridge Springs Pennsylvania-a place where their children could reap the benefits of d higher education. To the Polish community, the St. Stanislaus Society pro· vided insurance benefits, instilled nationalism, and broadened the cultural horizon of the people.

Another influential organization was the Polish Falcons of America. Branch No. 182, was organized November 20, 1909 in Wojciech Nowak's home. Among its contributions were the spirit of preparedness for the liberation of Poland and to individual members - a sense of well-being provided byits physical fitness program and the doctrine of striving for perfection bymeans of self-discipline. Inspired by the Falcon idealism the first to en roll were: Jan Gutowski, Wojciech Nowak, Piotr Olbrys, Antoni Rozek, Emil Winnicki, Stanislaw Wroblewski, and Stanislaw Zielonka.

Always first to take up arms in defense of the rights of all free men: this Nest sent its leading instructor, Wladyslaw Pawlowski, to the Falcon Officer Training School in Canada six months prior to the United States entry in World War I and responded to the Falcon call for militarization. Fourteen of its members joined the Falcon Polish Army during World War I (1917) and nineteen the U. S. armed forces. Two members, Bronislaw Brzoska and Leon Grabowski, died on the battlefields and three returned as invalids, During World War Il, 24 members answered the call and two sacrificed their lives, Vincen Nowak and Stanley Kowalski. Falcons served in the Korean War and are now with our armed forces.

Today Nest No. 182 boasts of the largest membership in District IV, 612 members. In 1929 it won first prize in a national contest enrolling 158 new members. The success of this drive was credited to Jack Ryzowicz, John and Stella Gutowski, Mike Leganza and Adam Tomaszewski.

There was rejoicing in the Polish community, in 1913 when Rev. John Supinski was appointed pastor of Divine Redeemer. His compassion over the plight of the Polish people inspired them to greater determination to achieve their objective. Acting on Father Supinski's advice they exchanged the parcel of lots which they owned for the ones at 6th Street and Beaver Road.

It was all auspicious day when Father Supinski, at the final severance of relationship with the Divine Redeemer Church, urged the Poles to contact Rev. St. R. Labujewski, a young assistant at St. Josaphat's in South Side, Pittsburgh. This responsibility was delegated to a committee, consisting of Stanislaus Fronczkiewicz, Andrew Kubiak and Michael Kulik, who made the necessary arrangements. With Bishop Regis Canevin's approval, Father Labujewski arrived in Ambridge and offered for the newly established congregation of 66 families its first Mass on Passion Sunday, March 29, 1914. The St. Stanislaus Parish was canonically approved on July 30, 1914, and Father Labujewski was designated as pastor. With the parish fund of $1200, Rev. Labujewski commenced on fulfilling the expectations of his congregation and his dreams, visualized as a magnificent large church soaring high above the town surrounded by a parochial school, a convent and a rectory. With thrift and caution his vision became a reality.

The year 1914 was significant for many projects which were initiated and the events which transpired. A staunch believer in education, Father Labujewski's first act was to engage a teacher-organist, J. J. Peck, to conduct Saturday classes and instruct the children in catechism and the Polish language. An additional parcel of 7 lots was purchased facing Pine Street. A basement church and rectory was dedicated in November. Due to the poor condition of Beaver Road, Rev. Labujewski was instrumental in having all the land bordering Beaver Road from Wilson to 3rd Street, annexed from Harmony Township to Ambridge Borough.

On December 14, 1914, initiated by Father Labujewski as Spiritual Director, the Rosary Society was organized with these charter members: Anna Kubiak, the first president, Rose Jarzynka, Julia Kubiak, Jozefa Szuic, and Mrs. Tomaszewska. This Group over the years rendered invaluable service to the church in raising funds for various projects. Outstanding as workers during the formative years were: Zofia Ankowska, Mary Bajek, Anna Kubiak, Kathryn Niklewicz, Anna Piotrowski and Mary Tokarski.

Many episodes and projects materialized. With promotion from Father Labujewski, St. Stanislaus Society of the Polish Roman Catholic Union Group No. 889 was organized in 1915 to promote Polish traditions in American Catholicism. In 1917 the construction of the rectory was completed, and in 1919 four classrooms were built above the basement church. The Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth were invited to take charge of instruction. The church was transferred from the basement to the second story above the classrooms. In 1919 a plot of land was purchased in Fair Oaks to serve as the parish cemetery.

World War I was declared. Father Labujewski, patriot and chaplain of the Polish Falcons of America, joined the movement for regaining the independence of Poland, sold Liberty Bonds and recruited volunteers for the Polish Army in Canada. The total of 40 parishioners served in World War I. They were:

Those who enlisted in the Polish Army and served in France and Poland

Bronislaus Brzoska, Casimir Brzoska, Adam Grzelka, Michael Grzywacz, Walter Korlowski, Ignatius Kulczynski, Felix Kwaczewski, Matthew Ludwisiak, John Mikolajczyk, Paul Mroczek, Walter Pawlowski, John Szymanski, Felix Tuwalski, John Tuwalski, Zygmunt vViloch and Anthony Zmijewski.

Those who served with U. S. Armed Forces

John Blinkiewicz, Victor Blinkiewicz, Anthony Bozek, Stanislaus Fornal, Anthony Gister, Bronislaus Grabowski, Leon Grabowski, Boleslaus Guziak, Theophil Iulski, Boleslaus Kasprzycki, William Kempa, Joseph Kowalski, Casimir Kowalski, Stanislaus Kowalski, Joseph Lojek, John Matusiak, Alexander Mikolajczyk, Joseph Motylewski, John Nowaczewski, Joseph Pelkowski, Stanislaus Pokorski, Anthony Szczepanski, Stanislaus Wasilewski, Joseph Wozniak and Adolf Zieja.

In 1921 the local group of Polish Veterans participated in the march on Washington, D.C., which commenced from New York City, demanding full citizenship in recognition of their services in World War I.

The 1920's brought additional changes. Ten boys from the parish enrolled at St. Mary's College, Orchard Lake, Michigan; Peter Kulik was elected president of the Ambridge group, Recognizing the necessity for educating their children on a higher level and the need for social service locally, the Polish Women's Alliance - Group No. 300 was founded on May 2, 1920. In 1923 another women's organization was created - Queen Wanda Society. PNA Group No. 2193. The Polish-American Citizens Club was formed to give members an opportunity to study the U.S. Constitution. John Tomaszewski was its president. Eventually, as a result of the efforts of this organization and the United Polish Societies, the Polish community launched into the realm of politics. Frank Kulczewski became the first Polish councilman.: Zenobia Jurkowski, justice of peace. and Walter Panek, burgess. A Building and Loan Assoclation was organized with Maciej Kokoszka as president.

In the church itself, new developments occurred, The Felician Sisters (1922) arrived to instruct the children: the enrollment in the eight grades increased to the extent that it was necessary in 1924 to transfer the church to the basement. The construction of the new church was initiated on October 24, 1926, with the A. Pyzdrowski firm as contractors. It was completed on July 4, 1928, and the Most Rev. I. Dubowski, Bishop from Poland, officiated at the dedication of the St. Stanislaus Church, executed in the Old California Mission style which is considered today to be the most beautiful church in Beaver County. The Novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Help was instituted in 1927 ane! has been conducted every Saturday ever since without interruption. This devotion brought comfort to many residents of Ambridge in the 1930's which were marked by a period of suffering because of the Great Depression.

From time to time groups of interested amateurs gave vent to their dramatic flares and presented Polish plays on local stages of the PNA and Falcon Halls playing to large, appreciative audiences. With the building and dedication of the new church edifice (1928) a formal group "Polish Dramatic Circle;" tutored by Miss Helen Klimaszewska, undertook this means of raising funds to defray the cost of the Main Altar - a sum of $3,500.00. This project accomplished more than the fund raising. The cultural value was incalculable and the healthy social atmosphere offered an opportunity for intermarriage of the members.

In the 1940's the World War II introduced sorrow and prosperity. To relieve the grief of the mothers whose sons risked their lives in defense of our country, Father Labujewski composed the Hymn for Our Defenders, which is sung even today in Polish churches of the United States. The year 1946 resulted in the burning of the mortgage; the church property was no longer hampered by debts. Stained glass windows in the clerestory of the church, depicting the four divisions in the U. S. armed forces: The Army, Navy, Marines and the Air Force. Beautiful frescoes, designed by Father Labujewski, depicting the Eight Beatitudes, were painted in the nave of the church-as far as it is known, tile only portrayal of the Beatitudes in the world.

World War II has been immortalized in the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, erected in 1954. Included in its structure are 285 stones sent from corners of the earth to Father Labujewski by his parishioners in the armed forces. The soil came from the parishioners' gardens.

In 1952 a group of men banded together and organized the St. Stanislaus Ushers Club, with Peter Kulik as its first president. With its threefold purpose of 1) being responsible for ushering in the church at Masses and Services : 2) advancing and fostering a mutual fellowship among the men of St. Stanislaus parish, and 3) rendering aid at Parish functions and activities this group has prospered and grown to a membership of about 200 men who are carefully screened before they are admitted to the ranks.

Most recent projects include the building of the Sisters' convent in lY59, adding an annex to the rectory in 1963 and the erection of the Ultimate Pallet in the cemetery. Due to Our Lord's blessings, the generosity of the parishioners and the arduous endeavors of the Rt. Rev. Msgr. St. R. Labujewski, the St. Stanislaus Parish is completely free from debts.

Throughout the decades the services, following the Polish Roman Catholic tradition, were fostered and appreciated. The blessing of Easter baskets was always a custom, and the matins, "godsinki," have been sung here since 1923. Special processions are held yearly-those at Christmas time featuring a donkey leading the pilgrimage to the Crib at Bethlehem, Rogation Days, Palm Sunday, Good Friday and the Resurrection, Corpus Christi Day, and May 1 celebration. The Lamentations are always sung during Lent, and services are held at the cemetery on All Saints Day.

The enthusiasm for preserving the Polish tradition is carried over to the functions of the organizations outside of the church. The festive dinners, featuring the "Sharing of the Oplatck," and the "Swieconka," during the Easter season are treasured.

Choral music is an intrinsic part of all church Services and St. Stanislaus did not lack in this respect. The task was always nobly executed either by the school children under the tutelage of the Felician Sisters, or by the Men's Choir, upon the more solemn and festal occasions, directed by Peter Kulik. Whether it be the polyphonic harmony of a High Mass or the somber unison of Gregorian chant; the happy, gay Polish "kolendy" at Chrismastide, or the heart-rending lamentations of Lent; the contemplative Psalms of Tenebrae in the Holy Week or the Jilting Marian hymns throughout the year; the Vesper Psalms, Processional hymns, even an occasional rendition of a secular program, were all a part of a broad reportoire of this group of average men dedicated to sing, and thus enhance the beauty of the church services.

It would be remiss not to mention the existence of more recent organizations within the St. Stanislaus Parish domain. One such is the Confraternity of Christian Mothers affiliated with the national C C. M . and fostering the ideals for which they were founded. Another is the Holy Name Society of men who strive for spiritual perfection through regular monthly corporate communion. There is also the Parent-Teachers Guile (PTC) whose interest upgrades the relationship of those most concerned with the growth, welfare and education of the youngsters. Finally, there is the CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine) which enrolls the entire congregation and concerns itself specifically with the layman's interest in learning and teaching the doctrinal tenets of Our Faith. Presently, a corps of trained lay teachers conduct the classes in weekly sessions at St. Stanislaus on the High School level.

To help defray the cost of establishment and furnishing of the Polish Room at Pitt's Cathedral of Learning, Father Labujewski undertook to organize the Ambridge Polonia to meet a pledge of raising $3,000. To accomplish this he called for representatives of all Polish organizations into a session from which emerged a united front banded in a new organization - The United Polish Societies. The idea took so solid a root that long after the original goal was met the body continues to function to this day.

No history of the St. Stanislaus Parish can be appreciated without a reference to the achievements of the Rt. Rev. Stanislaus R. Labujewski, who devoted 52 years of his life to the parish and 55 to priesthood. He was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on August 26, 1885 and On July 1, 1911, the Sacrament of Holy Orders was conferred upon him by Bishop Regis Canevin, the first American of Polish heritage to become a priest in the Pittsburgh area. A noted poet, composer, essayist, and a master of prose in Polish and English, he compiled in 1943 "Handbook of Services in St. Stanislaus Church in Ambridge, Pennsylvania" and after obtaining the necessary "Imprimatur" had copies printed and distributed. For twenty years he edited the "St. Stanislaus Bulletin." After extensive world-wide travels, he wrote accounts of his journeys to Poland, France, Mexico, Rome, Canada, Egypt, Spain, the Holy Land and elsewhere.

He was one of the organizers of the Polish Priests Association of the Pittsburgh Diocese, serving many years as secretary and president. Msgr. Labujewski was included on the original committees which established the Nationality Rooms at the University of Pittsburgh, among which is included a Polish Room. He was also instrumental in having the chair of Polish culture founded at Duquesne University. He is untiring in his efforts for encouraging the teaching of the Polish language in the high schools. Currently, he is the chaplain of the American Union Polish Brotherhood of St. Joseph and the Polish Army Veterans of District III.

For his civic and patriotic accomplishments he was honored on August 29, 1939, when that day was named "Father Lobby Day" by the local authorities. His achievements have even reached Rome; Pope Paul VT named him domestic prelate, and the title "Monsignor" was bestowed upon him March 18, 1964. The Borough of Ambridge proclaimed "Monsignor Labujewski Day" in 1964; the Polish units led the parade on these occasions, Un June 27, 1965. he was honored at a testimonial banquet held by various Ambridge organizations, including the Ambridge Eagles and the St. Stanislaus Ushers Club. He was a recipient of many citations and awards, including a Meritorious Service Plaque from the American Legion and the coveted Gold Cross from the Polish Roman Catholic Union of America.

In recent publications inferences are made that Old Polonia lacked the knowledge, vigor, and interest to preserve and disseminate Polish culture and that all has to be accomplished by the Polish emigrees who arrived here after World War II. No one but all individual who lived here and observed the panoramic changes can appreciate the personal sacrifices, the blood, sweat, and tears which were required to build, support and maintain all the civic, religious, industrial, fraternal, and cultural institutions which are today America's heritage.

At the turn of the 20th century, America required brawn to furnish manpower for the factories and farms; today with automation the emphasis is on brains. The St. Stanislaus Parish and the Polish people have met the challenge. Over the decades they dedicated to the service of this community and our country: priests, nuns, educators, engineers, a space scientist, doctors, a lawyer, nurses, officers for U. S. armed forces, chemists, musicians, artists, technicians, journalists, printers, businessmen and many skilled craftsmen.

The year 1966, which commemorates the Polish Millennium, the Polish-Americans of Ambridge recollect with pride the sacrifices and achievements of the Rt. Rev. Stanislaus R. Labujewski and their forefathers who came here with so little and gave so much in helping to convert this area into a moral, spiritual and prosperous community, which in times of distress has furnished stalwart citizens and material goods to all supporters and defenders of the principles of democracy.

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Last Updated on October 20, 2011