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St. Stanislaus Church - Summit Hill PA

A parish history from the 1974 Golden Jubilee Book

Sunday, May 26,1974, was a day long to be remembered by parishioners, clergy and friends of St. Stanislaus B. & M. Church in Summit Hill, Pennsylvania.

The day's quadruple celebration started with the blessing of St. Stanislaus' renovated church which was followed by a Golden Jubilee Pontifical Mass of Thanksgiving, with His Excellency, the Most Reverend Joseph McShea, D.O., Bishop of Allentown, Celebrant.

Present, in addition to its devoted religious, parishioners, dignitaries, and scores of well-wishers, were Concelebrants: Reverend Stanislaus Gorak, Pastor, St. Cunegundas Church, McAdoo, Pennsylvania; Reverend Stanislaus J. Fronczek, Pastor, SS. Peter and Paul's Church, Lansford, Pennsylvania; Reverend Adam Bydlon, representstive of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia; Reverend Michael S. Filip, Chaplain, Lt. Colonel, United States Army in Italy; Master of Ceremonies: Reverend Monsignor John P. Seitzinger, Secretary to the Bishop; Bishop; Lector: Mr. Robert Bydlon, from St. Stanislaus Parish, Senior at Marian Catholic High School; Gospel and Homily: Reverend John S. Baruch, Pastor, St. Stanislaus Church, Minersville, Pennsylvania, Consultor of the Diocese of Allentown, President of St. Andrew Bobola Society of Polish Priests and the Reverend Father Michael J. Lisowski, beloved and guiding shepherd of St. Stanislaus B. & M. Church, Summit Hill.

On this day also, were celebrated two more events of monumental importance to the joyous people assembled in the congregation - the Fortieth Anniversary of Father Lisowski's Ordination to the Sacred Priesthood, and the Thirtieth Anniversary of this zealous Man of God's appointment as pastor of our grateful parish. It was the culmination of dreams, a difficult, long, sweet achievement made possible by the indefatigable spirit of our pastor and the priests and parishioners of our first half century. Now, in the midst of our Jubilee Year, inspired by the successes of the past and animated by arr arnbitlon to make the most of the opportunities of today, we are eagerly prepared to move onward to meet the future - as the People of God have done throughout the millennium of Polish Christianity.

These Were Our Beginnings

The drama of history tells us that the Polish people cast their lot with western Europe and Roman Christianity in 963, turning their backs on the serni-Bvzantlne Slavdom of the East when the Polish prince, Mieszko I, attempted to foil the marauding German invaders by confiding Poland to the protection of the Church.

The land had always been troubled; in the years that followed many other tormentors would beset it. The "people of the fields" were to be assailed by the Mongols, then additional waves of warring dukes from Germany, and later, much later, they would be divided among Russia and Austria and once again fall under the rule of their old Prussian enemy. But through it all they held fast to the rallying point of the Polish people - the Catholic faith that proved to be the dominant characteristic in their history.

By the time the nineteenth century rolled along Poland still trembled with the aftermath of wars. Polish insurrection against the conquerors’ reached a peak in the 1830's, forcing many to migrate to the new world. Exiles and refugees, they would be joined by fresh waves of their countrymen between 1846 and 1848, and then again in 1863, when history, repeating itself, recorded the Polonians' third uprising against foreign rule, once again seeing vast numbers leave their native land to seek political asylum overseas.

These were not the first Poles to reach the shores of the United States. All are familiar with the legendary exploits of Revolutionary War heroes, Tadeusz Kosciuszko and Count Kazimierz Pulaski; even earlier figures reach back to 1608 when the builder, Stanislaw Sadowski, glassmaker Zbigniew Stefanski, soap maker Jan Mata, shipbuilder Jan Bogdan, and some forty-five others led by Michael Lowicki, came to the Jamestown Colony, hired by Captain James Smith, to run its industries.

Nor were the immigrants of the 1800's the last to arrive in this country. The same legislation that limited the Pole's political, social, and religious life, combined with their poor economic situation and lack of opportunity for employment, drove more than one hundred thousand men, women, and children, from their homeland to America between the years of 1870 and 1929.

For most, the first stopping place was New York City. One pictures the difficulties they faced. First, to obtain the necessary documents and transportation arrangements to cross the ocean. Then, the perilous trip. And after that, the strangeness of a new country, the difficulty of an alien language, the unfamiliarity of sometimes outlandish-seeming customs. But the Pole tried. Perhaps remembering the words of St. Augustine, " ... amid the various languages of men, the faith of the heart speaks one tongue," they found their way to communities forming in such distant places as "Panna Marya" in Texas; "Polonia" in Wisconsin; "Parisvilla" in Michigan, and others in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Pine Creek, Mississippi; Chicago, Illinois and Summit Hill, Pennsylvania.

The Pioneers

Leaving homes and families in Cracow, Nowy Sacz, and Zakopane, Poland, the first of the pioneers to. reach that section of Pennsylvania known as "Panther Valley" probably travelled up the Lehigh River from Allentown, then already showing promise of becoming the chief trading and manufacturing center of the Lehigh Valley. Or perhaps they crossed the Pocono Mountains, not known for lovers yet, heading west from Stroudsburg, or maybe they came south from Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, settling in the Summit Hill area, liking the peace and green serenity found there.

For the most part, the greatest number of these immigrants were farmers and laborers, tradesmen, or craftsmen, who found the means of earning their livelihood as factory workers and as employees in various other industries, including that of anthracite coal mining.

We know that it was not easy to save a dollar, even to eke out a meager living was a hardship. But sacrifice and scrape were a way of life and with courageous, single-minded dedication that was fortified by the sincerity of their faith, most did save and managed to bring over such members of their immediate families as had been left behind.

In 1908, America's first bishop of Polish descent, Father Paul Rhode, was named by Pope St. Pius X. At that time there had been Polish settlers in Panther Valley for some twenty years.

God-fearing as always, the earliest of them were members of St. Joseph's Parish in Summit Hill. The pioneers whose names are mentioned in early records are Mr. John J. Poremba, Mr. John G. Poremba, Mr. Isidor Tokarz, Mr. John Zalewski, and Mr. Adam Basiago. From the beginning they yearned for a place where their Polish souls, always as one with their Church, could seek God and His Blessed Mother in their own beautiful Polish manner, and praise Him in their native Polish tongue. The language difficulty - America was not the "Old Country," even sermons could not be understood because they were not spoken in Polish – was among the greatest obstacles they faced, and it was indeed a formidable one. Consequently, when St. Michael's Slovak Church was founded in Lansford in 1891, these early settlers became members of that church.

Through the years Panther Valley had seen a rapid increase of Polish-speaking people. In addition to the new immigrants arriving in search of bread, freedom and justice, peace, the families of the first settlers had thrived and were now beginning to take root. Their greater numbers awakened interest in the possibility of establishing their own parish, one in which the Polish language would be spoken. Accordingly, the people of Summit Hill collaborated with their fellow countrymen in Lansford and founded SS. Peter and Paul Church in 1905. Andnow another problem was presented.

An Emerging Population

The steady influx of their kind into Summit Hill growing ever greater, the Poles residing there began to contemplate seriously the building of their own church in their own hilltop community. The problem, this time, was geographical.

To understand adequately the reasoning behind such a venture, one must be familiar with the topographical location of Summit Hill and should be able to picture the conditions faced by these early settlers at the turn of the century. Although only a mile separates Summit Hill from Lansford, its location on the very summit of a hill - hence its name - made communication between the two towns very difficult. Travel was· particularly hazardous during the winter season, and in those days of severe white storms that fell in thick blankets, manually operated snow shovels, horses and buggies, and treacherous, unsure roads that exacted a heavy toll on those foolish enough to traverse them in mean weather, there was many a Sunday when those on top of the hill were forced to forego Mass at their church in the town below.

This hardship was intensified for the children of the parish. Well-bundled as they might be, those who daily attended the parochial school at SS. Peter school became a welcome sight. There are many among us today who can recall the Sisters as they moved among the pink-cheeked youngsters – the girls with big starched bows topping their curls, the boys in coveralls or knickers and high-topped shoes - dispensing good strong dosages of knowledge that included not only the three R's but religious and moral values as well.

Continuing to grow under the leadership of Father Wyborski, the parish began to gain recognition both in the archdiocese and the hilltop community. Various societies saw their beginnings in those early days. The church had truly become the nucleus of daily life, serving as the source of strength and security for a community that was still largely Polish-speaking and also as the hub of all its social activities.

But even the boundless energies and strong faith of its willing parishioners could not help St. Stanislaus escape the problems of the Depression years. As with many young religiously oriented communities composed primarily of working people whose wages were earned through the labor of their hands, the parish, still in its infancy and less than a decade old, found itself over-committed and forced to face a devastating financial crisis brought about by a situation entirely beyond its control.

Added to its troubles was the fact that in order to find employment many in the congregation had been compelled to move away, and by 1932 two hundred and fifteen families remained.

A Glowing Vision

The circumstances were far from auspicious when our second pastor, the Reverend Casimir F. Lawniczak, came to us in November, 1932, upon Father Wyborski's transfer to St. Laurentius Church in Philadelphia. Ordained just a few short years earlier, the new pastor bravely faced a deteriorating economic situation that might rightly have fazed many an older, more experienced man.

It was a serious predicament. The parishioners were unable to meet their obligations, there was a scarcity of members, and a severe lack of work. Miraculously, Father Lawniczak and his remaining flock began a period of renewal and self-sacrifice that was to endure for many years.

Hard-earned contributions found their way from the pinched pocketbooks of the congregation to the coffers of the church, enabling Father to meet his interest payments regularly without defaulting. Matching this generosity, the humble young priest helped to insure the eventual financial success of the parish by laboring for more than four years without accepting a salary, thereby lessening the heavy burden shouldered by his parishioners.

That their joint efforts succeeded in making the parish stronger despite the decrease in member-­ship and income was best borne out by the fact that before he left to become pastor of St. Stanislaus Church in Philadelphia in May, 1937, Father Lawnjczak, later named a Monsignor, was able to have church bells and beautiful, decorative windows installed in the church, in addition to lowering the parish debt by three thousand dollars.

The Pre-War Years

The huge parish debt was still an inescapable fact of life when Reverend John A. Naja, our third pastor, was welcomed to St. Stanislaus as Father Lawniczak's successor. The relatively small parish size, coupled with the disproportionate amount of money owed, presented an almost insurmountable dilemma that was to remain baffling and onerous for some time to come.

Times continued to be hard and steady employment in the area was still unavailable. But undaunted, Father Naja's lively outlook and optimistic approach spurred the parishioners on, encouraging them to undertake improvements of the parish buildings, install new windows in the vestibule of the church, and replace the old confessional. While at the parish Father saw another two thousand dollars repaid on the loan.

It was while Father Naja was with us that the parish was blessed with its first assistant priest - the recently ordained Reverend John H. Pichla - who arrived at almost the same ti me as our new pastor. His youth, energy, and zealous service to God and community were indicative of the men whom God would send to us as assistants ever since. Leaving behind the fruitful harvest of their labors, their influence has been seen in much of the life of the parish, from the formation of the Young Ladies Sodality by Father Pichla in 1937 to the later groups of today.

Times of Turmoil

Father Naja left for St. Peter's Church in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, in July of 1942, entrusting the rectorship of St. Stanislaus Parish to the capable hands of the Reverend Stanislaus A. Sliwinski.

Once again the parish was decimated, but this time, the fading footsteps of our parishioners marched to the sounds of war. Answering the call of their country, more than two hundred of St. Stanislaus' young men and women responded, Seven did not return. The parish was thrust into a flurry of activities, providing help for the war effort and aid to our allies overseas. And although by now mostly every family was able to adopt at least somewhat to the American customs and language, with 'he majority of our children having been born here, we did not forget our brothers in Poland. Donating clothing, countless packages of food, and even blood, we joined groups such as the Rada Polonii Amerykanskiej or the Catholic League, and through them were able to extend moral and material help for the needy at home and across the ocean.

As if there weren't enough to worry about - the war, the debt that continued to plague the parish, shortages - a different kind of obstacle reared its frightening head in a mass of flames in January of 1943 that broke out in the church and destroyed the Main Altar almost completely.

Father Sliwinski, another of the truly self-sacrificing priests with which St. Stanislaus has been graced, restored the altar and at the same time had the church, school, and auditorium painted. During, his brief but commendable tenure, the side altars, pulpit, and altar railing were renovated and rubber tile floors were installed in the sanctuary and center aisle of the church and in the auditorium. Also serving without a salary, Father contributed largely to the sum of six thousand and twenty-five dollars by which the parish debt was decreased during this period. When Father left to assume the pastorate of St. Stanislaus Church in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, he left a void that might only have been filled by a man with the qualifications of our fifth and dearly beloved present pastor.

Father Michael J. Lisowski

"Whoever has a heart full of love always has something to give ... "

Pope John XXIII

Inexorably intertwined with the history of St. Stanislaus Parish during the last thirty years is the story of Reverend Michael J. Lisowski, who came to us in the first month of the new year of 1944. But it might almost seem as if Father Lisowski's preparations for this pastorate began on the day of his birth, November 15, 1902.

Shortly after the turn of the century, just about the same time that the first Poles on Summit Hill started seriously thinking about the establishment of a hilltop church, a son was born to John and Julia (nee Matysik) Lisowski in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the first of seven children.

Of devout parents justly proud of their Polish heritage, the boy, Michael, was baptized in St. Laurentius Church, the oldest Catholic Church for Polish-speaking people in Philadelphia. The year 1908 saw the future Father Lisowski enrolled in thenewly established parochial school of St. Ladislaus Church, parish center for the Poles of the Nicetown section of Philadelphia, from whence he graduated in 1915. That September he entered St. John Cantius High School for boys of Polish parentage.

Only one year of high school had been completed when economic problems at home forced young Michael to put aside his dreams of further schooling and find employment. For the next seven years he worked for various companies in and around the Philadelphia area, and also attended evening classes at the Northeast Public High School and the Drexel Institute. The technical courses he took during this time earned him the qualification of master mechanic and tool and die-maker, practical knowledge that was to serve him well in the years ahead.

Conditions improving, in the Fall of 1923, almost exactly when the first delegation of men began their petition to Cardinal Dougherty for the Summit Hill Polish Church, the young man seriouslybegan his studies for the priesthood, enrolling in St. Mary's High School, Orchard Lake, Michigan. When he graduated from the college department in 1930 with a Bachelor of Arts degree, he had the honor of being president of his class.

Another Beginning

Father Lisowski's sterling capabilities as administrator, businessman, and spiritual leader seemed tailor-made to conquer the problems besetting St. Stanislaus.

"It is God who worketh in you both to will and to accomplish," (Phil. 11: 13), may have been the words in the young priest's mind upon his arrival at Summit Hill. Certainly his enthusiasm and achievements showed a mind buoyed by deep faith and priestly devotion. Presented with a parish debt of $154, 195, parish buildings that were badly in need of immediate repairs, both large and small, and the stringencies of the war years, the new pastor immediately set to work breathing renewed vigor and hope into the parish's sense of community.

"Figures do not lie," states the Anniversary Booklet, "during the next fifteen years $173,125.24 was spent to payoff completely as of January, 1959, the one time seemingly diminishable parish debt along with the interest accruing thereon; $81,069.87 was utilized to pay for the special needs of the parish - renovations, rewiring, repairs, new equipment and the like; $166,140.96 was disbursed for the general expenses of the parish - heat, light, salaries, and sundry other minor but costly expenses."

By May 24, 1959, when the entire parish joined Father Lisowski in celebrating his Silver Jubilee of Ordination to the Sacred Priesthood at a special Mass of Thanksgiving, they could finally stand proudly, free at last of their thirty-five-year-old burden of debt and with all buildings in perfect physical condition at a total cost of $420,336.07 ...thanks to the dynamic leadership and acumen of Reverend Michael J. Lisowski. But in his prayers of thanksgiving on that glorious occasion, this humble man of God remembered not only his God-fearing parents, his brothers and sisters, his many friends and benefactors, but also the help and sacrifices of the zealous priests who had so ably assisted him, the dedicated, unpretentious Bernardine Sisters who continued to labor among the parish young, and the wonderful people of the church upon the hill.

Accomplishments

Physical changes were many during Father's initial years in the parish. The following is a partial listing of what was accomplished: Almost immediately after he arrived, the old steeple which had been in poor repair and a costly burden to the parish for many years was removed and a new tower put up with the assistance served parishioners; brick storm shelters were built to guard the outdoor entrances to the church; new doors were installed in the church and parish buildings; the church was painted and all its windows renewed and reinforced with storm windows.

In addition, all statues were renovated, all church vessels regilded, and a number of items - candelabra for the altars, vestments, baptismal font, tabernacle, arnbrv doors - were purchased, The altars were renovated also, and carpeting installed in church, nave, choir, entrance, and sanctuary. Exterior and interior aluminum doors and aluminum belfry louvers completed this stage of work.

Meanwhile, life within the parish was kept moving along at a busy pace. Our school was thriving, having been increased, since 1934, to a full eight-grade program, and numerous organizations were making their contributions to the schedule of activities at St. Stanislaus. As the 1940's drew to a close two events were of special notice. The first, held on May 9, 1948, was a program dedicated to the men and women of the parish who had served their country in World War II. The second came less than a year later when the parish celebrated its Silver Jubilee on May 1, 1949.

Present for the Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Jubilee were Most Reverend J. Carroll McCormick, DD., Auxiliary Bishop of Philadelphia; Right Revernd Monsignor Casimir F. Lawniczak, Rector, St. John Cantius Church, Philadelphia; Reverend Adam J. Bydlon, Assistant Rector, St. Laurentius Church, Philadelphia; Reverend John H. Pichla, assistant Rector, St. Hedwig's Church, Chester, Pennsylvania; Reverend John A. Naja, Rector, St. Peter's Church, Pottstown, Pennsylvania; Revernd Joseph A. Zmijewski, D.O., Chaplain, Bernardine Sisters, Reading, Pennsylvania, and of course , our pastor, Father Lisowski, and Assistant Rec:tor, Reverend Henry F. Krzywicki.

The Work Goes On

Keeping up a parish is exactly like keeping up a home. The work goes on. Willing hands and hearts can always find something to do. That the is as true at St. Stanislaus as at any other parish is not surprising, for the Polish love of beauty as well as his fidelity to his religion and the tongue of his forebears ~ very much in evidence, not just at Easter or Christmas when most churches are decorated with flowers and candles, but all year through.

And so it was with the people of St. Stanislaus. The second phase of revitalizing our parish plant oeqan almost as soon as our Silver Jubilee was completed. It was at this point that we started directing our energies towards preparing for our Fiftieth Anniversary.

In 1952, the Sister's convent and the church were renovated, the convent quite extensively. After renovation both were rededicated, and once again, dear, familiar friends helped the parish in celebrating a most happy occasion. Reverend Joseph McShea, Auxiliary Bishop of Philadelphia, presided;Monsignor Casimir F. Lawniczak celebrated the solemn Mass of Thanksgiving; Reverend Adam Bydlon, a native of Summit Hill, and assistant pastor of the St. Cunegunda Church, McAdoo, was he deacon at the Mass, and Reverend Henry Krzywicki was the sub-deacon. Reverend Joseph Zmijewski was the master of ceremonies, and the Reverend Stanislaus Sliwinski, pastor of St. Stanislaus Church, Bethlehem, preached the main sermon.

In 1957 all new roofs were put on buildings. In 1959 the school was renovated, all new furniture was installed, new heating systems were installed in all buildings, and the rectory was renovated, But perhaps the most memorable day that year, in addition to our pastor's Ordination Anniversary, was the day the mortgage was burned, when the people could see at long last the culmination of years of sacrifice, devotion to the Church, and cooperation with each other.

During the 1960's, a decade of struggle for many who clung to the old traditions, the schoolyard was macadamized and a new organ of great beauty installed. Further changes decreed by Vatican II were incorporated into our parish life and the first Parish Council came into being. To a Pole, whose religion and language are treasures not easily to be lost, the Sixties marked one other outstanding milestone - the commemoration of one thousand years of Catholicism in Poland, an anniversary celebratedin 1966.

A Rendezvous With Destiny

As we reached into the Seventies, coming nearer to our long-awaited Golden Jubilee, the parish was once again imbued with renewed vigor and vitality.

The generous offerings and sacrifices were continued - sidewalks around the church were resurfaced; a new marble altar was donated by Mr. and Mrs. Bronnie Bruzgo, Sr.; the aluminum louvers in the belfry towers were replaced with new ones as were the aluminum interior and exterior doors; and the lovely decorated church windows were releaded, given aluminum frames, and protected by acrylic storm windows

. Our Jubilee Year, 1974, saw the interior of the church painted, altars remodelled, statues repainted, candelabrum and sacred vessels regilded. A new Chapel of the Saints was built at the end of the church, and a new confessional, new Pieta Chapel and Baptismal Chapel. Carpeting was installed throughout the church, as was a new lighting system in church and auditorium, vestment cases, storage cabinets, and sacristy for priest and altar boys.

All this was made possible by the total coopera­tion of St. Stanislaus' devoted and warm-hearted parishioners. The total cost was one hundred and twenty-three thousand dollars, money well spent in terms of the joy and use we will have from our exquisite surroundings.

The following gifts were acquired for our Golden Jubilee renovations: The exterior aluminum doors with stained-glass windows of the Sacred Heart and the Blessed Mother were donated by Mr. John Kruczek in his memory and his deceased wife, Anna; the aluminum altar boys sacristy door was donated by Mrs. Irene Pribila in memory of her husband, Wendell. The priest's sacristy door was donated by our pastor, Reverend Michael J. Lisowski; the baptismal chapel donated by Mr. and Mrs. Stanley J. Michalik of Astoria, New York, in memory of his family; the votive stand at the Blessed Mother's Altar donated by Mr. and Mrs. Stanley Michalik of Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania; the Statue of Infant Prague was donated by Mrs. Stephanie Stawiarski and daughters in memory of their husband and father, Walter; St. Joseph's statue was donated by Miss Janice Evans. The Stations of the Cross, donated as memorials, were given by Mrs. Irene Filip, Mrs. Helen D. Poremba, Miss Louise Poremba, two by Stanley Plesniarski, Mrs. Lottie Swarchek, Mr. Walter Pietruch, Jr., Mrs. Caroline Zarzeka, Mr. and Mrs. Roy Zimardo, two by Mrs. Mary Evans, Mrs. Helen Nika, Mr. and Mrs. John Motyka, and Mrs. Stephanie Wasily.

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