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St. Stephen Parish - Paterson NJ

 A brief history from the 1928 Silver Jubilee Book

The Silver Jubilee of St. Stephen's Parish carries with it memories of other years. Conditions as we find them today vastly differ from; those of 1903. It is only by looking up records of former years and interviewing the pioneers of the Polish settlers in Paterson, that we receive an intimate vision of how things were, and the struggles and difficulties, that beset that group of people freshly reaching the shores of the United States. The Poles began to settle in Paterson forty-five years ago. They found themselves in a city as strange in ways, speech, as they were to those who already were residents of this city. Year after year more families arrived, and soon a goodly number settled who began to assimilate the manners, language and customs of their' neighbors. Being a very thrifty nation, and liberty loving, they found conditions in this city highly congenial.

The Poles have been for centuries a devout Catholic race. Settling in Paterson as their number increased, they aspired more and more to founding of a Catholic Polish Church, where they could hear the word of God in their own tongue and join in the services of their Church. For many years the Poles attended the Parishes of St. John, St. Boniface and Our Lady of Lourdes, but their longing was to have their own parish. They had encountered two principal difficulties. First the lack of Polish Catholic Priests, and secondly, lack of finances. It was in 1903 when a group of Poles assembled in the home of Mr. John Gnidziejko, on Ryerson Avenue that the idea of forming a Polish Catholic Church became concrete. This group of friends was composed of Messrs. John Gnidziejko, Frank Strezeski, Stanislaus Krzeminski, the late John Owczaryszek, Stephen Lupinski and the late Joseph Stark. With the aid of a society founded for that purpose, the St. Stephen's Society, these gentlemen addressed the Bishop, the late Right Rev. John .J. O'Connor appealing to him for guidance and assistance. In answer to this appeal they received the following letter:

552 South Orange Avenue,
South Orange, N. J.

Mr. Frank Strezeski:

Dear Sir:

In reply to your favor of yesterday, I would say first: that the name you suggest is satisfactory to me "ST. STEPHEN'S R. C. CHURCH", secondly: it should be incorporated according to the laws of the diocese of Newark. To do this, I would suggest that you ask Father Chlebowski of Passaic or Bayonne or the Paterson Parish Priests to act temporarily as Pastor, and that you select from your society, two laymen to act as lay-trustees. These three with the Bishop and the Vicar-General will form the corporation, and will prepare the papers necessary for the incorporation of St. Stephen's Polish Roman Catholic Church. As soon as I can find a good Polish Priest, I will send him to you, and substitute him for the one who was acting temporarily as Pastor. Meanwhile the St. Stephen's Society could collect funds and keep them on deposit in some bank until they should be turned over to the treasurer of St. Stephen's Polish Roman Catholic Church, for the buying of the land and building, of the church. See Father Chlebowski first and ask him to act temporarily as Pastor, or Father Dikovitch or Father Stein, and with the two laymen selected organize according to the diocese and law. You can let me know when you have the two laymen, and the temporary Pastor, and I will prepare the paper for the incorporation.



What followed may be readily gleaned from the minutes of the parochial records, Book 1, Page 50. "MINUTES OF BOARD OF TRUSTEES." "PARISH FORMATION":

"At various times, during the past years, efforts were made by the Polish People of Paterson to organize a Roman Catholic Church. The Right Rev. Bishop looked upon all such suggestions most favorably, but wanted tangible proof of the earnestness of the movement in some common and loyal organization on part of the people. Different public meetings were held in halls of the city, but the matter failed. The Bishop then instructed Mr. Frank Strezeski, to whose hard and unselfish work this present formation is principally indebted to call upon the Rev. A. H. Stein, with a letter of instructions. In this letter the Bishop told Father Stein, to ascertain the strength and truth of the people's desires to form their own church, and if feasible to organize them according to the laws of church and state, as the "St. Stephen's Polish R. C. Church" of Paterson, N. J. After making the necessary preparations circulars and newspaper notices were issued calling upon the Polish people of the city to meet at the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes on Sunday. A larger number of men (about 300) responded. Father Stein addressed them, explaining the object to the meeting, and appealing to their hearts to form a Parish where they could worship God in the Catholic faith, and according to their own national customs. It had long been necessary, he told them, that they should have a church where they could hear the word of God in their own language and join in congregational services. About 183 men gave in their names as founders. The method of legal incorporation was explained by Father Stein, and translated by Mr. Wazeter of New York City, to the people. Vesper services were then arranged on Sunday, December 13th, 1903. The little church was crowded, and the people listened with delight to an eloquent sermon by Father Strzelecki of New York City who had been invited to preach to the people. After benediction, the collection books were handed out, and dues were collected, then and there, by the amount of $123.50. The next day the church was legally incorporated with usual clerical trustees the Bishop and Vicar-General 2.ndcemporary rector (A. H. Stein). The two lay trustees selected were the Messrs Frank Strezeski and Joseph Komorowski."

On February 19th, 1904, the Rev. Boleslaus Kwiatkowski was appointed to substitute the late Father Stein. The Poles however only had vesper services. They attended mass at the nearest church. Father Kwiatkowski celebrated the vespers. These services were at St. John's Hall on Oliver Street with the permission by the late Dean McNulty. It was at this time that Father Kwiatkowski purchased twelve lots on Martin Street with the idea of building a church and rectory.

In the meantime Rev. Joseph Zielinski was appointed Pastor of St.Stephen's Church, June 1904. This was the occasion of great joy, for the Poles of Paterson. The task of Father Zielinski was not at all pleasant. He was forced to make frequent house collections in order to maintain the parish and found continual trouble brewing among the people which could not be settled. At this time the Poles held services in the basement of St. Michael's Church on Cross St. It is worthy to state that Mr. and Mrs. Gnidziejko purchased a full set of vestments for the church then. As the months passed conditions grew worse, to such an extent that Father Zielinski was substituted for a while by Father Henry Cichocki. He returned however to purchase the Methodist Episcopal Church, at 138 Beech Street in which building the Poles thereafter held services. The purchased price amounted to $8,000. The trustees at that time were Mr. Stephen Lupinski and Francis Jasiukiewicz. The Rev. Leo Wierzynski became the 5th Pastor of St. Stephen's Church, September 1st, 1905. He also encountered a great deal of trouble. His successor was the late Rev. Erazmus Ansion, who assumed charge May 10th, 1906. The late Father Ansion began his work with great energy and prudence. A saintly man he began his work by sanctifying his people, in and out of the church. He started the school, bringing in the Sisters of St. Bernard. He organized the St. Cecelia's Choir and the Children of Mary Sodality. He took a keen interest in all activities of different societies and organizations. He gathered the Lithuanians and held devotions, for them being conversant in the Lithuanian language. There were many neglected Polish families in the neighborhood, and Father Ansion made frequent trips to Ramapo, Ramsey, Mahwah, Signac and neighboring localities. Father Ansion left the Parish November 1st, 1908, to assume charge of St. Stanislaus Parish in Newark, where he was murdered March 10th, 1909. The Right Rev. Ordinary assigned Rev. Paul Knappek as the next Pastor of St. Stephen's. This selection could not have been better, and in view of what was to happen, the appointment of Father Knappek was truly providential. Father Knappek, continued in the footsteps of his predecessor and the parish prospered. However in February 1909, St. Stephen's Church suffered a calamity as their church burned down and all of their possessions in the church were also destroyed. Only the blessed Sacrament was saved. The vestments, stations of the Cross, pews and all other furnishings were burned. Though the Poles, suffered a great loss, they were greatly heartened by receiving assistance from the late Rev. C. P. Gillen, Pastor of St. Joseph's Church, who offered them the use of the school hall on Carroll Street where they held their devotions. Plans were immediately made for building a church and rectory on Martin Street. The blessing of the corner stone was made by the late Rev. Dean McNulty, the Sermons being delivered by Rev. Joseph Brzoziewski, and the late Mons. A. Stein. The late Right Rev. Bishop O'Connor dedicated the newly built church, and Mons. Stanislaus J. Nowak, preached the sermon. Father Knappek started the school again bringing as teachers the Felician Sisters. The beautiful picture of our Lady of Czenstochowa was received from Poland, and blessed by Right Rev. Paul Rhode. This picture reposes till this day in the main altar. On February 20th, 1912, Father Knappek was transferred to Newark. Though efforts were made by the parishioners to have the Bishop rescind his order this was without avail. The Rev. James Wrzeciono filled the position as next pastor, but in less than a month, was transferred to a different parish. Rev. Stephen Nowakowski was then appointed Pastor of St. Stephen's Church, which position he retained until November 2nd. 1926. Father Nowakowski purchased two more lots and beautified the grounds. He also decreased the church debt. He was assisted at various times by the Salesian Fathers from Ramsey, and also by the late Rev. Simon Nawrocki. Lack of unity and dissentions within the parish hampered the growth of the church, especially after the Sisters were removed by their superiors.

The present pastor, Rev. Joseph A. Maj, assumed charge of St. Stephen's Parish and after making a careful survey appealed to the Right Rev. Bishop for a curate. This was granted. Father James Czarnogorski was assigned as the first curate. Rev. Martin A. Piasecki soon took his place.

In Father Maj's time, the St. Stephen's Parish built the sister's home, costing twenty-one thousand dollars. He moved the parochial buildings, and enlarged the school to six classes. Father Maj was successful in getting the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth to assume charge of the school, and accordingly six sisters were sent to take care of 341 children. Father Maj organized the Holy Name Society, the Sacred Heart Sodality for Women, the Children of Mary Sodality for Girl's and the Hedwig Club for Young Ladies. The St. Cecilia's Choral Society was also reorganized.

Seeing the need of a church for the Poles, residing in the Riverside section, after due deliberations Father Maj purchased the second Christian Reformed Church, which was formally dedicated as St. Hyacinth's Church. It is now used as a place of worship for the Poles of the city as well as those of Fairlawn and Paramus. Within a short time Father Piasecki organized St. Martin's Choir to supply church music and Father Maj organized the Holy Rosary Sodality. These organizations helped the newly formed church greatly. St. Martin's Choir was principally interested in supplying an organ to the church, an effort already fulfilled; while the Rosarians supplied the church linen and the side altar. They also took care of the altar.

After twenty-five years St. Stephen's Parish possesses a church, school, rectory and sister's convent on a plot of land composed of twenty-six lots. The mission church of St. Hyacinth's is expected to become a Parish soon. The Fathers of St. Stephen's Parish also takes care of the Poles and Slavs in Whippany, N. J.

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Last Updated on October 20, 2011