The Polish birthday song begins with the words "Sto lat niech zyje nam," literally "live with us one hundred years." This community has welcomed Catholics of many different nationalities during its hundred -year life span, but it has been the Polish cultures and the traditionally strong Polish Catholic spirit, which has nourished and defined St. Joseph's Parish.
Background: Polish Catholicism
Poland was a land of warring tribes when, in the year 966, Prince Mieszko I accepted Catholic baptism. Roman Catholic Christianity would give the country its first taste of stability and cohesion One historian writes that from the Piast dynasty (966-1385), through the House of Jagiellons (13891572) the Church was the "fount of all knowledge": It provided the literate clerks who rant the chancelleries, and the Latin language with which all educated men worked. It enjoyed a monopoly in formal education. Its monasteries were the research laboratories of the day. Its prelates combined the powers of barons, ministers and diplomats. Its friars and nuns were the teachers and social workers. By the end of the sixteenth century, Poland was the largest state in Europe. More than half of its inhabitants were Roman Catholics. Another quarter of the population practiced the Greek Catholicism of the Slavonic Rite. During the 1600s, the Polish monarchy began to lose power to the nobles, who dominated the parliament and elected the King. Rivalries among the nobles weakened the nation. Costly wars ruined the economy. In 1772, Austria, Prussia and Russia, taking advantage of Poland's weakness, partitioned the country. Attempting to implement reforms and restore the strength of the hereditary monarchy, the parliament passed a new constitution in 1791.
The effort came too late. Partitioning occurred again in 1793 and 1795. When Napoleon, who was aided by Polish nationalist in his battles against Austria and Prussia, was defeated in 1815, all remaining Polish territory was lost.
For more than a century, Poland would not exist as a separate nation. Its people, however, were determined to one day regain their freedom. "Dabrowski's Mazurka," which was written after the partitioning of 1795 and is now Poland's national anthem, begins with these words:
During the long years of occupation, loyalty to the Catholic faith helped to hold the Polish people together. Some, however, found the loss of national identity intolerable. By the middle of the nineteenth century) political emigration had begun to gain momentum.
Great communities of Polish emigres were established in Paris and Rome. Among these emigres were some of Poland's most talented and learned citizens. Artists, musicians and scientists, such as Frederyk Chopin, Joseph Conrad (Korzeniowski), and Marie Curie-Sklodowska , bestowed a measure of prestige and respectability on polish nationality which was forbidden in the mother country.
November 6th marks the of the birth of the most famous and popular pianist of all times Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860-1941). Although discouraged by his teachers from becoming a pianist, he launched his artistic career in 1885 and literally swept the world with his playing and his dynamic personality.
Austria, Russia and Prussia attempted to eradicate all that was Polish in the territories they occupied. In 1863, Russian made its own native tongue the official language of the "Kingdom of Poland." In 1871, Prussia, forming the German Empires forced Prussian Poles to adopt the German language.
These restrictions spurred the great emigrations of the later 1800s and early l900s. Additional factors influencing emigration included the grinding poverty of subsistence farming in rural Poland, over-population) and the conscription of young Poles into the armies of the occupying powers Between 1870 and 1914, some 3.6 million people left Poland for political or economic reasons The emigrants were overwhelmingly Catholics. The Church gave the name "Polonia" to these Polish Catholic communities abroad.
Poles had long played a part in American history. General Thaddeus Kosciusko, known as the "Hero of Two Worlds" fought for freedom in both Poland and America. He is also remembered as the "Father of West Point." Brigadier General Casimir Pulaski , an expert calvaryman, formed a corps of calvarymen called "Pulaski's Legion"; he died of wounds incurred during the siege of Savannah in 1779.
Initially, Polish immigrants settled in the New York City area, close to the port of entry at Ellis Island. Few of the Polish newcomers spoke English or had readily marketable skills. More comfortable with those who shared their background and language, they remained clustered in the city until the 1870s.
When the immigrants did begin to spill into New Jersey, they settled first in Jersey City, Bayonne, Newark and Trenton. (Holy Cross Church was established in Trenton in 1891, a year before the birth of St. Joseph's in Camden.
Around 1870, the founding fathers of St. Joseph's parish arrived in the United States and found their way to the Camden area. They were led by 20-year-old Valentine Urban. Valentine's brother,John, along with Valentine Pepeta, Vincent Grembowski, Andrew Szczechowski, and the families of Adalbert Jozwiak, Casimir Grembowski, and Joseph Hyski comprised the rest of this original group.
Free from the censorship which plagued their native lands but also missing homes the immigrants hoped to establish a Catholic Church in the Polish tradition in Camden. They would work toward this goal for twenty-one years.
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