By Margaret M. Russell
WEBSTER – While celebrating the 125-year history of St. Joseph parish, parishioners were urged to look forward to the next 125 years. They were challenged to keep the faith alive for the next generations and to keep the “light on the hill” burning brightly long into the future.
St. Joseph Basilica was filled with hundreds of worshippers Saturday afternoon for the Mass ending the 125th Jubilee Year that began in September 2011 with the unveiling of the 13-foot granite statue of Blessed John Paul II.
Bearing bouquets of flowers, children of the parish welcomed Bishop McManus, the main celebrant, and retired Bishops Reilly and Rueger with “a gift of smiles.” Msgr. Anthony S. Czarnecki, pastor, noted in his welcome that “the smile of a child is unforgettable.”
Msgr. Czarnecki reminded the congregation that many great spiritual events took place on a mountain, or, in the case of their parish, on a hill. “We gather at the top of our hill with our Bishop” to hear comforting words and to celebrate “how good it is that we are here,” he said.
Bishop McManus said that the most important place for them to gather is at a celebration of the Eucharist, “the place where the word of God is proclaimed,” where all can “grow in the holiness of life” and “give thanks and praise to God.”
Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, head of the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers, and a longtime friend of Msgr. Czarnecki’s, brought a special blessing from Pope Benedict XVI. He said that at the end of Mass Bishop McManus would bestow an Apostolic Blessing on those gathered and on the parish “on this happy occasion.” Archbishop Zimowski gave the homily in Polish.
Another longtime friend of the pastor’s, Msgr. James P. Moroney, a Worcester diocesan priest recently installed as the rector of St. John Seminary in Brighton, gave the English homily.
Msgr. Moroney noted that all were there to celebrate a story of “God and his people on this holy hill.” A story, he said, that began in Poland at the same time there was a Civil War going on in America. He said their ancestors arrived in America and it was “as if God lit a fire on a hill here in Webster for all to see.”
The light, he continued, shone brighter and brighter through the years with the building of a convent, a new school, a rectory, the celebration of its centennial, and the day they stood with Bishop Reilly as the church was consecrated a basilica.
The words the bishop prayed “are made real by you,” Msgr. Moroney told the people. “You have made this a temple of worship. … You have made this a holy house,” he said.
And where will St. Joseph’s be on its 150th anniversary, he asked. “That is up to you and especially your children,” he said. “You and your children will decide whether to continue to worship God, or to sell out to the world increasingly obsessed with money and power,” he said.
“You have every reason to rejoice in the proud heritage you received. … Commit to building the next 125 years to the glory of God on this holy hill, a light to all the world in Webster,” he concluded.
The commitment of the parish families was evident by that fact that many of them have been members of the parish all their lives.
Sylvia Kitka, 74, said her grandfather was on the first parish council and she received all of her sacraments at St. Joseph’s. She was a member of the executive board of the Jubilee Committee and on Saturday was helping people line up for the procession into Mass.
She expressed deep gratitude to Msgr. Czarnecki for bringing the parish to this day of celebration.
“It’s just an emotional time, being here all these years and seeing the parish develop, culminating with it becoming a basilica,” she said. “I love this parish.”
At 88, Stella Miller, a member of the Sacred Heart society, said she remembered the 100th anniversary as a “memorable occasion.” Father Thaddeus X. Stachura was pastor then, she recalled. Father Stachura also attended Saturday’s celebration.
She was baptized at St. Joseph’s, made her first Communion, confirmation and was married in the parish. She said they owe something to future generations.
“We were given this parish 125 years ago. It is up to us to keep it up. It’s our heritage. Where are we going to be in another 100 years?” Mrs. Miller wondered.
A 1965 graduate of St. Joseph School and a member of the last graduating class of St. Louis High School, John Szymczak had one personal wish for the occasion.
“I wish my parents had lived one more year to see this,” he said. Anthony and Helen Szymczak brought up John and his older brother Charles in St. Joseph’s Parish.
Mr. Szymczak, now 62, has worked in the parish cemetery, its school and has been part of its Scout troop. “It’s a very great parish to be a member of,” he said.
Another member of the Jublilee Committee, David Zdrok, 45, said his father attended St. Joseph School in the 1940s; he, his brother and his sister also attended the school, and he met his wife, Ursula, working at a parish festival.
“It’s nice 25 years later to participate and give back to the parish as my parents did,” he said.
As an altar boy in the parish, Edward Kokocinski, 81, said he remembers all the pastors. He was christened in St. Joseph Church; grew up around the parish; went to St. Joseph School and worked at the festivals. His wife, Irene (Tomaszek), came from Douglas to attend St. Joseph’s, until the sixth-grade.
Both are advocates of a Catholic school education and Mr. Kokocinski feels that if all children have at least six years of a parochial school education they would know their faith better.
Clem Starosta, whose family has seen four generations in the parish, gave the toast to begin the banquet. The Polish Saturday School graduates and Piast, a Polish-American folk emsemble, danced traditional Polish folk dances for the crowd.
“A toast goes out to our forefathers, men and women, who worked so hard,” Mr. Starosta said as all raised their glasses to cheer ‘Sto lat!’”
First parish in New England for Polish-speaking Catholics
By William T. Clew
WEBSTER – When Father Francis S. Chalupka celebrated Mass on Trinity Sunday in 1888, he marked two milestones.
It was the first Mass in St. Joseph’s Church, celebrated for the parishioners of the newly established St. Joseph’s Parish, which was the first parish in New England for Polish-speaking Catholics.
It also was Father Chalupka’s own first Mass.
According to “History of the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Springfield,” written by Father John J. McCoy and published in 1900, the first group of Polish people came to Webster in 1869, “brought to town by the agent of Slater’s Mills, who had gone to New York for help, and on his return had with him half a dozen of Polish families. There were the Grefta, Bozezkowski, Wojciechowski, and Reglinski (also spelled Reglimski by Father McCoy) families.”
By 1886 there were about 400 Polish people in Webster, Father McCoy wrote. They asked Father James Quan, pastor of St. Louis Parish, for permission to build their own church.
“He gladly gave the permission and put the case before Bishop O’Reilly. The bishop, too, assented, and the Polish people called a meeting in the basement of St. Louis Church. Rev. Marvin Kowski came from Brooklyn, N.Y., and said the first Mass for the new Polish congregation in the basement of St. Louis Church September that same year,” Father McCoy wrote.
A local committee of parishioners raised money, bought three quarters of an acre on Whitcomb Street and the men, after they finished work at the day jobs, dug the cellar hole and laid the foundation walls. The basement was completed in 1887. The church was finished in 1888, according to Father McCoy.
Father Chalupka was ordained a priest on Pentecost Monday that year and arrived in Webster the next day to become pastor. He heard confessions afternoon and evening until Thursday that week, went to New York to get altar linens and furniture and on Trinity Sunday celebrated his first Mass in the new church.
The church was dedicated in 1889. Father Chalupka bought land near the church for a school. In 1892 the school opened and three Sisters of the Felician Order welcomed 90 pupils, Father McCoy wrote. The church then was enlarged from 400 to 800 seats and was rededicated by Bishop Beaven.
In a summary of the parish, written at the end of the 19th century, Father McCoy said of the Polish people of Webster … “one hundred of them own their homes. They are in business, builders, contractors, masons, carpenters and tailors. The women as a rule work in the mills. One hundred of the men are citizens, They are in this country to stay. They number 1,700 communicants, besides the children.”
According to a parish history, in 1895, Father Chalupka was transferred to St. Stanislaus Parish, a new parish in Chicopee. Father Stanislaus Tarnowski was administrator until Father Chalupka returned as pastor in 1902. By then, the St. Joseph’s Society, with 450 members, had broken into three groups. In 1910 Father Anthony Cyran was named pastor of St. Joseph’s. He changed the look of the parish. In his first year a convent for the Felician Sisters was completed.
In 1914 a new church, the present building, replaced the old wooden church. By 1924, the new school was completed and had 1,090 students when it opened. Finally, Father Cyran supervised the building of the present rectory.
“One must readily admit that Father Cyran came to a parish built of wood and left it moulded in brick,” the parish history says.
He was made a monsignor by Pope Pius XI, the first Polish priest in New England so honored, according to the parish history. He died Sept. 14, 1933.
Administrator priests were in charge of the parish until 1935, when Father Andrew Lekarczyk was named pastor. The parish was in debt, buildings needed repair and the country was in the middle of the Great Depression.
“The enthusiasm of Father Lekarczyk and the understanding and cooperation of the assistant priests and parishioners were instrumental in the payment of debts and restoration of the buildings,” the parish history states. “In addition, 25 acres of land were purchased near Worcester Road. Thus the area of St. Joseph’s Cemetery was doubled.”
The parish then formed a committee, raised money, bought land on West Main Street in Dudley and built St. Andrew Bobola Church, a mission of St. Joseph’s to serve the growing Polish population there. Bishop Wright dedicated the church on June 26, 1952. It was the first Catholic church in Dudley in the 220 history of the town. It became a parish in 1963.
Father Lekarczyk served St. Joseph’s for 25 years, during which time he was made a monsignor. He was succeeded by Msgr. Stanislaus Kubik, who formed the first parish council, made improvements to the physical plants in the school and convent, and rebuilt the church organ. The parish also formed the Friends of St. Joseph which began the annual parish festivals to raise money for the school.
Msgr. Kubik was succeed in 1983 by Father Thaddeus X. Stachura, who paid the $200,000 parish debt, raised funds for new windows in the school and convent and installed a new furnace in the rectory. He also made repairs and added rest rooms in the church.
Father Anthony S. Czarnecki became pastor in 1993. The church underwent major repairs and renovations. The interior of the church was redone. New artwork, including murals and portraits of the bishops of the Diocese of Worcester, cover the ceiling. One mural, starkly contrasting in style with the others, depicts a scene in Auschwicz, a World War II Nazi concentration camp, in which Father Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish priest dressed in striped prison garb, volunteers to take the place of another Polish prisoner who was sentenced to death. On Oct. 5, 1997, after the renovation was completed, the church was rededicated by Bishop Reilly.
Father Czarnecki was named a monsignor in 1994 by Pope John Paul II. On Oct 11, 1998, St. Joseph Church was made a basilica by the pope. A statue to the late pope, now Blessed John Paul, which stands on the front lawn between the rectory and the church,was dedicated in September 2011, by Bishop Reilly at the beginning of the parish’s 125th anniversary celebration.
This year new granite stairs were built at the entrances to the basilica. And ground has been broken and construction begun next to the school for a $4 million gymnasium.
Though over the years people of many ethnic backgrounds have become parishioners, St. Joseph Parish has remained faithful to its origins as a parish, serving people of Polish heritage and new immigrants from Poland. Each Sunday the Masses at 7 and 11 a.m. are celebrated in Polish, as is one Mass on holy days. Polish also is taught in the elementary school and, on Saturdays, there are special classes in Polish.
Students write poems to mark the celebration
During the 125 years
Our Parish has grown and prospered.
Founded in 1887,
It was always run by a Polish pastor.
The parish started off with Father Franciszek Chalupka
And is now led by Rev. Msgr. Anthony Czarnecki.
The founders were the Polish immigrants,
And we can’t thank them enough.
Thanks to their generosity
This Church stands here today.
With the help of Father Franciszek Chalupka,
St. Joseph School was opened in 1892,
And the school had 1105 students at its peak in 1928.
All those who help or helped St. Joseph School Parish
Thanks a million.
Celebrating 125 years
We celebrate 125 years of St. Joseph’s Parish
It’s an occasion of joy in our community to cherish
Let ue remember the Felicans Sister’s holy dedication
For all this work, they had no hesitation
Let’s recall the many priests who were dedicated
And the many days of service that were celebrated
Let us thank those who stayed devoted and faithful
For their sacrifices and generosity we are grateful
Our church stands tall with pride
It’s history of faithfulness is not denied
Our parish continues to live and grow in love
With our patron St. Joseph watching over us above
This has been 125 years of service to God and neighbor
And we rejoice that Jesus is our savior
T’was the Night before Anniversary
T’was the night before the anniversary, and all through the town
Everyone would come to see, they’d all crowd around.
Everything hung in the church with great care,
In hopes that everyone would like it there.
The school children were nestled all snug in their bed.
While visions of God and the Church danced in their heads.
And the church with its steeple, and the workers almost done
Had just settled in their brains now we can have some fun.
When out of the church there arose such a clatter,
The whole town dashed on over to see what was the matter.
From every direction they flew like a flash,
And they all made a big crash.
There stood the pastor, so lively and quick
They know it must be Monsignor Tony, so calm and so slick.
His voice full of pride as he spoke about their fame,
He whistled and shouted and called them by name.
“Now Father Francis, Msgr. Lekarczyk, Msgr. Cyran!
And with Msgr. Kubic and Msgr. Stachura it all began!”
Then he pointed to their pictures that were on the wall,
“Now look at them! Look at them! Look at them all!”
And then, in a twinkle they heard him say,
“The church was finished in 1887, without delay”
As they drew their heads, and turned around
From the center came a sister from abound.
She was dressed in brown from head to her shin,
And on her right she had a Jesus pin.
She began to speak about the school
How back in the day their 4 sisters with one big rule.
The people’s eyes twinkled! And they wanted to know.
As sisters mouth opened and let out a big blow.
“They must follow the commandments!” she said with glee,
And then they all agreed with that rule happily
Then Msgr. Czarnecki took over and spoke,
“The school was finished in 1924” with his voice as thick as smoke
“A few years later the glorious rectory was completed,
And all our worries were then greatly treated.”
He continued to talk more about our school
And filled out hearts, and we thought it was cool
And laying a finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up from his chair he arose.
Then they all clapped in great awe
Because Monsignor didn’t make one single flaw.
And the people were proud to be a part of this parish
All the great memories in their heart, they will truly cherish
125 Years of a Miracle
By: Nicole Kulpa
Established in 1887, the most honorable Parish,
The one we will always cherish.
It brought our hearts joy,
For every girl and boy.
At first the church was old and needed to be renewed,
Thanks to a thoughtful pastor it looks brand-new.
Father Chalupka also helped,
To pay all the debt.
The Felician Sisters served there too,
And they were always thoughtful to you.
They prayed a lot, and they believed,
I couldn’t count how many blessings they have received.
Thanks to them, helping our church succeed,
Any idea they had, everyone agreed.
They cared a lot for our lovely Parish,
And they were never selfish.
Our church brought us miracles throughout all these years,
When you visit there, all the darkness clears.
In 1910 Monsignor Anthony Cyran was appointed pastor,
He built a new rectory that was better than any other.
St. Joseph’s Church is a grand memory,
And is admired by many.
It opens a new day,
And there you can always pray.
Our church was noticed by Pope John Paul II,
And soon the church was brightened.
It was conferred to be a Basilica by the Holy Father,
So the church grows bigger and goes higher.
The church will always be a miracle,
Always a place with angels.
For this church we are so grateful,
And we are always cheerful.
This church is magical, even today,
We listen to whatever Jesus says,
Jesus will never stop loving you,
Whether the church is old or new.