Going Home: Our Lady of Czestochowa, Worcester, MA

File:Ourladyofczestochowa worcester.jpg
Our Lady of Czestochowa, Worcester, MA
(Original Images and Text, Copyright (c) 2011 Cynthia Shenette; Image of Our Lady of Czestochowa is in the public domain.)

My family has maintained a connection to Our Lady of Czestochowa parish, in Worcester, MA for over 100 years . My grandmother was four years old when she and her sister and her parents moved to Worcester in 1900. When my grandmother's family arrived in Worcester there was no Polish church for people of Polish descent to be baptized in or married in.  By 1901 there were approximately 150 Polish families in Worcester who attended church at other Catholic churches in the city.  The closest Polish church was in the south county town of Webster which was a long way for a family to travel to hear a sermon said in their native language. For a time Poles and Lithuanians shared space at St. Casimir's Church in Worcester where Mass was said in Polish at 9:00 and in Lithuanian at 10:00 on Sunday mornings.  Despite these accommodations turn-of-the-twentieth-century Worcester Poles longed to have a church of their own.

Plans were made, and a fundraising campaign for a Polish church began in 1900.  The campaign involved raising money by canvassing house to house, fairs, picnics, and amateur theatricals. On May 8, 1902 church founders met at the Hotel Vernon in Worcester to sign papers and elect officers for what was to become Our Lady of Czestochowa, also known as St. Mary's.   Land on Richland St. in Worcester was purchased in 1901, and the Polish community's first resident priest, the Rev. Jan Z. Moneta arrived in 1903.  Construction began on the church and rectory in 1905 and was completed in 1906.  Parishioners joined their new pastor in celebrating the Polish community's first Mass in their new home on the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, August 15, 1906. 

Msgr. Boleslaw Bojanowski

By 1914 the church's fourth and longest serving pastor, Msgr. Boleslaw Bojanowski established an organized program of religious education and began a fund drive for what was to become St. Mary's School.  The school opened in September of 1915, and the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth were engaged to instruct the students.  St. Mary's School expanded in 1919 with an enrollment of about 1,400 students.  In September of 1936 the high school division began, with the first class graduating in 1940.

Sunday Church Picnic, late 1910s

While St. Mary's was the center of the Polish community's religious life, it was also the center of their social, musical, dramatic, cultural and political life.  My family participated in a variety of social activities, service projects and amateur theatricals.  During World War I my grandmother and her sister participated in a service effort by the Red Cross. Both my grandparents were involved in amateur theatricals, and my grandmother was a member and well regarded soloist with the St. Cecilia Choir. Our Lady of Czestochowa was and still is a vital community.  Masses are still celebrated in English and Polish every Sunday. 

My Grandparents on Their Wedding Day

The last time I was at St. Mary's was for my mother's funeral in 2008, and I haven't been able to bring myself back there since.  I figure I just need some time. My grandparents were married there. My mother and her siblings were baptized, received communion, and were confirmed there.  My parents were married there.  And even though my family moved out of the largely Polish Vernon Hill neighborhood two decades before I was born, I was still baptized there.  It was important for the family to stay connected with the church community that was so meaningful to them for so many years.  I know I will visit St. Mary's again, and when I do it will probably be with my son.  I want him to know where he came from.  It will kind of be like going home.  For both of us.

Submitted for the 109th edition of the Carnival of Genealogy.


~ "Church Plans First Sermon in English." Worcester Telegram. 3 Jan 1954.
~ "City Parish Observes 75th Anniversary." Worcester Gazette. 13 Oct 1978.
~ McGrail, Rev. Richard. "Sketches Sketches." Catholic Free Press. 4 March 1983.
~ Our Lady of Czestochowa Parish (Worcester, Mass.).  Our Lady of Czestochowa, Worcester, Massachusetts. So. Hackensack, N.J.: Cutombook, 1979.
~ "Polish Parish Has A Big Week" Worcester Sunday Telegram. 22 Oct 1978.
~ Proko, Barbara et al. The Polish Community of Worcester. Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 2003.
~ "St. Mary's Notes Golden Anniversary. Worcester Telegram. 8 Nov 1953.

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Carol said...

Fascinating and so very interesting. 100 years, same church. Very impressive.

Yvette Porter Moore said...

Another part of Worcester, MA Church history I was not aware of. It is a blessing to be connected to one church for over 100 years. Thank you for sharing.

Cynthia Shenette said...

Carol and Yvette - Thank you both for your comments! I agree, 100 years are a blessing indeed!