I read with great interest your articles on the Polish Festival and the trials and tribulations of the small minority of Polish-Americans and their parish of Our Lady of Czestochowa.
I am a practicing Catholic who grew up in Jersey City and in a small way studied some historical aspects of Jersey City.
As a younger man, I had first-hand knowledge as to how church politics was perceived by the Italian and Polish Catholics in the fifties and sixties. Many people who were parishioners of Mt. Carmel and St. Anthony’s during this time were well aware of how the Irish Catholic hierarchy dominated and rationalized their leadership. These biases and discriminatory practices were done in subtle ways. Of course, we have come a long way, and I believe the Catholic Church is much more inclusive and better now than during these years.
Nevertheless, my involvement with Holy Rosary, St. Anthony’s and my observations of Mt. Carmel, allowed me to witness two very astute athletic directors at Holy Rosary and Mt. Carmel fight off some silly decisions made by a then Irish-Catholic monsignor at the C.Y.O. (Catholic Youth Organization housed on Bergen Avenue.)
I could also remember how our priests in St. Anthony’s talked in hushed tones about their dissatisfaction with the favoritism and discriminatory practices of the church hierarchy at the time. Clearly, the so-called ethnic parishes did not share the shared sentiments and values by the dominant church.
When I was enrolled in St. Anthony Elementary School on Sixth Street, my friends at this school and my friends at Holy Rosary called the other parishes American churches or Irish churches. At the turn of the 20th century it was deemed appropriate and necessary to create national churches or ethnic churches and hence a form of church stratification existed, and those who attended national parishes were in many instances restricted from moving from one parish to another. Yet, hyphenated Americans enjoyed the stability of shared language and shared customs because of these national or ethnic designated churches.
It seems we have a similar problem in downtown Jersey City. But, today we have a different kind of Polish Catholic. These people are much different than the parishioners at the beginning of the 20th century and the fifties and sixties. Much has happened in the Catholic Church since then.
Consider that there are many Poles, Italians and other ethnic groups who have experienced similar conflicts like this and in the long run will support these parishioners of OLC if they continue their actions long enough.
Really, how silly can the Archbishop or his pastor be? Polish-American parishioners want a Polish mass and want to identify with Our Lady of Czestochowa because of their historical, social and cultural orientation. What’s wrong with this?
I can only conclude that the archbishop and his pastor thought they could make OLC a financial success, giving the changing upscale community his area has become. Without the base of the Polish-American community, this has not happened. They also misjudged the intensity and resistance of a very devout Polish community who have arguments and beliefs just as strong as the Archbishop and the pastor.
Now, let me tell you what impressed me about your article. I found it difficult to comprehend the immaturity and the political insensitivity of the Archbishop and the pastor of OLC to go before the Jersey City Council and ask that a group of their parishioners be denied a permit to celebrate the icon of Polish religiosity. Finally, it appears that the pastor of OLC has lost sight of what his obligations and expectations are from the community and neighborhood he serves. Hence, he has lost the trust of the community he serves. Without trust, no organization or institution can be successful.
Also, it seems to me that no pastor of a church should be allowed to alienate or isolate themselves from the people they serve. Pastors need to respect the shared sentiments, attitudes and values of their constituency, especially when their constituency’s beliefs are not immoral, unethical, and contrary to church doctrine. Therefore, pastors cannot afford to contribute to the conflict of a community because today’s parishioners are just as educated and just as devout as their religious leaders, and, more importantly, they are very capable of expressing themselves financially and intellectually.
Henry R. Przystup, Ed.D.