Polish immigrants have always been an integral part of the melting pot of America. Indeed, a Polish War Hero named Casimir Pulaski was granted a legion of men during the Revolutionary War. This particular immigrant was partially responsible for a victory over British troops in Charleston. He would later die in battle, defending the newly formed country. Stories of this particular immigrant have trickled down through the years. Many of the newly arrived Poles saw Pulaski as a hero, someone to emulate - a true Polish-American hero.
After the last shots of the Civil War were fired, a new era began in the United States, an era of emigration. Between 1865 and 1900 over thirty-five million immigrants sought refuge within the United States. A tremendous number of these immigrants came from the faltering nation of Poland.
In the late seventeen hundreds and then throughout the eighteen hundreds, Poland was systematically dismantled. The geographic neighbors to the country were far more powerful and could essentially do what they wished with the nation. The result was the "Polish Partitions." This was simply the process of carving up the nation by Russia, Prussia, and Austria-Hungry. During this time-frame there were a number of insurrections by Polish patriots who wished to keep their country intact. These revolts which took place in 1794, 1830, 1846, and in 1863, all failed. The nation would not truly be liberated until the end of the first World War in 1918.
As the nation of Poland was dismantled, those who were Polish essentially became members of a nation without a state. As such they clung fiercely to their traditions and history. Many of the disenfranchised began an inevitable emigration to the United States, a country which they believed would take them in.
Indeed, the United States did allow the Polish immigrants into the nation. Many quickly moved across the country to settle in the Midwest. The result was that a large population of Poles began to develop in Chicago. This population, primarily located on the Northwest side of the city, grew to a tremendous size. Eventually many began to call the areas around Milwaukee, Division and Ashland streets their home. These streets became known as "the Polish Triangle" and Chicago became known as the "American Warsaw." The Polish community living in the city took on an identity of their own and began to refer to themselves as Polonia.
One of the most important aspects of Polish heritage was their connection to Roman Catholicism. All of the Poles who emigrated to Chicago during the early years had this religious base in common. As a result, the St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish was built in 1867 on Noble Street, becoming the first Polish church established in Chicago. A mere one-hundred and fifty families were involved with this initial endeavor, but by the turn of the century it was the largest Catholic parish in the world with over 5,438 families.
The blocks surrounding the St. Stanislaus Kostka Church were some of the most densely populated in the city. A City Homes Association report presented in 1901 stated that the Polish district was as crowded as the streets of Calcutta. They claimed that there were nearly 457 people per acre in this region of the city.
The first Parish was a model for others to follow. By the turn of the century there were twenty-three Parishes in Chicago. By 1962 there were fifty-seven Polish Parishes in the city.
As Roman Catholic Polish Parishes continued to grow, the Poles began to have some political influence within the American Catholic Church. In 1908, Paul Rhode became the first American Bishop of Polish descent in the Catholic Church.
Certainly with such a large and religious population, many organizations and schools were developed. Of particular importance was the development of Polish language newspaper publications. Among these were the Zgoda (Harmony), the Dziennik Zwiazkowy (Alliance Daily), and the Dziennik Chicaoski (Chicago Polish Daily News). Many of these papers reported both news of the states and news of the homeland. Of particular interest to most members of the community was the ongoing fight in Europe to liberate Poland.
Though it appears that there was a tremendous amount of ethnic solidarity within the confines of Chicago's Polonia, there was also a tremendous amount of infighting. Some of the controversies and conflicts within Polonia came very close to ripping certain community Parishes to threads.
One such conflict revolved around the Polish National Alliance. This particular group believed that the Polish Catholic Parish system was not using it's money effectively. They wished to see more money sent towards liberation efforts in the homeland. Their primary goal in America was to prepare Poles on American Soil to "return to the homeland to be useful citizens." The group utilized the editorial pages of the Polish newspapers to attack the clergy and to blame them for numerous forms of fiscal mismanagement. The face of the clergy targeted was personified by Reverend Vincent Barzynski, pastor of St. Stanislaus Kostka. In order to defend the community-parish movement, Barzynski created the Polish Roman Catholic Union (PRCU). This new "union" was focused on parish development on American soil. They believed that the best way to help Poland was by helping her immigrants.
The PRCU and the Polish National Alliance went head to head, repeatedly attacking one another in the pages of the Polish papers. In general, the arguments and accusations came down to one thing. The PRCU declared that the Catholic element of the Polish immigrant ought to be emphasized, whereas the Polish National Alliance felt that the Polish element ought to be emphasized.
Accusations and complaints about the way these two groups were conducting themselves eventually reached the Vatican. In 1893, Rome sent a Apostolic Delegate to the United States to quell the dispute between the two groups. Unfortunately, they were unable to do much and the situation went from bad to worse.
Throughout the next few years there were numerous revolts within the different parishes. Ultimately, this would climax with a schism in the Roman Catholic Church of Chicago. By 1904, a new church was born from the break. This new church was known as the Polish National Roman Catholic Church. As the church eventually would register nearly 260,000 followers, emphasizing the word Polish became quite popular. The break within the church was troubling to both the local archdiocese and the Vatican.
As this was the first and only major schism in the Catholic Church to ever take place on American soil, neither group would ever officially recognize the Polish National Roman Catholic Church. If this group was legitimized than others might follow suit and break away from the church as well.
Fearing further schisms, local Catholic Churches became more ethnocentric. They would allow any Pole from any part of the city to become a member of a Polish parish with a Polish priest. Along with this, parochial schools attached to said parishes emphasized Polish language, history, and culture. This particular movement became known as the National Church movement. Other local "nations" began to join this movement as well. In a short period of time, Catholic Churches throughout Chicago became segregated by nationality.
By 1918, this National Church movement was quelled to some extent. Roman Catholic cannon law was revised stating the in theory, parishes were to allow admission to anyone regardless of race or nationality. The idea behind this was to accelerate acceptance of other cultures and to "Americanize" immigrants. Unfortunately, these "territorial" churches had as many problems as the national churches. In some regards, the problems within the Catholic communities of Polonia exist to this day.
As the first world war began to brew in Europe, most Americans were reluctant to become involved. However, the sons of Polonia saw this as an opportunity to liberate their native land. In a 1917 editorial in a Polish Newspaper, Narod Polski urged Polish Immigrants to join the U.S. Army in order to help free their homeland.
Do not wait and do not say, "Let the others go first." Your country calls. It is time to go and defend our new Fatherland. Long live the United States of America. (Polonia Rich in History, Pg 2)
As the United States teetered on the brink of joining the war, the U.S. War Department authorized immigrants who still held foreign passports to enlist in the Polish Army in France. Over 2,500 Polish immigrants signed up and ultimately fought in the war. As World War I came to a close many remained in the newly liberated Poland. Yet a large portion still returned to the United States and Chicago.
World War I was officially over on November 11, 1918. During the conflict some 450,000 Poles died fighting, but they did not die in vain. The Declaration of the Independence of Poland was announced in Warsaw and praised in Chicago. An independent Polish state had been established after nearly 123 years of captivity.
Unfortunately the following years would be hard on Poland. Over the next…