For over 150 years, Milwaukee has been home to a large community of people of Polish descent. The Milwaukee Polonia Project hopes to show the interweaving, intertwining family trees that resulted in this community. It is hoped that, eventually, all the families can be connected to one another. The Milwaukee Polonia Project is also a means to explore our common history and celebrate our shared heritage.


Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Polish Wedding

Because I have been discussing the St. Vincent de Paul Parish, I thought it would be appropriate to show the account of a wedding which took place there on October 18, 1911.  The following article, which appeared in the Milwaukee Sentinel the following day, is notable for another reason:  it is the first account of a Polish wedding that I have seen in the society pages of a Milwaukee paper of general circulation. I have not done an exhaustive search, so that I can't say it is the first to appear, it is just the first that I have run across.

So, why did this Polish marriage make the paper when hundreds of others did not?  Undoubtedly, the fact that the groom was a state senator helped.  But is it also an indication of the growing acceptance of Poles in Milwaukee society?

There are two other things about this article that raises questions for me.  First, this article, which appeared in the Milwaukee Sentinel, was a full article, with photographs of the bride and groom.  On the other hand, the Milwaukee Journal had only one short paragraph.  Was this difference in coverage just a quirk of the editors?  Or, is there something deeper at play?  Could the Milwaukee Sentinel have been courting the Polish trade?

Second, reading the account of the wedding, one would not know that it was a Polish wedding other than by the names.  Certainly, the description of the wedding party and services gives no indication other than that this is what we now conceive of as a traditional American wedding.  Is this what happened?  Did the Kleczkas plan their wedding so as to conform to American traditions?  Or, were there Polish customs incorporated into the wedding that were simply not reported in the paper?  We will probably never know.

Connected Names:

John C. Kleczka
Wanda (Lukomski) Kleczka
Mary (Szlyzinska) Lukomski
Rt. Rev. Michael J. Domachowski
Pelagia "Pearl" Lukomski 
Marion Kleczka
Edward Kleczka
Peter Lukomski

 Names Yet to be Added:

Rev. F. Zynda
Rev. R. Goral
John Jastroch
Clementine Malek
Lawrence Wawrzyniakowski
Mary Schubert 
Joseph Bednarek
Edmund Slalvewski
Andrew Krygier

Monday, August 22, 2011

Status Update

Unfortunately, not too much got done in the last two weeks.  I spent most of the time wondering what the changes to Geni would mean to the Project.  Geni is the website on which the interlocking family trees of the Project are stored.  Up until August 11th, the information about "public" (ie., not private) individuals was available to any member of Geni, whether that member was a basic (non-paying) member or a "Pro" (paying) member.  This was great for the Project, because any member (whether paying or not) could see any part of the public Milwaukee Polonia Project tree and could also search for names that might connect with their own tree.  They could also add names to any public part of the tree. Then, on August 11th, Geni suddenly, and without warning, changed all the ground rules.  Now, only paying members can see any public profile.  Non-paying members can only search for, and see, their family relations up to their third great-grandparents and down to fourth cousins.  Moreover, non-paying members cannot add anything outside of those family relations.  To make matters even more insulting, Geni tried to pass this off as just a great improvement for paying members.  There was no acknowledgement as to the squeeze it was putting on non-paying members.

Somewhat ironically, I had just instituted a free trial of the "Pro" membership for myself immediately before these changes were announced.  I decided to pay for a Pro membership not because I needed the extra powers that a Pro membership granted, but because I figured I was using Geni enough that I should pay for its services.  However, the changes that Geni made, and the way they went about making them left me wondering whether I wanted to continue to support Geni.

Anyway, all this left me with many questions that I had to sort out over the last two weeks.  Here's what I've come up with so far.

1.  What effect will the new rules have on the Project?  Generally, it will make it more difficult for new, non-paying people to be able to join the tree because non-paying members cannot search outside of their family to see where they might join the Project tree.  It also means that someone who is trying to determine if any part of their family is already on the tree will have no easy method for doing so.  This may discourage individuals from getting interested in the Project.

2.  Is there another site to which the Project could be moved?  I have checked out a couple, but I have not found any that would be more suitable than even the new-restrictive Geni.

3.  Is there a way to work around the problems caused by the new restrictive Geni?  The biggest problem is that there is no way for a non-paying member of Geni to search to see if part of their family is already part of the Project on Geni.  I could set up another website to provide that information.  However, that would be another cost, in addition to the money I just spent on the Pro Geni membership, and I don't feel like spending any more money on the Project at this point.  So, that alternative will just have to wait.

4.  Do I want to keep supporting Geni?  Good question.  I don't really know at this point.  I decided to keep my Pro membership for now.  That will give me another year to figure out what to do.  However, I will not longer be inviting individuals to join Geni and I have removed all the Geni badges from this blog in protest over the way Geni has handled this situation.

Well, enough about Geni.  This is the actual work that occurred on the Project over the last two weeks.

Profiles Added:  At least 155
New Family Names Added: 

Banaszynski, Behnke, Cwig. Cwik, Doma, Hoppe, Jarczrski, Lezela, Lorenz, Kramska, Krauska, Krauske, Marcinkiewicz, Napier, Paczesna, Piotrowiak, Pisarek, Poznanska, Prahl, Reinke, Rosentretter, Skiba, Skorcziske, Slizewski, Spierewski, Szlyzinska, Sztukowski,Wessorowska, Wilczewska, Wilepska, Zareczny, Zmyslona

Sunday, August 14, 2011

St. Vincent de Paul Church

No discussion of the Poles in Milwaukee would be complete without a mention of the churches built by the Polish Community. One need only to drive south over the Viaduct to see what memorable and lasting contributions these have been to the whole of  Milwaukee. Since the last Featured Profile was that of the Right Rev. Michael Domachowski, I thought it only fitting to discuss the history of St. Vincent de Paul, both the Roman Catholic church building built by the Polish community, and the parish which was shepherded by Michael Domachowski for so many years.

The following article is written by John Smallshaw and is part of his book, The Polish Churches of Milwaukee.  Both the article and picture are used with his gracious permission. More information about the book can be found at The Polish Churches of Milwaukee.

St. Vincent de Paul Parish (Św. Wincenty a Paulo)
2114 W. Mitchell St.
Milwaukee, WI 53215
Architect: Bernard Kopacki

In just a few short years, the south side congregations at St. Stanislaus and St. Hyacinth could not accommodate the growing number of Polish Catholics seeking to worship. Father Gulski decided to divide his St. Hyacinth parish and began efforts to organize a fourth Polish parish in Milwaukee. $30,000 was raised and a large two story brick building (130 ft. x 30 ft.) constructed. The first floor would be dedicated to education while the second floor served as a temporary church, which was becoming a common approach for new Milwaukee churches. In 1888 the building was completed and dedicated by Bishop M. Heiss.

The parish would be named for St. Vincent de Paul, a son of peasant farmers who was born in Gascony in 1580. While a child, Vincent tended his father’s sheep flock and was ordained into the priesthood at the age of twenty. Assigned to a destitute parish, Vincent de Paul dedicated himself to work with the poor and suffering. He founded a religious order called the Lazarists whose charitable work led to the Foundation of the Sisters of Charity. Vincent de Paul’s efforts were felt even as far away as Poland, which had led to the selection of this patron saint for the new parish. He would be canonized in 1737.

The first priest to serve St. Vincent’s was Father Vincent Lewandowski, who would remain at this post for ten years until poor health forced him to retire. Father Lewandowski had been born in Lewice, in the Duchy of Poznan in 1841 and ordained into the priesthood in 1864. Yet another in a long line of activist priests, Father Lewandowski had assisted in the political struggle for Polish independence. In 1872, fearing arrest, he took flight, and arrived in America in 1875. First settling in Toledo, he left the parish after nine years following disturbances which had broken out among its members. Upon his arrival in Milwaukee, the priest served as an assistant in St. Hyacinth before coming to St. Vincent de Paul. It was said that Father Lewandowski suffered from a chronic heart ailment which often left him cross and irritable.

The school sisters of Notre Dame took over the teaching duties at the St. Vincent de Paul School when it opened in 1888. The first baptism at the parish was that of Michael Wisialowski on August 13. The first celebration of marriage took place between Frank Mitchell and Mary Przybylski on January 12, 1892. The following year, a Sisters’ convent and rectory were completed.

A smallpox epidemic broke out in the parish in 1894 and took the lives of nine of its schoolchildren. For reasons known only to himself, Father Lewandowski resigned from St. Vincent in a fit of anger in 1899, choosing to become a volunteer at SS. Cyril and Methodius parish. The priest insinuated that his decision was driven by “intrigue by the Galician”, perhaps the political maneuverings of a rival priest. On January 22,1900 Father Lewandowski boarded a street car at Eighth and Grant for a meeting with the Bishop to discuss a new posting. He died of a heart attack en route.

Following the resignation of Father Lewandowski, the Archbishop appointed Reverend Jan Blechacz as temporary administrator until another pastor could be found. Father Maximilian Dorszyński would eventually be named as cleric. Father Dorszyński had been born in Milwaukee in 1873 after his parents had immigrated to America from West Prussia. He was educated at St. Hedwig’s School on the East Side, and would later study at Marquette University. Father Dorszyński served at St. Stanislaus for two years and briefly at St. Casimir before coming to St. Vincent .

By now the upper story of the school building was insufficient to accommodate the growing numbers of worshipers each Sunday. Plans were drawn up for a new cathedral which would be 185 feet long and 66 feet wide and constructed in the Romanesque style. Designed under the guidance of architect Bernard Kopacki it would serve the needs of 700 families and the 800 children who attended classes at the parish school. The new church cost $84,865 and the general contractor was awarded to Sylvester Wabiszewski, a member of the parish. Wabiszeski would later go on to become a prominent south side industrialist and would even be honored by Pope Pius XII.

The twin towers rose 195 feet and 132 feet respectively and its four bells were named for St. Vincent de Paul,( which has diameter of 62” and weighs 5000 lbs), SS. Ladislaus & Alexus (which has a 54” diameter and weighs 3000 lbs.), St. Mary (which has a 42” diameter and weighs 1600 lbs.) and St. Hyacinth (which has a 32” diameter and 650 lbs). The clocks for the steeple were donated by the then pastor of St. Josaphat’s, Fr. William Grutza. Father Dorszyński fell ill in 1904 and Father Joseph Kempa named as his replacement. Father Dorszyński would pass away just one year later.

Father Kempa had been born in Milwaukee in 1877 and educated at St. Josaphat’s School before being ordained in 1899. He would only serve as pastor at St. Vincent de Paul for one year before being transferred to a parish in Pound, Wisconsin. In 1906 Dr. Anthony Lex succeeded Father Kempa. Dr. Lex had come from Silesia and had served in the German army for a year prior to studying for the priesthood. He received his doctorate in Innsbruck, Austria before immigrating to the United States. Dr. Lex first served at churches in Chicago as well as Stevens Point, Wisconsin where he had been instrumental in founding the first Polish school in the area.

St. Vincent de Paul church was hit by a major fire in 1908. The main altar, the front part of the church and all of the sanctuary and vestments were destroyed. Following the fire, Father Boleslaus Góral was assigned as the new pastor. Father Góral would only be pastor at St. Vincent for twelve months, and was reassigned to St. Hyacinth in 1909. Father Michael J Domachowski [Featured Profile #3] was named as replacement pastor and would remain at the parish until 1940. Father Domachowski had been born in 1875 in Poland and came to America when he was only three years of age. He attended college at Marquette and upon finishing his studies in 1898 he applied to the St Francis Seminary where he was ordained in 1902. Father Domachowski had previously served as an assistant at St Hyacinth where he had been primarily responsible for the care of young people.

Father Domachowski had served in the Polish Army in America during World War One and for his work on the behalf of Poland’s quest for independence he would be knighted with the honor of “The Order of Polonia Restituta”, the highest rank of recognition, by Polish President Ignace Padrewski. Following Polish independence, Father Domachowski also sold bonds on behalf of the new government. He had been a principal founder of St. Casimir parish in Kenosha as well as St. Adalbert’s in Milwaukee. In 1934 Father. Domachowski was awarded the title of Monsignor by his Holiness, the Pope. He would also go on to serve as a director of the Nowiny Polskie newspaper.

As with most parishes during the Great Depression, the parish suffered a severe financial crisis in the 1930s. Without meaningful employment, many church members did not have the funds for three square meals per day let alone anything left over for the offering baskets. In addition, during this period St Vincent de Paul lost several hundred families to the new parishes of St. Barbara and St. Ignatius, organized just to the west. So, ingenious means were used to raise the funds necessary to continue operation of the church, which also served to bring the parishioners closer together during the troubled times. Msgr. Domachowski passed away on February 8, 1940 at the age of 66 following a long sickness having served St Vincent de Paul for 31 years.

On May 23, 1940 Reverend S.J. Studer, the organizer of St. Barbara parish, was appointed pastor of St. Vincent de Paul. Father Studer had been born in Poland, and had come to the USA at the age of three months. He studied at St. Francis Seminary and was ordained in 1909. Following the outbreak of the Second World War, 435 men and women from St. Vincent de Paul Parish served their country in the armed forces. Seventeen members paid the ultimate price, including Rev. W. Polewski who passed away in Burma on January 29, 1945 shortly before the end of the hostilities.

Father Studer was elevated to Domestic Prelate with the title Right Reverend Monsignor on October 14, 1951. The following year the interior of the church was redecorated by the Liskowiak Church Decorators at a cost of $30,000. At the time of the Silver Jubilee Celebrations in 1963, there were 468 students enrolled in the parish school, seven teaching sisters, and three lay teachers. However, due to dwindling attendance over the subsequent twenty years, the school was eventually closed in the spring of 1989. 

Not one, but two, future United States Congressman called St. Vincent de Paul their home parish. Parishioner John C. Kleczka, the first Polish-American to be elected to Congress, and U.S. Congressman Clement J. Zablocki, who would serve Wisconsin’s 4th district for 35 consecutive years, both attended primary school here.

John Casimir Kleczka had been born in Milwaukee on May 6, 1885. He attended school at St. Vincent de Paul and graduated from Marquette University. After studying law in Madison and Washington, he was admitted to the Wisconsin Bar in 1909. Following service in the Armed Forces in World War One, Kleczka was elected to Congress as a Republican in 1919. He returned to Wisconsin to practice law in 1923 and was elected as Circuit Court Judge where he served until his retirement in 1953. Kleczka passed away on April 21, 1959 and is interred in St. Adalbert’s Cemetery. One of the stained glass windows at St. Josaphat’s bears his family name.

Congressman John Clement Zablocki was born on November 18, 1912 and also attended St Vincent de Paul Primary School. The Congressman graduated from Marquette University and was a school teacher and choir director at St. Mary Magdalene and St. Vincent de Paul Parishes before entering state politics as a Democrat. From 1938 until his election to the United States Congress, Zablocki served as the organist at St. Vincent de Paul parish. Congressman Zablocki would serve his district from 1949 until his death on December 3, 1983. He was so popular in the district that, at times, his electoral majority of the vote exceeded 80%. While chairman of the powerful House Foreign Affairs Committee Zablocki helped to construct a children’s hospital in Cracow, Poland where he became friends with Father Karol Wojtyla, who would later become Pope John II. Congressman Zablocki was presented with Order of St. Gregory the Great, Knight Commander, in 1983 by the Pope. Eventually a school, library, park and the VA hospital would be carry his name in honor.
Today St. Vincent de Paul struggles in a changing neighborhood which faces the challenges of so many urban areas in America.

Saturday, August 13, 2011


Yesterday, the folks who run the Geni website pulled a surprise move and changed the rules under which Geni operates. Access to information about the tree to non-paying members of Geni has been severely curtailed. Unless Geni relents and reverts to something close to its old rules, it may no longer be a suitable site to contain the Milwaukee Polonia Project tree. We will continue to evaluate the situation and post further updates here. Fortunately, most of the information comprising the tree has been kept on a database distinct from Geni, so the data is still there. How easy it may be to migrate to a new location remains to be seen.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Big Crash of 2011 and a New Feature

The big new over the last two weeks is that Geni, which hosts the interlocking family trees, experienced severe technical difficulties.  It was actually shut down completely for more than 48 hours last weekend while the Geni technicians fixed the problem and re-loaded all the data.  It does not appear that any data was lost.  However, for over a week, the biographies of the Profiles on the Milwaukee Polonia Project homepage were missing.  In fact, they were not restored until today.

Even with Geni being down for part of the time, we were able to add about 200 names to the tree.  The following last names were added:

Bosche, Breza, Chizan, Deczeska, Giectowska, Gilinski, Gromowski, Grzezinska, Grzeziuska, Heltmach, Hoelnem, Idzikowski, Jendraszkiewicz, Kalczynski, Kobs, Kondziora, Koszula, Krasny, Krukowski, Krusick, Laskowski, Ligocki, Marx, Michalak, Napiantek, Niemczynski, Olejniczak, Polakowski, Prusyniski, Pulaski, Reidyk, Rogalski, Rosentretter, Rozmaryowska, Semrow, Sendziak, Sernau, Skoczek, Spircwka, Spirewka, Sulinska, Szot, Szymczak, Szyperska, Walkowski, Wawrzow,

Also,  "Bulvid" was corrected to "Buivid."

Introducing Milwaukee Memoirs

It has occurred to me that this would be an ideal forum to share our stories about growing up in Milwaukee. Therefore, if you have a story to tell, or the story of a family member to share, please e-mail me at

As an example of what I'm talking about, please see the memoirs of Fred Barzyk, a former director of WBGH in Boston.  You can find it at:  A Boy from Milwaukee.  Of course, yours does not have to be as elaborate as Fred Barzyk's.  Every story is interesting and even the smallest reflection can spark a memory in another person.