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, September 25, 2011

St. Stanislaus Church

The following article was 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. Stanislaus (Św. Stanislawa Biskupa I Meczennika)
524 W Historic Mitchell St
Milwaukee, WI 53204
Architect: Leonard A. Schmidtner

By this time, a Polish immigrant by the name of Anthony Kochanek had settled in Milwaukee. Kochanek was a native of East Prussia and, after purchasing a home on the south side of the city, opened a shoe repair shop on Florida Street. He eventually befriended Father Conrad, the pastor of a German parish, Holy Trinity who allowed a morning Mass to be performed in Polish. Kochanek’s daughter, Małgorzata, would be the very first Polish baby to be baptized in Milwaukee.

Kochanek and the tiny band of Poles living in Milwaukee were joined by a new group during the 1860s. Baltic fisherman primarily from Puck and the Hel peninsula near Gdansk (Danzig) learned of the exciting economic opportunities in Milwaukee through German newspapers and began to arrive in the city.
Called Kashubes, the fisherman were a hybrid ethnic group of sorts, speaking both rudimentary German and Polish in addition to their own native dialect. Illiterate and poor, they were somewhat shunned by more mainstream Poles who considered them as simple bare-footed peasants.

The Kashubes found life comfortable in Milwaukee not only because of the pervasive use of the German language throughout the city, but because Lake Michigan reminded them of the Baltic Sea where they had earned their livelihood. They began to settle on an area south of the city known as Jones Island. The area had been named for a man from Buffalo, New York - James M. Jones, who established a shipyard there in 1845. After a storm swept over the island in 1856, it had become completely abandoned and deemed uninhabitable.

The Kashubes did not bother going through the formalities of purchasing land nor registering deeds, they simply began building their homes, or more accurately shacks, on the marsh. The City of Milwaukee failed to take any notice of them because there was so little interest in this bit of wasteland. In 1872 Jacob Muza and his wife settled on the island and was proclaimed its “governor” by the inhabitants. Because the area was so swampy, only Muza was able to build his home on any solid footing. The other homes were erected on stilts because of the constant threats of flooding, and residents always kept boats close at hand. The “sidewalks” between the homes were simple wooden planks laid on the bog. With time, the Kashubes began to drain the swamp and fill in the island. The womenfolk built a breakwater from drift wood and filled wooden barrels with stones helped to create a barrier from the lake. Many of the Kashubes were also skilled net makers, oftentimes putting their children to work for a few cents per day to add to the family income. It was said that all the Jones Island residents did in the summer was fish, drink, and fight, and in the winter months they didn’t fish.

In the beginning, the Poles and their Kashube cousins in Milwaukee celebrated Mass at Holy Trinity and Czech parishes. In 1866, a core group of thirty families decided to petition the Milwaukee Archdiocese to organize their own parish. They desired to not only to worship God in their own native tongue but also wanted to have the opportunity to sing the Polish hymns that they still carried in their hearts. Building churches was an expensive proposition, and one Milwaukee’s poorest residents could scarcely afford.

But as one contemporary writer observed:

“Religion permeates the Polish peasant’s thought, speech, and daily life. The names of Christ and the Virgin are on his lips all the time. His legends and folklore are religious in character. His patriotism and religion are inseparably linked in his mind. A good Pole is expected to be a good Catholic”.

Another historian summarized it in this way:

“To the Pole, no matter how exquisite the church, none was too good for the services of the Lord. When it came to building an edifice of worship, the Polish zeal knew no bounds, it is often marveled how these penniless political outcasts, regardless of all odds against them, managed to bear this burden.”

The tiny group envisioned that this new parish could serve as a social gathering point for the city’s growing Polish and Kashube communities. So while the Germans would come to Milwaukee and build factories, the Poles would begin to pour their hearts and souls into constructing houses of worship.

Father Polak had established himself in Milwaukee and set about spearheading the efforts. From the back of an organizational meeting, the cobbler Anthony Kochanek rose and held up his treasured gold watch.

“The only way to make our dreams come true is to begin right now” Kochanek said passionately “I will offer my gold watch to be raffled and the money earned will become the nucleus of our church fund.”

Kochanek’s watch was sold for $225 (about $4000 in today’s currency) and served as the seed money for the parish. It was a considerable amount of money given the fact that the average Polish immigrant was only earning $0.67 working a twelve hour work day. Other creative money raising events were organized including a concert by the Holy Trinity parish choir which would eventually raise $4500. The parishioners purchased a little wooden Lutheran church at S. 5th and W Mineral Streets and named it for the famous Polish martyr, St. Stanislaus B.i.M.

Stanislaus of Szczepanów (July 26, 1030 – April 11, 1079) had been the Bishop of Kraków. A conflict had arisen between the church and Bolesław, the king of Poland at the time, during a prolonged war with Ruthenia. Hearing rumors that both their land and wives were being appropriated by scoundrels back on the home front, Polish knights began deserting the battlefield to take back what was rightfully theirs. This enraged the King, who cruelly punished many of the soldiers' allegedly unfaithful wives. The king’s reaction was strongly criticized by Bishop Stanisław and it had was rumored that the Bishop had also rebuked the king for sexual infidelity.
Whatever the actual cause of the conflict between them, the end result was that the Bishop eventually excommunicated King Bolesław from the church. Bolesław angrily accused Bishop Stanisław of treason and decided to have the Bishop murdered. When his men refused to carry out the order, Bolesław killed the Bishop himself while the Bishop was celebrating Mass. Bishop Stanisław was considered a martyr for the faith and eventually elevated to sainthood.

Shortly after the little church had been purchased, Father Polak’s health began to fail and he was replaced by Father Węglikowski. Father Polak would eventually find his way onto Stevens Point where he would pass away shortly thereafter.

The original St. Stanislaus church had a small bell and its windows were described as Gothic in style with six located on each side. There was a painting of the Virgin Mary above the altar but no sacristy. The first celebration of the sacrament of marriage in the new parish would be performed on August 12, 1866 between Ferdinand Helig and Anna Ulwisz. The first baptism was that of Ursula Hart, which was administered on the same day.

After ministering in the new St. Stanislaus only one year Father Buczynski left Milwaukee to organize another new parish for Polish immigrants in Berlin, Wisconsin. The pioneering priest would go on to everlasting life in 1872 and lie in an unmarked grave for over twenty years until other Polish priests would raise funds for a monument in 1899.

Following the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war, the stream of Poles arriving into the Milwaukee area became a flood. Many left to simply to avoid serving in the Prussian army, while others came for economic opportunity as well as political and religious freedom. The immigrants would typically disembark at the old Reed Street Railway station, whose structure could barely contain their numbers. Sitting on the sidewalk in small groups, they would be surrounded by all of their worldly possessions tied up neatly in bags and bundles. The center point was usually a nursing mother, as the father would be off either looking for relatives or seeking temporary shelter for the family.
A Milwaukee Sentinel reporter had these observations in 1874:
"The men are perhaps the most unskillful laborers who reach these shores, especially for work in cities.”
The reporter also observed that despite their low wages, they:
". . . have a strong prejudice against paying rent . . . usually the first money they can call their own is put into the purchase of a lot or part on which they mean to erect a house as soon as possible . . .".
This strong inclination to own, rather than rent, property remains a characteristic of modern Polish immigrants to the United States even to this day. The new arrivals began to settle in the area south of Greenfield Avenue. The section was wooded at the time, so the land needed to be cleared in order to build their small cottages. The Poles built their homes so closely together that they violated many of Milwaukee’s building codes, which resulted in one of the highest population densities in the US. These overcrowded conditions made them susceptible to all kinds of health problems and contagious diseases. Milwaukee’s 14th ward struggled with the highest infant mortality rate and lowest life expectancy of any area of the city. To make matters even worse, as money became available, the Poles would jack up their tiny homes and brick up a basement underneath, which would be rented out for additional cash. Thus began the south side tradition of the “Polish flat”.

Another characteristic which differentiated the Poles from other immigrant groups is that most of Poles believed their stay in Milwaukee was but a temporary one, and they would return to their homeland once it was freed from foreign domination. For this reason, Polish immigrants saw little value in learning to speak the English language, and were slower to “Americanize” than other ethnic groups in the city.

Without an ability to effectively communicate, the Poles found themselves stereotyped as being suited only for heavy, often dangerous, jobs in Milwaukee’s factories. They toiled in foundries, tanneries, and mills, with serious accidents being too often a hazard of the job. The word the Poles used to describe themselves, Polak, eventually became a term for contempt by other Milwaukee residents. Some upwardly mobile Poles found it necessary to Anglicize their “unpronounceable” family names in order to avoid discrimination and move up the American social ladder.

Realizing it was the value of education that could take their children away from this life of manual labor, it was at St. Stainislaus parish in Milwaukee that the very first Polish school in America was established in 1867. Sister Maria Tyta was assigned as its teacher. Born in 1850 in Opole, Silesia, Sister Tyta had come to the U.S. in 1855, first settling in Texas and later moving to St. Louis. She entered the Notre Dame Order in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and became the first Polish Sister to be educated in the United States. Sister Tyta was initially assisted at St. Stan school by a novice from Ireland, Sister Marjanna. On September 8, 1868, twenty students began classes at the new school as well as receiving their first Holy Communion. In 1869 two additional sisters would arrive, novice Rozalia and Sister Melarja. Sister Tyta would leave this life in 1920 after serving St. Stan for many years.

In 1867 Father Węglikowski was succeeded by Father Bonaventura Buczyński, who had now given up trying to deal with the tavern owners in Polonia. Father Buczyński would serve the parish for only one year and was followed by a German priest, Father J. Jaster. Because Father Jaster was not a native Polish speaker he was assisted by Father J. Wiczewski. Father John Rodowicz, took over the leadership of the parish from Father Jaster in 1870. Father Rodowicz had come from a Polish district of Lithuania and was a political activist on behalf of Polish independence. Unfortunately, his activities outside of the church attracted the attention of the Czarist police. Hearing that he had been marked for arrest, Father Rodowicz had escaped to Munich with the help of friends. He then attended university at Innsbruck in Austria before immigrating to Milwaukee in 1870.

The parish continued to grow as additional Polish immigrants continued to arrive in the city. In July of 1872 plans were drawn up to build a new, and more substantial church building. Architect Schmidtner (Schmidtner was actually Polish and had changed his name from Kowalski) was brought in to draw up the plans, which, when completed, bordered on the monumental. Schmidtner was well known in the area, having been previously designed the Milwaukee courthouse. Archbishop Henni was called in to bless the cornerstone in July 1872 and parishioners set up booths to sell various articles and refreshments during the ceremony to raise funds. These efforts netted over $1000 for the parish. In addition, each parishioner was assessed $30, which was by now approximately three week’s wages. Jan Polaski, an American Civil War veteran, even donated one of his prize cows for the project. Picnics and concerts were also held, but it was not nearly enough. Eventually the group needed to take out a loan for $20,000 from the Second Ward Bank to fund the project. In an act of deep faith, many parishioners pledged their own homes and properties as collateral for the loan. Their commitment to their Catholic faith was nothing short of remarkable.

Initially, the foundation contract was contracted to a Mr. Wierzbieniec who promptly took the $800 deposit given to him and left town. Following this rather unfortunate experience, a second general contractor named Busack was then hired and the carpentry work provided by a Mr. Poppert. A rood beam was donated by grateful residents of Jones Islands to give thanks for recently surviving a terrible flood from Lake Michigan. Legend has it that the wood from this beam came from one of the many ships which had brought Polish immigrants to the New World.

When it was finally completed in 1873, the new St. Stanislaus church was truly magnificent. It would be the very first completely Polish church to be constructed in an urban area in the United States. “Saint Stan”, as it was affectionately called, was 150 ft long, 50 ft wide and built at a total cost of $80,000 of which $28,000 went for the twin steeples alone, which housed three great bells. Many said the new church was grand as any of the great cathedrals back in their native land (and certainly more beautiful than any of the German churches in the city).

In 1874 the Kosciuszko Guard was organized in Milwaukee by one August Rudzinski. The Guard was duly recognized as a militia company by the Governor of the State of Wisconsin and issued one hundred rifles along with belts and ammunition. The Guard was based at Kosciuszko Hall, which would later become a Milwaukee landmark. Just four years after organizing the militia, Rudzinski would become the first Pole elected to Milwaukee county office.

The first organist at Saint Stan went by the name of Biernacki and the parish director was Antoni Kochanek. Unfortunately, the early parishioners were often prone to quarreling over decisions relating to the church, and a major row ensued at St Stanislaus in 1875. Two influential families fought over the ordering of a new clock and choice of organist. Rock throwing and fist fights broke out among the flock and Milwaukee Archbishop Henni was forced to close St Stanislaus for six weeks to allow the situation to cool off. During this period, the parishioners had to attend Mass instead at a nearby German parish, St. Anthony, while the conflict continued. Eventually a parishioner named Ignacy Czerwiński volunteered to serve as the negotiator between the two factions. A truce was brokered and the church finally reopened.

Following the crisis, many in the parish blamed the priest, Father Radowicz, for inflaming the conflict and forcing the closure of their beloved church. But the priest had a key defender in Sister Tyta who had said that he was a gentle, hardworking, and honest priest who had been bullied by aggressive factions within the parish.

In any event, to calm the situation Archbishop Henni decided to exchange Father Radowicz with Saint Hedwig’s parish priest, Father Ksawery (Xavier) Kralczynski. Father Kralcynski was, unfortunately, quite old and in poor health. The new pastor, therefore, soon found it necessary to take on an assistant, Father Hyacinth (Jacek) Gulski to assist him in his tasks. Father Gulski would eventually become one of the most beloved priests in Polish Milwaukee.

In 1876 Father Kralczynski died suddenly in the sacristy after delivering the homily and Father Gulski was named as his replacement. Another in a long line of politically activist priests, Father Gulski had come to the USA in 1875 to avoid further persecution from the German authorities. Born in West Prussia in 1847, he entered the Priesthood in 1873. Father Gulski spent nearly two years in hiding after his monastery had been closed during Otto von Bismarck’s Kulturkampf, (“Cultural Struggle”) which was a series of laws enacted to reduce the power of the Catholic Church as well as to eliminate the Polish language and culture from Germany. When Father Gulski finally left the Reich, he traveled first to Holland before settling in Wisconsin in 1875. His first assignment was to serve a Polish parish which had been established in Berlin, WI. After just eight months, Archbishop Henni had requested that Father Gulski be transferred to St. Stanislaus to assist the ailing Father Kralczynski.

Under Father Gulski’s guidance, St Stan grew significantly. The spires of the church were covered in beautiful copper sheets and in 1882 a record ninety six marriages were performed in the church, a level which would never be equaled. The church was now serving 400 families, a dramatic increase from the original thirty and a new rectory had to be added. Eventually, even the massive new cathedral could not to cope with the numbers desiring to worship every Sunday.

Father Gulski left St. Stanislaus to begin organizing a new parish, St. Hyacinth (Jacka) just to the west. Many felt it was a noble sacrifice for Father Gulski to leave his prestigious position at St. Stan and begin a new congregation from scratch.

His replacement at St. Stan was Father Hipolit Górski, who had been born in April 2, 1847 in West Prussia and arrived to America in 1875. Father Górski spent two years as the founder of a Polish parish in Beaver Dam before being assigned to Saint Stanislaus in 1877 as an assistant. Father Górski would eventually spend eighteen years serving this parish.

A plan was drawn up to enlarge the church significantly. Each parishioner was taxed $15 to finance the construction. The project was eventually completed in 1884 without requiring any funds from a lending institution. The church had been painted, copper was gilded onto the ceiling, a new organ purchased, the floor was raised, and school had been expanded. The cost of just the masonry in the school exceeded $24,000. Father Górski passed away on November 22, 1894 after a long battle with stomach cancer.

On May 1, 1886 about two thousand Polish workers gathered at St. Stanislaus to protest the mandatory ten hour work day. As they marched through the city, workers from other factories along the route joined in the procession, and at the end the marchers numbered sixteen thousand strong.

That same week, more than 150 Polish workers attacked the A.P. Allis plant in order to extract better working conditions from the factory’s owners. On May 5th, a day which also coincided with the Haymarket Riot in Chicago, more than 14,000 workers gathered at the Illinois Steel Company rolling mill in Bay View. They were challenged by 250 Wisconsin National Guardsmen who were under orders from Governor Jeremiah Rusk to "shoot to kill" any strikers who attempted to enter the facility. Key among the Guardsmen were members of Milwaukee’s Koscioszko Guards who now faced the possibility of aiming rifles at their neighbors and friends. [Ed. Note:  This is the same event described in the Profile of Andrzej Boncel.]

Tensions mounted and the following day, the crowd, which included women and children, began to march towards the mill from St. Stanislaus. They were fired upon by the nervous Guardsmen and seven people were killed, including a thirteen-year-old boy who had been on the sidelines. It was a tragic day in the history of Milwaukee. It has been said that the Kosciuszko Guards refused to fire directly into the crowd, shooting instead over their heads. The city was stunned by the events, and the labor protests melted away without further violence.

Father Paul Szulerecki became the eighth pastor of St. Stan in 1895. Father Szulerecki had come to the US in 1888 and attended the St. Francis Seminary, serving first in Chicago following his ordination. In 1893 he was assigned as an assistant at St. Josaphat’s in Milwaukee.

During his tenure St. Stan was again renovated and marble installed within the building. Four large bells, each inscribed with the names of their donors were added around the turn of the century, the largest being a massive 72 inches in diameter. Again, it was only through considerable sacrifice that the humble parishioners of St. Stanislaus made their flagship cathedral one of the most beautiful in the entire state of Wisconsin.

Jones Island, meanwhile, had grown to a population of 2000 boasting eleven saloons and seven stores. Millions of pounds of fish were being caught each year by residents and sold to markets throughout the city. Thanks to the hard work of the Kashubes, Jones Island had been converted from a desolate swampland to valuable real estate along the lake. The island had now caught the eye of the Illinois Steel Company who saw its commercial potential. The company purchased Jones Island legally from the city and began a legal process to evict the Kashubes from it. In 1896 lawsuits were filed against 150 families on behalf of the steel concern. The island residents found a defender in Victor L. Berger, an immigrant school teacher and Marxist, whose People’s Party took up their cause. Berger would eventually go on to achieve some degree of fame as the first Socialist Party member to be elected to U.S. Congress.

To defend themselves in the court, “Governor” Muza attempted to point out that it was only through the labor of the residents that the island had been recovered from the marsh. But without any legal paperwork to substantiate their claims, the process continued to move forward. The first person to be evicted from the island was a man named Budizsz, who was forced out on November 5, 1902. As the removals continued and carpenters arrived to tear down their homes, the women of Jones island often used broom sticks in a futile effort to defend their homesteads. It was estimated that the Illinois Steel would eventually spend more than $250,000 on legal action against the Kashubes to reclaim the bit of real estate.
Around the turn of the century, some 877 children were attending St. Stanislaus School. In 1910 Father Szulerecki had a stroke and, as a result, became partially paralyzed. Eventually the priest could no longer perform his duties and Archbishop Messmer appointed Father Dr. J. Chylewskiego as pastor. Saint Stan was now being called the richest and most elegant Polish parish in America as well as the “Mother Church for all Milwaukee’s Poles”. Father Szulerekci passed away in the rectory on October 17, 1913.
A major milestone occurred for Polish Catholics in Milwaukee in November of 1913, when the Archdiocese appointed a Pole as auxiliary bishop for Milwaukee. He was only the second ethnic Pole to reach this status in the U.S. Father Edward Kozłowski had been born on November 21, 1860 in Tarnow, located in the Austrian occupied part of Poland. He had come to the USA in 1885, first settling in Chicago and then studying for the priesthood at St. Francis Seminary in Milwaukee. After ordination as a priest in 1887, he had been sent to troublesome Polish parishes in Michigan. Unrest had begun to break out between the Poles and local church hierarchy over questions of representation in the Archdiocese and the disbursement of church funds. In many cases, Poles were seeking recognition as a significant part of the church faithful. After pacifying one quarrelsome church in Midland he was sent to another plagued with more serious trouble in East Saginaw. The parish had already been split and church closed, and shots had even been fired at the priest. Father Kozłowski’s brought a calming presence to a very tense situation and eventually the parish would reopen.
Father Kozłowski showed the gift of not only working with combatant Poles but also of maintaining a good relationship with the local German Archbishop, Bishop Richter. Father Kozłowski was then asked to move to Manistee, MI to pacify St. Joseph’s Parish there and in 1900 he was transferred to yet another divided congregation, St. Stanislaus Kosta in Bay City. He went to organize parishes and parochial schools in Fisherville, Mt.Forest, and Nine Mile, Michigan even using his own money to construct a library there. Father Kozłowski was praised for offering an opportunity to educate Polish children in their own language and in the Catholic faith, thus “saving” them from the secular and Anglophone public school system. His many qualities appealed to Milwaukee Archbishop Messmer, who was facing some dissent from Polish factions in Milwaukee as well.
Unfortunately, Father Kozłowski also had adversaries within the Church and rumors emerged alleging he had fathered a child out of wedlock with his housekeeper, a Mrs. Kraskowska. The allegations went so far as to suggest Father Kozłowski’s “love child” had also gone on to become a priest. But supporters did some quick math, and for the stories to have been true, Father Kozlowski would have had to become a father at the rather tender age of 14.

On January 14, 1914 amid much celebration, Father Kozłowski became the diocesan auxiliary of Milwaukee as well as pastor at St. Stanislaus. An estimated 50,000 gathered at the church to catch a glimpse of the new Bishop. A parade was organized starting at St. John’s Cathedral and passed along Milwaukee’s streets which were lit with torches. A carriage pulled by four horses took Bishop Kozłowski to St. Stanislaus, which was filled to capacity.

Bishop Kozłowski had some serious concerns about assuming the post. Tensions between the Milwaukee Polish community and Archdiocese had reached a boiling point over a number of matters. The rival Polish National Catholic Church was attracting members in the Milwaukee area. But with his very first homily he set a very healing tone, which he called “Everything for God and Fatherland, through love”. His words were warmly received not only by the church establishment but dissent priests such as Father Kruszka of St. Adalbert’s, who had a strained relationship with the Milwaukee Archbishop.
During his brief tenure Bishop Kozłowski worked tirelessly to heal wounds among the Polish parishioners in Milwaukee and address grievances for Polish priests, who were paid lower salaries than their German and Irish brethren. His prior experiences as a diplomat and peacemaker in Michigan were to prove invaluable in this task. Just one year after his appointment, Bishop Kozłowski fell ill from blood poisoning and died on August 7, 1915. His final words were:

“I feel that I am dying, but dying with a broken heart. I gave my all to God, to my Church, and to my brethren, and now I give my life. I would like to live just a little longer that I might the better serve the cause of my Polish people, but if it is God’s will that I die, I accept His will with humility and submission”.

The pride of “Stanisłowo” had passed away. More than 30,000 mourners attended the memorial service. Bishop Paul Rhode, a fellow Pole, declared:

“How difficult it was for us to obtain a second Polish bishop, and how easy to lose him”.

Bishop Kozłowski buried at St. Adalbert’s cemetery with full honors. A costly and beautiful monument was erected above his grave by the Union of Polish Priests of America. In this atmosphere of great sorrow, Father Ludwig Louis Jurasiński took charge of the flock at St. Stanislaus. Father Jurasinski, also a native of Poland, had received a degree from Marquette University and was a great believer in the value of education.

In 1932, the priest began to initiate a secondary educational program at St. Stanislaus School. Up until this point there hadn’t been a single Catholic high school in the entire city of Milwaukee. Seventy-one incoming freshman began classes that year. In 1933, two sophomore classes were added. Unfortunately, Father Juasinski passed away in 1935 just as the first senior class of thirty-one students began. Father Michael E. Wenta was appointed as the replacement pastor.

Father Wenta, had also been born in Poland and ordained at St. Francis Seminary in 1902. After serving a parish in Beaver Dam, WI, he became pastor of St. Hedwig’s in 1912. In 1925, Pope Pius bestowed upon him the title of Monsignor, recognizing that Father Wenta was a man of great learning and accomplishment. .

St. Stanislaus High School would eventually become a leading parochial school on Milwaukee’s south side. It was later renamed “Notre Dame High School” and eventually attracted students from over sixty-five parishes. Msgr. Wenta passed away on April 14, 1940 and was laid to eternal rest in St. Adalbert’s cemetery

Msgr. Wenta was followed by Rev. Dr. Bernard Kobelinski, whose parents had been married at St. Stan in 1876. He was the first son of St. Stan to become its pastor. Dr. Kobelinski was a magna cum laude graduate of Marquette University and had earned a doctorate of Philosophy in Rome. Following his ordination in 1926, Archbishop Messmer had asked Dr. Kobelinski to organize the new Blessed Sacrament parish in a growing area on Milwaukee’s west side. In 1940, Archbishop Kiley appointed Dr. Kobelninski as pastor of St. Stanislaus.

An era for Saint Stanislaus parish finally came to an end in 1943, when the last resident of Jones Island, Capt. Felix Struck, left to make way for the sanitation plant and civic improvements. The Kashubes had proven indeed to be a tough lot, as it had taken nearly forty years to evict them all. On March 15, 1944 Dr. Kobelinski was also awarded with the title of Right Reverend Monsignor. Monsignor Kobelinski passed away in 1958 and was replaced by Monsignor Raymond A. Punda.

Father Punda had spent his entire life serving St. Stan having arrived to serve the parish on June 3, 1939 after graduating from the St. Francis seminary. He had served as an Army chaplain in the Pacific in World War II and returned to Milwaukee in 1946 where he was appointed president of Notre Dame High School by Archbishop Kiley.

Father Punda traveled to Poland in the summer of 1959 to personally invite the Primate of Poland, Stefan Cardinal Wyszynkski to the 100th anniversary celebration of St. Stan slated for 1966. Cardinal Wyszynski, who had spent time in prison under the Communist regime for his beliefs, gratefully accepted the offer. Father Punda and his parishioners then undertook a project to completely renovate the church in anticipation of the coming celebration and visit by the Cardinal. Each parishioner agreed to donate one hour’s wage per week to assist in the construction. The work began in earnest in 1960 and overseen by architect Mark F. Pfaller and Associates. The rotting wood trim, some of which had been part of the original church structure, was replaced. The mortar was also removed, tuck pointed, and a new tile roof installed in 1961.

Because the towers stand 200ft from the ground, the work was very dangerous. During 1961 and 1962, the twin domes and the smaller one at the rear of the church covering the “mass bell” were reconstructed of heavy steel and welded aluminum, and finally covered in 23-carat gold leaf. On September 12, 1962 the golden towers were swung into place by a 200 ft boom. The engineering spectacle drew crowds of onlookers and created a traffic jam on the streets below.

A fire broke out on the left side altar on January 8, 1962 and there was considerable smoke damage to the church. After cleaning the rectory, front portico, and entrance to the church were redesigned and constructed of stone and granite.

The Conrad Schmitt Studio designed new stained glass windows for the church. The new design did not depict a biblical storyline as had been the previous custom, but reflected more modern ecclesiastical themes. The windows were constructed by an experimental method which was being developed in Europe at the time. Pieces of glass were cut by hand and then chipped with a hammer and faceted so that the light entering the church became a diffused prism. Unfortunately, for reasons unknown, Father Punda ordered the original windows of the church destroyed rather than placing them in storage.

The four tower bells, the largest in Milwaukee and already seventy-one years old were automated. The restoration work also allowed them to be swung at 180 degrees. A new altar was built from the original building materials and the historic rood beam donated by the residents of Jones Island remained firmly in place.

New mosaics were installed inside the church depicting the Stations of the Cross. They were also designed by Conrad Schmitt Studios and executed in Rome by the famous artist Cassio, who, at the time, was responsible for all Vatican mosaic work. A beautiful outdoor mosaic on the south side of the church was dedicated to The Madonna Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa and it is believed to be the largest mosaic image of the icon in the world. The mosaic’s inscription reads:

“Ascend Mortals to this
Mountain Top
For here Through Mary, You
Shall Obtain Salvation”

The painting of Our Lady of Czestochowa, also known as the “Black Madonna”, is attributed to St. Luke the Evangelist. It had protected Constantinople from attack in 326 A.D. and suffered damage during an attack by Tartars on Poland in 1382. The two scars on the face were inflicted by a looter who was struck dead as he raised his arm to slash the picture for the third time in 1430. The painting is also became known as the Black Madonna because of the soot residue from centuries of burning candles which have discolored it.
At the time dozens of devotional lights burned below the mosaic, which drew the faithful to prayer. (The devotions were later prohibited by the Milwaukee Fire Department for safety reasons.) A parade commemorating the Polish Millennium was held in Milwaukee on May 3, 1966, with a special float depicting the rosary. On Friday August 26 1966, the day of the Feast of Our Lady of Chestochowa, St. Stanislaus commemorated the millennium of Polish Christianity and its own 100th anniversary. The church had been completely renovated with its domes newly gilded and the interior complemented with gold leaf and new mosaics. Cardinal Wyszynski of Poland had been refused an exit visa by the Communist government and, unfortunately, could not attend. Bishop Ladislaus Rubin of Rome attended the celebrations in his place. Thousands joined in a nine day event which culminated in a jubilee dinner and social .

The following year, Monsignor Punda initiated the Poprawiny, to celebrate the parish’s centennial each year. This tradition would continue until 1982. Under his guidance, the church became affectionately known as the “Punderosa” after the popular TV show. In the 60s and 70s, the school prospered and a Bingo Program was organized in the fall of 1974 to help the parish meet its financial obligations. As many as 750 people would attend on Wednesday nights.

A major disruption to the parish occurred with the completion of the I-94 expressway, which forced the relocation of many members into other areas of the city. Thus began a gradual decline in parish membership as well as attendance at the school. Monsignor Punda died suddenly in Poland on March 20, 1979 at the age of 66. He had devoted most of his life to serving St. Stan. Outside of three years in the U.S. Military in World War II as a chaplain, he was a fixture at the parish becoming principal of the High School in 1945 and its pastor in 1958. 

By 1988, only a few Sisters remained in the convent. After serious discussion the convent was razed and sisters retired to another convent in Elm Grove, Wisconsin. Around this same time the high school was closed and building sold. St. Stan celebrated its 125th anniversary with a mass on September 8, 1991.

Attendance at St. Stan continued to decline as changes came to the neighborhood around it, and eventually there was some threat of closure. However, the church received a new lease on life when it became home for the city’s Tridentine Mass community. It remains as the “Mother of All Polish Churches” in Milwaukee, which would eventually facilitate sixteen new parishes.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Featured Profiled #4 - Michael Wenta

Rt. Rev. Michael Wenta
Michael Wenta (1877 - 1940)

A first cousin to Michael Domachowski, the two priests led remarkably parallel lives.  Although Rt. Rev. Michael Wenta did not garner quite the collection of medals as Rt. Rev. Domachowski, he was still one of the most loved and respected priests in Milwaukee.

Michael Wenta was born in Starogard Gdanski in Pomerania on September 20, 1877  (two years after Michael Domachowski had been born in the nearby village of Pinczyn.) He was the youngest of the 10 children born to Katarzyna (Radomska) Wenta and her husband, Anton Wenta.

In early 1883, Anton, Katarzyna and at least five of their children boarded the S.S. Maas in Rotterdam and headed to America.  They arrived in New York City on March 9, 1883, and then made their way to Milwaukee.

Although Anton was listed as a merchant on the ship manifest, in Milwaukee he was a stone cutter.  Katarzyna was a midwife.  Meanwhile, young Michael studied at the St. Stanislaus and St. Josephat's schools.  Like Michael Domachowski, he then went on to Marquette College (later Marquette University) where he graduated with a Master of Arts in 1898 before enrolling in St. Francis Seminary.  He and Michael Domachowski both graduated from St. Francis in 1901.

Michael Wenta's first pastorate was at St. Michael's parish in Beaver Dam.  He quickly determined that the parish was out-growing its present church, and he immediately set out to build a new one.  The construction of the new St. Michael's (now privately owned as the Chapel of the Archangels) was begun in 1903.  Eventually, a new rectory and school were also added.

After St. Michael's in Beaver Dam, Michael Wenta was appointed the pastor at St. Hedwig's in Milwaukee.  (St. Hedwig's is now part of the Three Holy Women Parish.) From 1911 to 1935, the Rt. Reverend (he was elevated to Monsignor in 1925, almost 10 years prior to Michael Domachowski), Michael Wenta presided over the "Golden Years" of St. Hedwig's.  The growth of the church during that time period is reflected by the fact that its school added six classrooms and reached its peak enrollment of 1129.

Michael Wenta was an accomplished and recognized orator.  He was often asked to give sermons on special occasions, many times in Polish.  Maybe because of these skills, and his "distinguished bearing," he was often chosen to represent the archdiocese on significant occasions.  Here he is shown in the Milwaukee Sentinel as part of the greeting committee for Cardinal Mundelein, who came for the consecration of St. Josephat's in November, 1928.

From left to right:  Mgsr Bernard Traudt, Cardinal Mundelein, Mgsr. Michael Wenta, Mgsr. Felix Baran.

In 1935, Michael Wenta was transferred from St. Hedwig's to St. Stanislaus where he became not only pastor, but the principal of the St. Stanislaus High School, the first Catholic high school in Milwaukee.  He continued at St. Stanislaus until his death in 1940.

Michael Wenta's death on April 14, 1940 of a cerebral hemorrhage was sudden and unexpected.   It was a shock to the community as he was one of the best-loved priests in Milwaukee.  His funeral was thronged by those wishing to pay their respects.  The large space of St. Stanislaus was filled to capacity, and hundreds more stood outside during the service.  The attendees included Archbishop Kiley of Milwaukee, Archbishop (later Cardinal) Stritch of Chicago and more than 200 monsignors and priests from around Wisconsin.  Secular dignitaries included Mayor Carl Zeidler, City Attorney Walter Mattison and City Comptroller William Wendt, among others.  However, although well-regarded by all these important individuals, Michael Wenta was a humble man.  It may be a mark of his humbleness that Michael Wenta, who had so often been asked to give sermons during funerals (including that for Michael Domachowski, who had died just two months previously) specifically directed in his Will that no sermon should be given during his own funeral.  Instead, a simple rosary was said.

Undoubtedly, the most important contribution of Michael Wenta to Milwaukee were the many fine students that studied at St. Stanislaus High School under his leadership.  However, the most recognizable contribution that he made was the memorial to his mother which is one of the main features of St. Adalbert's Cemetery.

The copper statue was designed by L. Panzeri of Milan, Italy.  It is reportedly in the likeliness of Michael's mother.  All this is notable enough.  What is ironic about this statue is that Michael Wenta's brother Anton was a stone cutter and the founder and operator of the Wenta Monument Co., purveyors of fine monuments since 1896.  Although Anton Wenta had predeceased his mother, the business was still in the family at the time of Katarzyna's death.  It is rumored that the fact Michael Wenta went outside the family to order this elaborate memorial to his mother caused a little consternation in the family.

Michael Wenta and his mother, Katarzyna (Radomski) Wenta, probably at his ordination in 1902

Relation to Last Featured Profile (Michael Domachowski)First Cousin
Path From Last Featured ProfileMichael Domachowski to his mother, Marjanna (Radomska) Domachowska, to her sister, Katarzyna (Radomski) Wenta, to her son Michael Wenta.


"Msgr. M.J. Wenta, Beloved Cleric, Dies Suddenly,"  Milwaukee Sentinel, April 15, 1940, p. 1 (all page references are to pages on Google News.)

"Msgr. Wenta's Rites are Said,"  Milwaukee Journal, April 18, 1940, p. 29

The Pinkowski Files, quoting Who's Who in Polish America.

"Rites for Priest are Arranged," Milwaukee Journal, February 9, 1940, p.25.

Smallshaw, John M., Faith Cast in Stone, The Polish Churches of Milwaukee 1866-2000, published privately.

"Twenty-Five Years Ago Today," Milwaukee Journal, June 4, 1926, p. 22.

Monday, September 5, 2011

More Bad News

 Two weeks ago,  I discussed how changes to was going to make the tree less accessible to non-paying members of geni.  Although the changes to geni are frustrating, they only marginally affected the basic research to discover the links connecting Polish-American families of Milwaukee.  However, there are dark clouds on the horizon portending a drastic degradation to our basic research.  As reported recently in The Daily Mirror, Google has announced that it is no longer adding newspapers to the archive.  More importantly to us, the user interface has become more difficult to use.  This will make it more time-consuming to find much of the interesting history of Milwaukee Polonia that we discuss in this blog.  Even more frightening to us is the The Daily Mirror speculation that in a year or two, Google News may cease to exist.  If that does come to pass, it would put a virtual halt to our history research.  In addition, it would make the treasure trove of genealogical information contained in the published death notices inaccessible, making our research just that much more difficult.  Let us hope that the speculation regarding the death of Goolge News is misplaced.  In the meantime, we will work hard to mine that information while it there.

For the past two weeks, I have again been working on clearing the back-log of accumulated documents in our data base.  However, as so often happens, although I start off randomly,  I am often channeled in a specific direction by curiosity.  In this case, I got pulled toward researching the various Rakowski families in Milwaukee.  I had noticed that there were at least four places where Rakowskis were connected to the tree, and I wondered whether I could connect these different Rakowski families to one another.  Unfortunately, I have not been able to do that, so far, but the research is still on-going.  In the meantime, I have learned more about those various Rakowski families.

Since the last Status Update two weeks ago:

Profiles Added:  At least 178
New Family Names Added:

Badura, Banaszueski, Bartkus, Basinska, Biesik, Blicharz, Bondar, Borck, Brodaczynska, Bronikowska, Busik, Cajzowska, Cgaide, Cygan, Czaplewski, Czarniak, Czyzmowski, Frydrych, Geisler, Graszkowski, Gregorski, Kafura, Kapitanski, Kazmarek, Klement, Kolodziejczyk, Kolodziejski, Komassa, Kominski, Kraucunas, Kultgen, Lemke, Malkowski, Manowska, Muekowska, Niklas, Novakowska, Pauszek, Pogorzelski, Rogaczewski, Rolewski, Skrzypczak, Starszak, Sternberg, Swindawicz, Szejna, Szyper, Ugalde, Wolszleger, Wojtkowski, Wozmiecka, Zarkowski.

Point of Origin Update:  We have discovered that another Milwaukee family also has connection to
Bługowo, Poland, which was featured in our Points of Origin.  Stanislaus Kolodziejczyk and Ewa Plewa were married in Bługowo in 1869 and then, eventually, came to Milwaukee.