The tasks which the Society of Christ set up for itself are closely related to the fate of the Polish diaspora. The motto of the Society is “To serve God and the Polish diaspora.” Over generations, this diaspora has sought spiritual sustenance in the traditions of Polish religiosity.

Time and again, experience has shown that Polish émigrés retain their cultural and historical memories remarkably well. Whenever Catholic Poles have been compelled to leave the country of their birth, they customarily took with them the Faith of their Fathers, and the memory of the land where they acquired that Faith.

            The story of the Society of Christ is thus interwoven with the story of Poland. When Poland regained independence after the First World War, seven million Poles found themselves outside the borders of the country. Many of them wished to be able to hear Masses and conduct their religious life in Polish. Therefore, in 1920 the Catholic bishops of Poland resolved to establish a priestly Society whose task would be to serve the Polish communities abroad. Edward Cardinal Dalbor was the Primate of Poland at that time, and he set about organizing the Society. Augustus Cardinal Hlond took over the job of establishing the Society after Cardinal Dalbor’s demise. In 1929, Hlond opened the first Seminary whose mission was to educate priests to work in Catholic communities with Polish roots worldwide. In 1931 the Vatican formally bestowed on the Polish Primate the task of priestly service to Polonia. Cardinal Hlond was convinced of the importance of the task, hence his now-famous remark that “Polish souls often perish in alien milieux.” The Cardinal secured from the Vatican a permission to start a new religious Society to serve Poles abroad: the Society of Christ, or Societas Christi pro Emigrantibus. The name of the Society was bestowed by Pope Pius XI.

            Rev. Ignacy Posadzy was asked to assist in organizing the new Society. A family mansion of Potulice and fifty acres of parkland were given to the Society by Countess Aniela Potulicka. In September 1932, 37 candidates began their novitiate in Potulice. Soon the new Seminary became the center of activities related to religious assistance to the Polish diaspora. A printing house was set up and the following periodicals came into existence: Głos Seminarium Zagranicznego (mostly for priests in their missions), Msza Swieta (Holy Mass) and Poczet polskich Swietych (The Saints of Poland) for the faithful. In the 1930s the Society erected another building in the city of Poznaƒ (the Ostrów Tumski district), and purchased houses in Puszczyków and Dolsko. The seminarians studied in Gniezno, Poznan, and Rome. In 1939 the Society had about 300 members. Its priests worked in England, Estonia, France, and Italy.

            In 1939 the invading Germans took away all of the Society’s possessions including real estate. In spite of this, 43 clerics were consecrated as priests in conditions of conspiracy during the Second World War. During the war the Society of Christ worked in German camps where Polish Catholics pressed into hard labor were housed. The conditions under which the Society of Christ worked during the Second World War are beyond description. Thirty-eight of the Society’s priests were imprisoned and twenty-five killed. After liberation, the priests who had been pressed into hard labor in Germany began working among the Polish Displaced Persons. Some priests returned to Soviet-occupied Poland. After the war the Society regained only the greatly damaged buildings in Poznan and Puszczykow. The other two buildings were appropriated by the communist authorities. Thus Poznan became the center of the Society’s work.

            The Society of Christ members were the first Catholic priests to begin parochial work in the formerly German territories which the Great Powers gave to Poland in compensation for the lost eastern territories annexed by the Soviet Union. On 6 May 1945 Rev. Florian Berlik, S.Chr., was the first priest to say Mass in war-ravaged Szczecin (Stettin) in northwestern Poland. However, in Soviet-occupied Poland travel abroad was severely limited because the communist authorities very seldom granted passports to priests. There was no shortage of candidates for priesthood, however. In 1946 Cardinal Hlond wrote the following in the Commemorative Book of the Poznaƒ Seminary: “Show the way to the Polish pilgrims. In humility and total self-abandonment, and in the spirit of profound concern for Polish souls, serve the cause of the Kingdom of God in places where Poles have been overwhelmed by the impossibility of returning to their country.” After the “thaw” of 1956, when passports become easier to obtain, priests from the Society of Christ began to regularly travel abroad to reach the Polish diaspora scattered literally in all the countries of the world.

            On September 18, 1956, Rev. Jan Otłowski, SCh, arrived in the United States. After a short stay he moved on to Canada where he founded the first House of the Society of Christ on the American continent. In 1966 in the U.S. and Canada there worked twelve priests from the Society. Rev. Wojciech Kania became their first American Provincial; he held this office until 1970, when he returned to Poland to become Superior General of the Society. He was replaced by Rev. Franciszek Okroy and, in 1973, by Rev. Władysław Gowin. Under Gowin’s leadership, the offices of the Province were moved from Warren, R.I. to Detroit, MI. In 1976 the Society purchased a building in the suburbs of Detroit. The Provincial House soon became the center of religious and social activity for the local Polonia. On February 2, 1978, the North American Province of the Society of Christ was formally inaugurated, and Our Lady of the Polish Diaspora was declared patroness of the new Province. In 2006 this Province had 53 priests who worked in 22 centers and churches in the United States, and 8 such centers in Canada. Priests from S.Ch. work in the following American archdioceses: Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, Galveston-Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Milwaukee, New York, Portland, St.Paul-Minneapolis, Seattle, San Francisco, and Washington, DC. They also work in the dioceses of Dallas, Jolliet-Illinois, Paterson, Pensacola-Tallahassee, Phoenix, San Diego, San Jose, and Toledo. In Canada, they work in the archdioceses of Toronto and Regina, and in the dioceses of Antigonish, Calgary, Hamilton, London, Pembroke, and Saint Paul. In 1988–95, Rev. Tadeusz Winnicki was the American Provincial. In July 1995 he was elected Superior General and returned to Poland, to be replaced by the new Provincial, Rev. Andrzej Maslejak.

            The Society of Christ priests have been assisted in their work by Missionaries of Christ the King, a women’s order founded by the Rev. Posadzy back in the 1930s. However, the Sisters work in only a few American parishes and missions.

            The parishes and missions staffed by the Society of Christ priests engage in a variety of activities, from spiritual to social, charitable, and cultural. The priests organize, sponsor, or support catechization of children, Saturday language schools, church choirs, prayer groups, Bible Study groups, pilgrimages, lector groups, senior clubs, cultural and sports clubs, folklore dancing ensembles and the like. Polish parishes and missions sponsor or support Polish folk festivals, Easter and Christmas dinners and suppers, the Polish custom of wafer-sharing on Christmas Eve, and Polish historical anniversaries. The Church thus participates in the maintenance of the Polish cultural heritage, indeed it encourages people to know and respect their national and cultural past.

            At present, the Society of Christ has 382 priests, 23 brothers, 63 clerics, 12 members of the novitiate, and six aspirants to the novitiate. The Seminary in Poznaƒ opened its doors to candidates from Australia, Brazil, Belarus, Germany, Romania, Ukraine and the United States. The headquarters of the Society are located in Poznaƒ where the Superior General (presently Tadeusz Winnicki) resides. Apart from North America, the Society has its Provinces in South America, Australia, France, Germany, and Great Britian. Priests from the Society also work in countries such as Austria, Belarus, Hungary, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine where they do not have separate Provinces but report directly to the Superior General in Poland.

            The priests from the Society of Christ work mostly with the Polish diaspora. They try to preserve the cultural memory of their parishioners and at the same time help them integrate into the countries in which they have settled. This does not mean that they do not wish to serve those non-Polish members of their missions and parishes who for a variety of reasons decide to join them. In their parishes all people are welcome. Priests from the Society of Christ try to show their parishioners the priceless treasures of the Catholic Faith at the beginning of its third millenium. They proclaim its continuing relevance and its ability to find its way into people’s hearts in the changing world. Like all priests, the Society of Christ members wish to carry the word of God to all persons, regardless of their background or history.


Florian Berlik TChr., Historia Towarzystwa Chrystusowego dla Wychodêców, 1932–1939 (Poznan, 1987).

Bernard Kołodziej TChr., Dzieje Towarzystwa Chrystusowego dla Wychodêców, 1939–1948 (Poznan, 1983).

Alicja Karlic, 25 lat Prowincji Towarzystwa Chrystusowego w Ameryce Północnej (Detroit, 2003).


The Sanctuary of the Virgin Mary at Czestochowa Mount has played a special role in the life and religiosity of the Polish nation. Pope John Paul II summarized it well during his several visits to Poland and to the Czestochowa Monastery. He said: “The Bright Mount is the sanctuary of our nation. . . . It is habitual for Poles to refer all their affairs to that place”(1979).

In 1991, the Pope said that the Czestochowa Mount has been a place “to which people came to experience freedom at the time of foreign oppression. By Mary’s side, they felt free.” In the 1960s, the Polish Primate Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski availed himself of the special status of the Czestochowa Mount by declaring it the spiritual center of the Great Novena preceding the celebration of the 1,000th anniversary of Christianity in Poland. As Cardinal Wyszynski himself admitted, the results surpassed his expectations: “It turned out that the Czestochowa Mount contributes the glue that holds the nation together.”

The special role of the Czestochowa Sanctuary is related to the fact that for many centuries, it has been the home of a painting of Our Lady believed to be miraculous. Again, John Paul II: many generations of Poles “have lived with an awareness. . . that from the Bright Mount she watches over the nation including its least prominent citizens. She has been the source of consolation in difficult moments, when the nation underwent trials and dangers”(1991).

I believe that the status of the Czestochowa Mount is due to two aspects of Polish religiosity: its strong awareness of Mary’s role in the narrative of salvation; and a specific attitude toward holy pictures among Poles. Both are related to the history of Polish Christianity.

It is often remarked, usually in a critical fashion, that Polish religiosity has a strong Marian component. There are legitimate reasons for that. While Poland was formally Christianized in 966, a more complete Christianization occurred over the subsequent two or three centuries. This was the period when devotion to the Virgin Mary was particularly strong in European Christendom. It was the time when theological discussions about the role of Mary in the salvation of humanity were particularly vigorous. Polish Catholicism became strongly permeated by this atmosphere of openness toward, and interest in, the Mother of God’s place in the history of salvation. The Protestant Reformation did not succeed in weakening the link between Polish religiosity and Mary the Mother of God. It might even be said that the Protestant critiques of Mary played a role in the rejection of the Reformation by Poles.

Polish Marian piety is of course grounded in an awareness of Mary being the mother of Jesus. In that capacity she became a mother for us all. Therefore, Marian religiosity in Poland created an attitude of trustfulness and of the publicly manifested “dependence” on Mary which are so characteristic of Polish culture. Mary is someone whom an ordinary person can trust and from whom he/she can expect help. In addition, Polish Marian religiosity “socializes” Mary in a certain way, or even “politicizes” her protective role. In their treatment of Mary the Poles anticipated Vatican II and Pope Paul VI’s statement about Mary’s role as the community’s defender, the community being the entire Catholic Church. Poles have also developed a sense of a special bond between Mary and their nation, and this is why on so many occasions they proclaimed her the Queen of Poland. The first such proclamation took place in 1656 in Lviv/Lwów, when King Jan Casimir vouched fidelity to Mary and said, “I hereby proclaim you my own patroness and that of my Nation.” In 1764, toward the end of the First Republic, the Polish Parliament declared: “The Polish Res Publica vouches reverence to the Virgin Mary and her miraculous image at the Czestochowa Mount, and it expresses gratitude for the graces which it has received owing to her mediation.”

Why did the Parliament mention not only the person of Mary but also the image of her in the Czestochowa Sanctuary? Here we touch upon the second aspect of Polish religiosity mentioned earlier: the role in it of the visual arts, especially of holy images. This in turn is related to the historical and geographical dimensions of our country. For over a millennium Poland existed at the border of two cultures. In borderline cultures, the preservation of identity—also through pictures—is important. During the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the boundaries of Poland were also the boundaries of Christianity. It should be remembered that medieval (and Christian) Poland bordered on pagan Prussia and pagan Lithuania. Later, Islamic Tatars and Turks moved into parts of Eastern Europe. This situation encoded in Polish culture the conviction that Poland is “a bulwark of Christianity.” More accurately, however, Poland was a bulwark of Western Christianity. While in 966, the Polish Prince Mieszko converted his country to Latin Christianity, two decades later Prince Volodymyr of Kyiv converted his country (now Ukraine) to Byzantine Christianity. While Rome and Byzantium were part of one Church at that time (the split occurred in the eleventh century), they represented different cultural tendencies. The Latin culture that shaped Western Europe and non-Germanic Central Europe, i.e., Poland, was markedly different from the Byzantine culture that shaped Rus, or today’s Ukraine and Russia. These two countries also adopted certain political features of Byzantium. The differences were significant enough to bring about a cultural separation of Western and Eastern Slavs. However, as is usually the case with cultures that border on each other, a certain amount of give-and-take did exist between the two branches of Christianity. I believe that the prominent role of religious images in Polish Roman Catholicism is an example of such influences. The veneration of the visual works of religious art can be observed not only in peasant piety but also in some actions of the Polish Church hierarchy. I have in mind the religious practices of some Polish faithful that usually surprise Western visitors. One such practice is the popularity of pilgrimages to the churches and sanctuaries in which a particularly revered icon or sculpture is located. The people spend a considerable amount of time to have such pictures “crowned” by a special papal decree. Such is the origin of Cardinal Wyszyƒski’s decision to make a copy of the Czestochowa Madonna “peregrinate” around Poland as part of the Millenial Great Novena.

Let us now consider the question of whether it is appropriate to use painting and sculpture as attributes of Christian worship. Disputes about this issue occurred in the early Church, and they eventually resulted in a consensus well expressed by St. Basil of Caesarea: “Whatever words convey through the sense of hearing, pictures convey through the sense of sight.” In the Middle Ages the visual arts were of great assistance in instructing illiterate people about the basic truths of Christianity. They facilitated access to the dogmas of the faith, taught Church history, and reminded people of the saints. The Latin Church has followed this tradition without rekindling major disputes among its members. The iconoclasm of the Reformation was the first attempt to destroy this consensus.

However, it should be noted that in the view of the Church, pictures and paintings, even those located in churches, are ancillary to the Faith, and are a matter of private piety rather than of Church doctrine. Therefore, the Church hierarchy consider it appropriate to allow laymen to decide about the styles and forms of these religious images.

The situation has been different in the Byzantine Church. In the eighth and ninth centuries Byzantine Christianity went through the period of violent iconoclasm. It was assumed that the religious visual arts were forbidden by the Revelation. Eventually, the Church Councils accepted the validity of the view that to paint and venerate the pictures of Jesus and of the saints was legitimate. In the Byzantine Church, however, only two-dimensional paintings were allowed (no sculptures), and the forms which the paintings could take became subject to supervision by the Church hierarchy. There developed an entire theology of the icon. This theology made icons into something more than props in the teaching of the Christian faith. The icons became the instruments by means of which the truths of the Faith were disseminated. They became “windows to eternity” and were assumed to show us the true visage of Christ, Mary, and the saints, as they exist in glory to be known fully only after the resurrection. To use the expression of Russian theologian E. V. Troubetzkoy, icons are “theology in color.” They are authentic expressions of Faith. Hence the emphasis in the Byzantine Church on the rules and regulations concerning the authorship of icons and their format. These rules and regulations became part of the Tradition, and sometimes part of the Byzantine Church law. No such rules have ever existed in the Western Church.

What more, the Byzantine tradition has it that the icons not only represent the saints, but somehow make these persons “present,” they make the saints “present among us.” Byzantine Christianity teaches that when the faithful pray before an icon, they stand in the presence of whomever the icon represents. Thus it is suggested that icons acquire a quasi-sacramental role: they make visible that part of the invisible which they represent. An icon of Christ can be compared to the Eucharistic Bread and Wine. Eastern Orthodox theologian Leonid Ouspensky wrote that the consecrated bread is the body of Christ to be consumed, while the icon of Christ is his body to be looked at and adored.

All this is amply present in Russian Christianity and in Russian Orthodox theology which followed the Byzantine patterns. How much of this theology leaked through to the Roman Catholicism of the Poles? Obviously, theology per se was not an influence. It is possible, however, that some of its practical manifestations, such as the forms of piety, traveled further west. The Byzantine tradition of piety can be seen in the implicit ascription to the Czestochowa icon of the power to bring Mary closer to the people. In 1983, John Paul II said that Mary “is present in a special way in the Czestochowa icon.” It should be noted that he used the word icon even though in Polish this word refers exclusively to the Byzantine pictures of Jesus and the saints, and never to religious paintings of the Western tradition. Indeed, many Poles feel that prayer before the Czestochowa icon intensifies their encounter with the Mother, who is also the Queen of the Nation. Accordingly, the motif of presence appears in many of the statements the Pope made in Czestochowa. During his first pilgrimage to Poland, the Pope said that Mary “expressed herself through this Image, through which her motherly presence in the life of the Church and of our nation was conveyed.” In 1983 the Pope spoke of “six centuries of her motherly presence in the picture so beloved by Poles.” In 1991 he said that Mary guarded the people from her Bright Mount in Czestochowa.

What does the pilgrim see in the Chapel of the Czestochowa Monastery? Paradoxically, the image of Our Lady is almost fully covered by a bejeweled “robe,” and only the face and hands are visible. When the robe is removed, what does one see? The picture is painted in tempera on a wooden board whose dimensions are 122.2 by 82.2 by 3.5 centimeters. The style of the painting is called „hodigitria“ in the Byzantine Church. It presents the Mother of God in a standing position, holding Infant Jesus in her arms. Mary faces the faithful directly and supports Infant Jesus with her left hand. Jesus’s right had is raised in a gesture of blessing, while his left hand holds a book. The faces of Mary and Jesus express pensiveness, as if they were gazing into eternity. There is also a measure of sadness in Mary’s face in particular. Her face is marked by two parallel scars. It is believed that they are traces of a fifteenth century profanation.

Why does this picture convey so much meaning to Poles? History provides a good part of the answer. This painting was already known in Poland in the fourteenth century; it is likely that it was acquired for the Jasna Góra Monastery at the time of its founding in 1382. However, who painted it and when remains a mystery. Historians have proffered various hypotheses but have not come to an agreement. Already in 1428 the painting was believed to be the work of St. Luke the Evangelist. It was also said to have been painted on the surface of the table used by the Holy Family for their meals. It was already greatly venerated at that time, and in 1430 its keepers spared no effort or money to glue together the damaged wooden boards and renovate the surface of the painting. 

However, it appears to me that history alone cannot fully explain the influence of that picture on Polish spirituality. One should rather invoke here the category of mysticism. A pilgrim standing before that painting experiences a mystical presence of Our Lady. Her sad and thoughtful eyes seem to convey both love and concern about that particular individual. Thus the icon can help produce an intensely mystical experience in those who approach it within the proper context. Obviously, such context is part of the expectations which the pilgrim brings with him/herself. But there is something else as well. The aesthetic power of the icon is considerable. The anonymous artist who painted the picture was obviously talented. A believer sees in the picture the fruit of the artist’s spirituality: God used the artist’s talent and spirituality to bring closer to us the love of the Mother of God. It appears to me that Polish piety with regard to Our Lady of Czestochowa is an answer to these gifts of God.

Sources: John Paul II’s speeches at Jasna Góra in 1979 and 1991 (available in Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 1979, 1991)

Polish Presence in Houston

While Polish immigration to the United States dates back to the beginning of the Republic and includes such illustrious names as General Thaddeus Kosciuszko whose engineering skills enabled the American army to win the battle of Saratoga during the War of Independence, Polish immigration to Texas dates back to the nineteenth century. At that time, the Polish nation was divided between three empires: Prussian, Austrian, and Russian, and each consecutive uprising against foreign armies brought to America a new wave of political and economic immigrants. According to one estimate, some 3.6 million people left Poland between 1870–1924. Between 1911–1914, one quarter of the Polish population living in the Austrian part of Poland emigrated due to poverty and exploitation by the Viennese authorities. Some of these emigrants settled in Texas

Among the factors which made Texas attractive to Polish immigrants was the abundance of land. During the Napoleonic War, the Spanish consul in New Orleans offered land in Texas to the soldiers of the Polish Legion who would desert the French army in Spain. The Poles did not desert, but after Napoleon’s fall in 1815 a number of Polish soldiers took up the offer. In 1817 they joined a group of French colonists from Philadelphia who likewise decided to go to the then-Spanish province of Texas.

“There is no place better than Texas.”  
            A Polish inhabitant of Houston in 1906.

The first organized group of Polish immigrants came to Texas on December 3, 1854. On that day, a party of some hundred and fifty Polish farmers from Silesia disembarked in Galveston and moved to the mainland. With the assistance of the Polish Franciscan Rev. Leopold Moczygemba (who came earlier to minister to German Catholics in Texas), Polish farmers bought virgin land and established the first Polish colony at a place they called Panna Maria, or Our Lady. In 1855, seven hundred Silesian Poles left for Texas, and in 1856, five hundred.

Within a couple of decades these colonists established thriving agricultural communities in several counties around San Antonio. They also suffered many adversities. Some Polish colonists were killed by Indians, others perished because of severe drought in the 1850s, still others were drafted to the army during the Civil War before they learned to speak English, set up homesteads, or sell their first crops.

Time went on, and within a few generations quite a few counties in Texas became heavily Polish. The fecundity of these early immigrants was stupendous by twenty-first century standards. The immigrants adopted the prevailing Anglo culture, especially when the women married into families with Anglo names. The admixture of Polish blood in the Anglo families of Texas is considerable. But the immigrants did not quite forget their Polish roots, as evidenced by some of their names, their interest in things Polish, and the cultivation of many Polish traditions and customs.

Houston likewise was a destination for the early Polish immigrants. A visiting Polish journalist S. Nestorowicz wrote in his book Travel Notes in 1909:

I found about 200 Polish families in the Houston area. There is no Polish district here: Polish households are scattered throughout the area. Large distances and difficulties in communication account for the lack of organizational Polish presence in the city. In 1830, the first Polish organization was formed: the Kosciuszko Lodge #165. A Polish Catholic parish is in the planning stage, and so is a Polish library. Economically, however, the Poles in Houston prosper. Quite a few Poles are well-to-do, some are wealthy. I have not met a single Polish person that would complain of economic privation. “Houston is the best, ” they say, “there is no place better than Texas.”

Houston‘s Polish population resided mostly in the northern and southwestern parts of the city which at that time consisted of the present-day downtown area. At the turn of the century, about twenty members of the Polish community established a social club. In 1891 a group of Polish immigrants met in a small shoe store on Milam Street and laid the foundation of what became the largest Polish American Society in the state of Texas: the fraternal benefit society which provided insurance to its members. In 1893 this society was renamed “the Kosciuszko Lodge #165 of the Polish National Alliance,” thus becoming a part of the all-American organization established in 1880 in the Midwest. In 1918 the first Polish Home was built on the 6th Street and Studywood in the Heights. It became a cultural center for the Polish population. For many years, this Polish Home remained a place where social, cultural, and religious gatherings took place.

After the First World War the Kosciuszko Lodge continued to operate but, as the Polish community grew considerably in the 1920s, two more Polish National Lodges were formed. In 1924 a club called “the Polonia Society 2308” was organized. In 1925 the Polish Women‘s Group was formed and later renamed “The Progressive Club.”

The Depression of the 1930s negatively impacted the Polish community in Houston. It became customary for members of the Polish National Alliance‘s Kosciuszko Lodge to bring their own food to the meetings and try to sell it, so that the organization would have some spending money. Times were tough,and few could afford to belong to an organization that charged dues. At the end of 1936 the lodge had only fifty-eight members. With the start of the Second World War, however, the situation changed. The Polish population from rural Texas came to Houston, because this is where the jobs were. Thus the Polish societies in Houston survived and continued to grow.

The upheavals of the Second World War and the loss of over twenty percent of the prewar population of Poland (and thirty percent of the prewar territory of Poland) brought about the displacement of millions of Poles. Those who survived and found themselves outside Poland‘s borders were reluctant to return to the Soviet-occupied country. A return to Poland occupied by the Red Army meant imprisonment and possibly death. Many veterans of the Polish Army who served in the British Army in Italy, as well as former slave laborers from the German concentration camps immigrated to Canada, Mexico, and the United States. Some came to Houston, among them Marian Krzyzaniak (now deceased), Professor of Economics at Rice University and founder of a Circle of college-educated Polish immigrants.

On February 27, 1971 in Austin, the Rev. John W. Yanta, descendant of the original Panna Maria settlers, founded the Texas Division of the Polish American Congress, a nationwide organization headquartered in Chicago. The first convention of the new chapter took place 5–6 November 1971 in San Antonio. The elected Executive Committee consisted of seven members, and it was headed by Rev. Yanta. The seciond convention took place 3–5 November 1972, and it was held in Houston‘s Rice Hotel. This convention elected Dr. Joseph A. Jachimczyk, later the Harris County Medical Examiner, as president of PAC-Texas chapter. In 1973 presidency of the chapter was transferred to Dale Michael Gorczynski, the future youngest and longest-serving Houston councilman. Gorczynski is now judge at Precinct #1 in Harris County. The author of this article arrived in Houston in 1974 together with his wife Maria, and he took over the leadership of the PAC-Texas Division after Dale Gorczynski.

In 1963, under the auspices of the Most. Rev John L. Morkovsky, Bishop of Galveston-Houston, a Sts. Cyril & Methodius Slavic Heritage Festival was initiated as an annual event in which Croatian, Czech, Slovak, Polish, and Ukrainian Catholic groups participated. This annual festival continues to this day.

Between 1960–1980 the Polish population of Houston grew considerably. It also generated two distinct groups, one consisting of native-born Americans of Polish descent, and the other émigrés and first- generation Americans with Polish roots. The first group included three lodges of the Polish National Alliance (PNA) operating out of the Polish Home built in the northern part of Houston in 1974. The Mazewski family played a prominent role in maintaining that Home. Some newcomers born in Poland also joined this group and created a new PNA Copernicus lodge led by Professor Marian Krzyzaniak and by Mr. and Mrs. Jan Karon. The second group established contact with the Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences in New York and set up a Houston Circle of that organization. Its first president was likewise Professor Marian Krzyzaniak.

The Polish American Congress-Texas Division continued to hold its annual conventions in San Antonio, Austin, Houston, Arlington, Corpus Christi, Fort Worth, El Paso, Victoria, Irving, and Brownsville. The programs of these conventions included lectures by local university professors such as Z. A. Kruszewski and Witold Łukaszewski.

The election of the Polish Pope, Karol Wojtyła, on October 16, 1978, energized the Polish community in Houston. The Pope’s visit to Poland in June 1979 strengthened the resolve of the Polish people to end Soviet domination of their country. The 1978 convention of the Polish American Congress-Texas Division on 27–28 October 1978 coincided with Stefan Cardinal Wyszyński’s reaching out to the Polish American Congress by symbolically placing it in the hands of Our Lady of Częstochowa. The creation in Poland of the 10-million strong Solidarity Labor Union in 1980 initiated political changes in Central and Eastern Europe, and it gave further impetus to the Polish community in Houston.

In December 1981, after the imposition of martial law by the Soviet-controlled government of Poland, fourteen members of the Polish commercial ship Zabrze left the ship at the Port of Houston and applied for political asylum. Their petition was granted by emigration authorities, and the entire event became a symbol of oppression which the Polish people have suffered ever since Nazi Germany invaded Poland in 1939. In 1989, when Poles regained independence and freedom to travel, a number of Polish professionals came to Houston and stayed here. Many of them joined local universities and research institutes. Among the latter, one should mention the Burzynski Research Institute headed by Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski, a world class pioneer in cancer research. Soon one could distinguish three distinct groups among Houstonian Poles:

1. The third- and fourth-generation Americans of Polish background 

2. The political émigrés who came to the United States via England and Germany in postwar years

3. Solidarity emigration that began to trickle in the period of the Soviet-controlled martial law in Poland (1981–1989) and later. This last group turned out to be particularly acctive in organizing cultural activities, and their children (and now grandchildren) have demonstrated a strong adherence to their Polish roots (unlike a certain percentage of earlier immigrants who sometimes lost all discernible links to their Polish background, with the exception of their names and their adherence to Catholicism).

In 1999, after sixty years of forced isolation from the Western world to which it belongs through its Western Christian culture, Poland joined NATO and, on May 1, 2004, she joined the European Union. The city of Houston acquired the first official representative of the Republic of Poland, the Honorary Consul Leonard M. Krazynski, well known to the local community as a person dedicated to public service. Mr. Krążyński was instrumental in bringing to Houston a fine exhibition of Polish art and other paintings from the Polish museums. The exhibit was titled “Leonardo da Vinci and the Splendor of Poland,” and it was on display at Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts from December 2002 to February 2003. The Polish Ambassador to the United States, Dr. Przemysław Grudziński, arrived for the occasion, and he used it to award the Commander’s Cross to Consul Krążyński, while the Officer’s and the Cadet‘s Crosses were bestowed on a number of Houstonians including the author of this article. In 2004 Dr. Zbigniew Wojciechowski replaced Consul Krazynski as the Honorary Consul of Poland In Houston.

Between 1997–2004 the Polish American Congress-Texas Division was headed by Mr. Thomas Ostrowski; in 2004, the presidency passed on to Dr. Marian Kruzel. In academic life, a scholarly quarterly Sarmatian Review was founded by Professor Ewa Thompson. The quarterly is now recognized as a major resource in Polish and Slavic Studies nationwide, and it has found an audience in academia and among college-educated general readers.

In 1984 the Polish Genealogical Society of Texas was launched by Ms. Teanna Sechelski and Ms. Virginia Hill. The Society turned out to be extremely successful among those Texans and Houstonians who trace their roots to nineteenth-century Poland. The Society publishes a newsletter which is a treasure trove of information about nineteenth-century Texas and its Polish component. The PGST sponsors workshops on genealogical topics and publishes documents otherwise inaccessible to the general educated reader. Anyone interested in Texas history would do well to subscribe to it.

In 2005 Texas Poles celebrated the Sesquicentennial of the Polish Silesian Emigration to Texas. The festivities took place in Houston and in Panna Maria. Speeches and culinary feasts abounded and dignitaries came, but perhaps the most significant event was a concert in which the Louisiana Symphonic Orchestra performed the works of classical composers under the baton of Maestro Mariusz Smolij, with the piano soloist Adam Golka, a Houston-born Polish American who is well set on a distinguished musical career. Poles have come a long way. From impoverished Silesians who excelled in agriculture, to professionals who occupy a notable place in Houston’s intellectual and professional life: the Poles have seen it all and done it all. 

And they remained strongly Catholic. While not all Poles are Catholic or Christian (there are Jewish Poles and even a few Muslim Poles, and of course atheist and agnostic Poles), statistics indicate that Catholicism is still the religion of an overwhelming majority of the nation: over 90 percent of Poles declare themselves Catholic. Therefore, the September 1987 visit to San Antonio of Pope John Paul II resonated with American Poles in a major way. Pope Wojtyła‘s open-air mass was the largest gathering of people in one place in Texas history. The Polish American Priests’ Association arranged a special meeting with the Pope on the grounds of the San Antonio Archdiocese. Several hundred representatives of Texas Polonia attended. When Monsignor Moczygemba greeted the Pope in an archaic Silesian dialect, the Pope was duly impressed! The event took place late at night, John Paul II was tired, but he did react strongly and with pleasure to the sign of Polish fidelity to the roots.

In the first decade of the twenty-first century, the Houston Polonia continues to be vigorous and active, and is likely to remain so for years to come.


1891- founding of the first fraternal Kosciuszko Lodge #165 

           of the Polish National Alliance in Houston

1918 – the first Polish Home erected at 6th Street and Studywood

1924 – founding of the Polish Society Group #2308 (PNA)

1925 – founding of the Polish Progressive Club Lodge #2336 (PNA)

1963 – SS. Cyril and Methodius Heritage Day initiated

1971 – Polish American Congress Texas Division organized by the

           Most Rev. Bishop John Yanta

1974 – dedication of the new Polish Home at 103 Cooper Road (sold in 2006)

1982- founding of the Polish Catholic Pastoral Mission in Houston

          under Bishop of Galveston-Houston John Louis Morkovsky

          with designated Pastor Rev. Wojciech Baryski.        

1984 – purchase of property for the Polish Church of Our Lady Of Czestochowa at 1731 Blalock

2001- blessing and dedication of the new church and parish of Our Lady of Czestochowa (built under the supervision of the Rev. Jerzy Frydrych   and dedicated by Bishop Vincent Rizzotto)

Polish and Polish-oriented organizations and institutions in Houston as of September 2006

Our Lady of Czestochowa Catholic Parish

The Polish American Congress – Texas Division

Polish Genealogical Society of Texas

The Sarmatian Review (published by the Polish Institute of Houston)

The Houston Chapter of the Kosciuszko Foundation

Honorary Consulate of the Republic of Poland

Polish National Alliance

Ognisko Polskie

Radio Courier

Chopin Society of Houston

Burzynski Research Institute

Sources: S. Nestorowicz, Notatki z podrózy [1909]

interviews and conversations with members of Houston’s Polish community

                                                               the author’s notes and remembrances


In the 1970s many persons of Polish ancestry moved to Sunbelt states, including Texas. According to historian John Radzilowski, by the end of the 1980s the population of Texans who traced their roots to Poland increased by 41.8 percent. Many of them were born in Poland but left the country in the 1980s when the Solidarity labor movement was suppressed by the communist regime of Soviet-occupied Poland. Most of them settled in the Houston metropolitan area.

The growth of the Polish-speaking Catholic population in the Galveston-Houston Diocese created a need for the Polish-speaking Catholic priests to minister to this new flock. In the 1970s, a monthly Polish language mass used to be said at the Christ the King Church in Houston. This turned out to be insufficient, for the flock was large and growing. The then-Bishop of the Diocese, the Most Reverend John L. Morkovsky, responded to these needs. In a letter dated January 6, 1981, he asked the United States Episcopate for assistance in obtaining a Polish-speaking priest for the Diocese. On March 20, 1982, representatives of the Houston Polonia sent a petition to Archbishop Flores of San Antonio asking for a Polish priest. Subsequently, Bishop Morkovsky and the Rev. Władysław Gowin, a representative of the Society of Christ (a Polish order of priests whose vocation is to minister to Poles living abroad) agreed that a Polish Catholic Pastoral Mission would be established in the Galveston-Houston Diocese, and that the Society of Christ would become responsible for sending a Polish-speaking priest to serve as its pastor.

The Mission was established by a Decree signed by Bishop Morkovsky on July 13, 1982. Its temporary location was the chapel of the Dominican Order on Holcombe Boulevard. The Rev. Wojciech Baryski, an energetic, capable, and articulate priest, became the Mission’s first pastor.

According to the Decree, the Polish Catholic Pastoral Mission was to “serve all native Poles and Polish-speaking people who live in the Diocese of Galveston-Houston.” The Mission was entrusted to the Society of Christ “for as long as the spiritual needs of the Polish people in the Diocese of Galveston-Houston require the use of their mother language.” Membership in the Mission was defined as including all those Catholics who “choose to affiliate with this Mission.” The pastor of the Mission was given full canonical jurisdiction only over those who chose to be formally affiliated with the Mission.

The formal enrollment in the Mission of all those who felt themselves part of the Diocesan Polish Catholic community became a necessity if the Mission were to continue into the future. Those most involved in the creation of the Mission made sure that persons of Polish background were informed of the existence of the Mission and were given information about the possibility of enrollment. Polish Americans in Houston responded, and the rolls of the Mission began to grow. After the inaugural mass on August 1, 1981, 98 families formally joined the Mission. In August of the same year, members of the Mission elected their first Mission Council consisting of fifteen members. The Council organized itself into Liturgical, Financial, Cultural Events, Educational, and Youth Commissions. The most pressing task, however, was to find a permanent location for the Mission.

In March 1984, with the help of a loan from the Diocese, the Polish community purchased the property located at 1731 Blalock. The building that became a temporary church was consecrated by Bishop Morkovsky on August 12, 1984. In 1985, a John Paul II Hall was added to the church facilities. It consisted of a remodeled house. By the mid-1990s, the Mission had grown to over 300 families. Its regular liturgical celebrations included Polish masses at 6 PM on Saturdays and 11 AM on Sundays, and a 9 AM Sunday mass in English, for those parishioners who preferred to attend an English-language mass but chose to belong to the Polish ethnic Mission. Religious and civic instruction for children was soon added to the activities of the Mission. The childen were taught these subjects, and also the Polish language and rudiments of Polish history and culture. Concerts, lectures, and theatrical performances began to be held, and the well-attended Sunday breakfasts began to bring an additional small income to the Mission’s coffers.

Expanding the size and range of activities of the Mission led to its elevation to the status of a parish. In a Decree of September 30, 1994, the Most Reverend Joseph A. Fiorenza, Bishop of Galveston-Houston, stated that “because of the growth in the Polish Catholic community in Harris county. . . and because of the increase in sacramental, pastoral and educational ministry provided by the Mission, it is advisable to raise the canonical status of this community by its erection as a separate non-territorial parish.” The Decree took effect on October 1, 1994, while he Rev. Jerzy Frydrych was pastor. The new nonterritorial Polish Parish retained the name of Our Lady of Czestochowa. Three years later, on March 2, 1997, the Parish Council decided to remodel and enlarge the existing church to meet the growing needs of the faithful. Discussions about the enlargement led to the decision to build a new place of worship. The then-pastor of the Parish, Rev. Jerzy Frydrych, presided over the drive to build a new church. We continue to be grateful to Father Frydrych for his leadership in this regard, and also for secruing for us the title of an ethnic parish.

Four years of planning, fund raising, hard work of many parishioners, and devising imaginative solutions to the potentially costly problems led to the construction of the new church we presently have. On August 26, 2001, the Most Reverend Vincent M. Rizzotto, Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of Galveston-Houston, in a festive and happy ceremony consecrated the new church of Our Lady of Czestochowa.

Statistics show that the Parish continues to grow. In 2004, the Parish had 3 weddings, 14 christenings, 10 first communions, and 3 burials; in 2005, the corresponding numbers were 2, 4, 8, 4, plus 22 confirmations; in 2006 the Parish had 4 weddings, 16 christenings, 8 first communions, and 3 burials. At the end of 2005, 350 families belonged to the Parish; this number increased to 380 by the end of 2006. Finally and very significantly for future growth of the community, in 2006 the Parish purchased the adjacent lot located at 1735 Blalock Road. Our present pastor, Rev. Jacek Nowak, presided over this purchase.

The pastors of the Our Lady of Czestochowa Parish have been the following: Rev. Wojciech Baryski (1982–89), Rev. Edward Traczyk (1989–92), Rev. Marian Ogorek (1992–93), Rev. Jerzy Frydrych (1993–2003), Rev. Jan Fiedurek (2003–2005), and Rev. Jacek Nowak (2005–present). To-date, the most significant advancements of the parish were made during the two longest stewardships of Fathers Baryski and Frydrych. Limited space here does not permit to name the parishioners who made exceptional contributions to the liturgical, financial, educational and physical well-being and growth of this faith community. The Father, in whose cause they labored, will remember.

Our Lady of Czestochowa Parish was honored to host such Polish notables as Cardinal Józef Glemp, Primate of Poland, President (and legendary Solidarity leader) Lech Wałesa, and Archbishop Szczepan Wesoły of Rome. In his congratulatory letter on the occasion of the consecration of our new church, Archbishop Wesoły stated that “[s]piritual ministering to immigrants, in this case to Polonia, goes beyond the need stemming from their unfamiliarity with the language of their host country. It is closely tied to the spirituality and culture of their country of origin.” Each country, he continued, “has distinct forms of piety, which are connected with its historical and cultural past, with all that constitutes the cultural heritage of each nation. . . Our [Polish] forms of piety. . . . have become an expression of our . . . identity.”   We cannot but heartily agree with Archbishop Wesoły, thereby proclaiming our continuing need to maintain the Polish Parish in Houston, and hopefully to make it grow.

Sources: parish documents

personal remembrances

correspondence with Dr. John Radzilowski concerning his forthcoming article “The Location of the Polish-American Population, 1980–1990.”


On April 21, 2006, Texas celebrated the 170th anniversary of the Battle of San Jacinto. Poles have special reasons to remember that battle. The San Jacinto River is named for the medieval Polish saint, Jacek Odrowąż.

This was, as battles go, a rather small one. The earlier battles of the Napoleonic era had involved hundreds of thousands of troops. At San Jacinto, there were approximately 1,200 soldiers on the Mexican side, around 900 on the Texas side. Yet this battle would have an indelible effect on the future of North America. As is inscribed on the monument of the battle, “Measured by its results, San Jacinto was one of the decisive battles of the world. The freedom of Texas from Mexico won here led to annexation and to the Mexican War, resulting in the acquisition by the United States of the states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California, Utah, and parts of Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, and Oklahoma. Almost one-third of the present area of the American nation, nearly a million square miles of territory, changed sovereignty.” The Battle of San Jacinto marked the culmination of the Texas Revolution against the government of President (and General) Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna.

This battle was a great victory for the Texans, but it had been preceded by two disasters, one at Goliad on March 27 and another at the Alamo on March 13. Both these battles might well be described as massacres, since the Mexican commanders took no prisoners.   Furthermore, contrary to Catholic canon law and against the protests of the local priest, Santa Anna had ordered that none of the 188 dead Texan fighters at the Alamo be given Christian burial. Instead, the corpses were burned. The cry of “Remember the Alamo!” was remembered again and again whenever Americans had been the subject of vicious unprovoked attack.

As to the Battle of San Jacinto which followed, the Texas commander, Samuel Houston, had served as a Major General in the Tennessee militia and was well versed both in conventional and partisan warfare. In the long retreat Houston had accumulated and trained his ragtag army. The professional soldiers on the Mexican side had become fragmented and their supply lines greatly over extended. Anticipating that the Texan attack would start early on the following day, they had indulged in an afternoon siesta, and were taken by surprise at 3:30 PM when the Texas storm broke upon them. Unable to form line, the Mexicans were unable to sustain individual combat with the much larger and more deadly Texas irregulars.

The Battle of San Jacinto took place at the intersection of the San Jacinto River and Buffalo Bayou, only a few miles from Galveston Bay and from the final redoubt of the government of the Republic of Texas on Galveston Island. The San Jacinto River is named for the medieval Polish saint, Jacek Odrowaz. Why are there so many towns and cities throughout the Hispanic world named after this Polish saint?

St. Jacek (Hyacinth, Jacinto) was one of the early companions of St. Dominic. According to his vita written by monk Stanislaus in Kraków in the fourteenth century, he was ordained in 1221 by St. Dominic himself. St. Jacek’s father, Eustachius Konski, belonged to the noble family of Odrowaz. St. Jacek was born in 1183 at the castle of Łanka at Kamieƒ in Silesia, Poland. Called the Apostle of the North, St. Jacek carried out numerous missionary travels throughout the Slavic lands. Some claim his travels reached as far as China Owing to St. Jacek’s energy and dedication, Dominican monasteries were founded in the Polish cities of Gdansk (Danzig) in 1225, Chełm in 1233, Elblàg in 1236, and later at Torun, Riga in Latvia, Kiev and Halych in Ukraine, Dorpat (now Tartu) in Estonia, and Królewiec (later Köningsberg, now Kaliningrad) in the present-day Russian Federation. The Polish Dominican province was formed in 1226, and St. Jacek became its head. He died on 15 August 1257 in his home province of Kraków. He was canonized by Pope Clementius in 1594. It is undoubtedly his connection with St. Dominic that has made him so popular throughout the Spanish-speaking world. The Mexicans called the river by St. Hiacynth’s name, and the San Jacinto Battle’s name followed.

Sources: T.R. Fehrenbach, Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans [1968]

      Polish Dominicans on the Web (www.krakow2004.dominikanie.pl)