Nearly ninety years ago, in 1919, the dream of a dedicated group of Polish immigrants in the Bristol area was realized when the parish of Saint Stanislaus Kostka was dedicated. At last, the Polish people had their own parish and their own priest, Reverend George Bartlewski, who would remain as their pastor for 49 years. The close-knit community, having built a rudimentary basement church in 1920, also built a parish school in the difficult Depression year of 1930, staffed by a Polish order, the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Third Order of Saint Francis, who even lived in the school until a convent could be built later on. Church organizations flourished; Polish customs were celebrated even as the community began to integrate fully into the adopted country and welcome American citizens. A new dream emerged, that of transforming the humble and simple “basement church” into a larger building. When the dream became reality in 1956, a beautiful new church was dedicated, but not on the foundation of the early building, which was unable to support the modified Gothic structure and had to be demolished.
The “brick and mortar” era did not end with the construction of the new church building. A new rectory was built in addition to the much-needed convent, as well as parking area behind the church. A new phase began in the life of the parish as well, as parishioners entered who were not of Polish origin. Through marriage or simply through the desire to belong to the church, the new church members brought an Americanized atmosphere to the parish, which, although evolving, still kept many Polish traditions and the language in the older Polish societies. For example, parish families still celebrated the Pasterka (Shephard’s Mass) at Christmas, celebrated the Wigilia (Christmas Eve meal) and shared opłatek (Christmas wafer). During Lent Gorzkie Żale (Bitter Lamentations) and the Stations of the Cross remained popular devotions, and the priests blessed traditional Polish Easter food on Holy Saturday.
The economic necessities of the late twentieth century led to the demolition of the aging parish school. The former convent has become a thriving parish center, named for the founding pastor, Monsignor George Bartlewski.
The Polish ethnicity of Saint Stanislaus parish was assured with the influx of a new wave of immigration from Poland in the 1980’s. The new members of our faith community brought with them a renewal of Polish traditions and the desire to maintain their Polish language. The annual Dożynki (Harvest Festival) brings together all groups in our parish family to celebrate our Catholic faith at Mass and then to enjoy fun, fellowship and good food, Polish and otherwise, on the church grounds. Processions, which accompany ceremonies such as that of Forty Hours Devotions, celebrated both in Polish and English, reflect our Polish heritage and add richness to our liturgies.
Under the leadership of our most recent pastor, Reverend Raymond Smialowski, Saint Stanislaus Church continues to evolve as a thriving parish. The recent addition of air-conditioning assures the comfort of our parish, while the newly installed tower bell will call the faithful to prayer for generations to come.
–Elaine Brzezenski Lewandoski