|The new book concerning the Poles of St. Louis comes out this weekend. Here is the local newspaper's article on it: The full text is also pasted below. For those that thought our battle was over, n |
7/16/2007 - Wednesday, July 11, 2007 7:14 AM CDT
More than pierogies: Book portrays local Polish community
By Jim Merkel, Suburban Journals
Growing up in St. Hedwig's Parish, Florentine Wozniak has pleasant memories
of patronizing the Polish hardware store, eating pieroges, and reading from
her Polish cathechism.
But she hasn't thought much about the time in 1925 her father, Frank
Jankowski, put out a fire on a cross in front of St. Hedwig's. "He ran up
there and threw that cross into the street," Wozniak said of the fire,
apparently set by members of the Ku Klux Klan, which hated Catholics and
"It was not talked up very much. I remember hearing about it in passing but
they did not dwell on it," Wozniak said.
Now 85, she still lives in the area of the church at Itaska Street and
Compton Avenue, even after the parish closed two years ago. While she and
her two surviving sisters still carry on the Polish ways, she acknowledges
there is declining interest among her six children, 17 grandchildren and
eight great grandchildren.
One person working to keep the interest alive is NiNi Harris, a Carondelet
resident, local historian and author who interviewed Wozniak for her seventh
book about St. Louis: "Unyielding Spirit, The History of the Polish People
of St. Louis."
Published and distributed by St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish, the book will be
released at the church's annual parish picnic Sunday at the church at 1413
N. 20th St. Many of the Poles in St. Louis gathered in five different
communities. Those areas include the area around St. Hedwig's, which is
around the southeastern edge of the Soulard neighborhood, and an area called
Kociusko, which is now primarily an industrial area east of Soulard.
On the north side, communities sprouted around St. Stanislaus, the Walnut
Park neighborhood and the north edge of downtown around Broadway.
There are estimates that as many as 15,000 to 20,000 Polish Americans lived
in St. Louis at one time, Harris said. Another estimate, made in 1919 by a
city librarian, was that there were 12,000 to 30,000 Poles in the city.
Poles first started coming to St. Louis in the 1830s, Harris said.
"From the beginning, they were known for maintaining their culture," Harris
Harris noted that the Polish in their own homeland maintained their own
culture in spite of being overrun by Austria, Russia and Germany. Just as
they kept their own cultures there, they kept it here.
"They were very proud Americans but they maintained their culture at the
same time," Harris said.
Maintaining the culture sometimes involved self-sacrifice. August
Marchlewski mortgaged his home at 4747 Nebraska Ave. for $1,700 and used the
money to buy property for a new Polish church.
"He set aside a portion of the land for a parish," Harris said. "The rest of
the land was subdivided and sold to the Polish families."
The church, the original St. Hedwig's, opened in 1904.
With a church in the middle, a community was created whose residents could
walk to the church.
The original community consisted of about two blocks, Harris said. "More
Polish people bought all around there, but that created the seed of this
community," she said.
In writing the book, Harris relied on census records, numerous interviews,
city records, the St. Louis Public Library, newspaper articles, books
published by parishes, Masters' theses and other works.
One source she didn't have access to was the archives of the Archdiosese of
St. Louis, which controls the records for the five historically Polish Roman
Catholic parishes of St. Louis.
Harris speculates that the reason for this is that she was commissioned by
St. Stanilaus Kostka Parish to write the book. In 2005, Archbishop Raymond
Burke suppressed the church in a dispute over authority. The archdiocese
asked the members to turn over the parish assets, which had been raised
through parish contributions. The parish board refused. Archbishop Raymond
Burke excommunicated the board.
Since the church was incorporated in the late 1800s, the parish was managed
by a civil board that reported to its membership on finances.
The Rev. Msgr. Jerome Billing, chancellor of the Archdiocese of St. Louis,
issued this statement on why Harris was denied access to the records:
"Like any other non-public organization, the Archives of the Archdiocese of
St. Louis are private. However, we often allow access to authors and others
in the hope of sharing our history of faith.
"In this situation, the author was being commissioned by a group with whom
the Archdiocese is involved in legal matters. It would be a conflict of
interest to allow access to information that could be used during the
resolution process. We still pray for an amicable resolution between all
Want to go?
She will also sign it from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, July 21 at the
Chatillon-DeMenil Mansion , 3352 DeMenil Place.
The book will be available at area bookstores and a number of cultural
institutions, as well as St. Stanislaus Koska Church and the
Chatillon-DeMenil Mansion bookstore.