A History of the Poles in America to 1908

Part III: Poles in the Eastern and Southern States

By Waclaw Kruszka. Edited with an introduction by James S. Pula, with M. B. Biskupski, Stanley Cuba, et al., translated by Krystyna Jankowski. [1901-1904; revised and enlarged edition, 1905-1908]. Washington, D.C. The Catholic University of America Press. 1998. viii + 394 pages. Hardcover. $54.95.

John J. Bukowczyk

After a five-year pause in its publication schedule, scholars welcome the appearance, in translation, of the third of four volumes of Rev. Waclaw Kruszka's Polish-American classic. The first volume (1993) provided a conceptual and historical background for the project and reviewed the institutional history of the Polish immigrants (covering such topics as the immigrant church, educational system, organizational life, and press). The second volume (1994) looked at Poles in Illinois, with much of the work focusing on internecine strife in the contentious parishes of Chicago. The final volume will examine the history of Polish parishes in the western states and, happily, also is to include an index to the four volumes. This long third volume carries on Kruszka's monumental project to chronicle the history of Polish-American Roman Catholic parishes, this time treating Polish enclaves in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, the Middle Atlantic states (in separate chapters), Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, but also taking note of the small Polish presence in the balance of New England, eastern Canada, the Southern states, Texas, Arkansas, and Cuba.

The book usefully offers a capsule description of each of the states it covers and a brief history of Polish settlement within them. As in the two volumes that preceded it[1], the material presented in volume three also connects with core themes that animated turn-of-the-century Polish America: immigrant nationalism, lay trusteeism, independentism and schism, Church politics, cultural pluralism, and assimilation. Though itself rather miscellaneous and antiquarian, Rev. Kruszka's state-by-state coverage impresses with its thoroughness, detail, and shear extent that amply demonstrates its author's skills as a scholar and the "Nestor of Polish historians in America," as Monsignor Alexander Syski, another scholar-priest, called him.[2]

In ranging over the development of Polish parishes in the East, Kruszka's research apprehended many of the episodes and vignettes that have become Polish-American historical mainstays. Kruszka makes the case for Parisville, Michigan, as the home of the oldest Polish parish in the United States (6-7). Likewise, he presents a capsule history of the stormy, schismatic pastorate of Detroit's Rev. Dominik Kolasinski (26-38), the subject of a more recent monograph by historian Lawrence D. Orton;[3] and a brief review of Cleveland's independent movement, led by Rev. Franciszek Kolaszewski (né Rademacher) (104-6); a critical account of Rev. Franciszek Hodur and the rise of the Polish National Catholic Church in Nanticoke and Scranton, Pennsylvania (128-138); and a persuasively celebratory (and comparatively long) narrative of the pastorate of Rev. Jan Pitass in Buffalo (the eastern analogue of Chicago's Rev. Wincenty Barzynski, C. R.) which weathered an independentist challenge at the hands of Rev. Klawiter (197-210). While capturing crucial details, all of these narratives are too narrow, sketchy, and brief to prompt a reexamination of these episodes. The subtext in this sea of detail, however, is that the Poles grew quarrelsome out of episcopal neglect or hostility, and the venality or low morals of some particular laymen or priests (some of whom were Resurrectionists who betrayed their calling to minister to these immigrants). Indeed, Kruszka once again uses these accounts as both a polemic against schism and, by implication, a call for the appointment of a Polish bishop--or, as Kruszka elsewhere defined the entreaty, "polyglot bishops for polyglot dioceses"[4] and "równouprawnienie" [equal rights for Poles in the Church hierarchy].

The volume, which at times reads like a travelogue, also includes some arresting details and stories, such as the time when, it was claimed, a picture of the Virgin Mary served miraculously to spare one Pole's home from a fire that consumed the forests of the Michigan Thumb region in September 1881 (17), or when Resurrectionist Rev. Adolf Bakanowski took to carrying, besides his rosary, also a revolver as protection against anti-Polish Texas ruffians (297). Among the accounts which pique special interest are the early days of the Polish colony at Panna Maria, Texas, and the coming of the Resurrectionist order to America (285-324); the rise of Lithuanian nationalism (114-6); the uniqueness of the (hodge-podge) social and political composition of New York Polonia (181); the very early Polish presence in Buffalo, New York (196-7); and the assassination of President William McKinley by Leon Czolgosz, a Polish anarchist (209-10). Alas, the volume contains too few of either the charming or the pithy to hold the attention of the recreational reader. The contemporary reader also may feel disappointment at the only perfunctory mention of the Polish female religious congregations and their work.

Scholars and the serious student nonetheless will appreciate this volume as an important building-block in the edifice of Polish immigration history. Specialists and nonspecialists alike meanwhile might hope that this translation project, ably directed by Dr. James S. Pula (now dean at Utica College of Syracuse University), will introduce the story of the immigrant faithful into the master narrative of Roman Catholic Church history in America, from which it has been largely absent to-date.


1. See my review of A History of the Poles in America, Part I, in The Sarmatian Review, 15:1(January 1995), 298--9; and of A History of the Poles in America, Part II, in The Sarmatian Review, 15:1 (April 1996), 396--7.

2. Rt. Rev. Monsignor Alexander Syski, S. T. M., "The Nestor of Polish Historians in America: Reverend Waclaw Kruszka," Polish-American Studies, 1(1944), 62-70.

3. Lawrence D. Orton, Polish Detroit and the Kolasinski Affair (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1981).

4. Kruszka's article, by that title, appeared in the Freeman's Journal (1901).

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