A Concise History of the First Parish of the Polish National Catholic Church


One hundred years have passed since that moment in March, 1897, when Father Francis Hodur, the pastor of the Holy Trinity Polish Roman Catholic Church in Nanticoke, Pennsylvania, accepted the people’s call to be the spiritual leader of the new Polish parish of Saint Stanislaus in the South Side of Scranton. It remains a great moment in the history of American Catholicism, Polonia, indeed in the entirety of human history. What began as an attempt to reconcile the needs and desires of the faithful people with the laws and demands of their Church became the one permanent and authentic division in the Roman Catholic Church in the United States. Understanding where these yearnings for freedom and “self-rule” are rooted requires, at least, a minimal comprehension of the great history of the Polish Nation and her people. The South Side immigrants were the inheritors of the great legacy of their Mother country; a nation firmly committed to the service of the Holy Roman Church since the time of the Baptism of Mieszko, their first Christian king, in 966 AD. “Polonia semper fidelis”, or “Poland always faithful” remained the prayer and pledge of a nation often divided by boundaries and political manipulation, yet constantly united as “przedmurze chrzescijanstwa”, or “the bulwark of Christianity.” Infused in the Polish view of the world remained the privilege of selecting their own rulers. Though participation in this “democratic” system may have been confined to the nobles and gentry, the concept of “divine rule” was abhorrent to the free Polish spirit. The tyrannical rule which stifled and controlled most of her neighbors was virtually unknown to Mother Poland for nearly 800 years of her history. As the American nation prepared for its own struggle for independence, so also the noose of conquest and political division tighten around the neck fo the Polish people. The combined forces of Tsarist Russia, Imperial Austria and Prussian meted out the First Partition of Poland in 1775. Two successive divisions followed and, by 1795, Poland was a vanquished nation torn apart by her neighbors. The victors fought, also, to eradicate the memory and heritage of Polish history, culture, language, and tradition from the hearts and minds of the people. This suppression, however, only gave birth to the unconquerable nationalist spirit brought to life in the literature and philosophy of Mickiewicz, Slowacki, later Konopnicka and countless others. The heart of Poland, the spirit of her people, pulses in the performances of Chopin and Moniuszko in the great halls of Europe as it lingered by the humble firesides where the folk songs and kolędy were passed from mother to child. In overwhelmingly Catholic Poland, the Orthodox Russians and Protestant Prussians imposed religious restrictions. The native language was banned from schools, bringing with it a decline in academic opportunities and, finally, the greatest persecution of all; abject poverty for the majority of the population.

Thus the end of the nineteenth century saw an incredible wave of immigration from the Polish homeland to the shores of promising America. To the “land of opportunity” arrived wave after wave of those seeking an new and better life; one built on heard work, yet fired with a determination for freedom and dignity. The mines and factories of the Northeast, the mills of New England, the farms and slaughterhouses of the Midwest began to ring with the voices of Polish men and women building a new life on the foundation of their freedom-loving ancestors. They brought with them few material possessions, but the greater treasury of their firm faith in their God and the trust in the Church to which they looked as Mother and Protector. In the womb of their parish communities they sought the security and peace so long denied them in their divided homeland. Having witnessed foreigners destroy their National pride, having experienced the poverty of the conquerors’ control over their destinies, they looked longingly to the Church as a supporter of their rights and freedoms as Catholic Christians and now, Americans. But the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church in America was unprepared to meet their needs. Since the establishment of Maryland as a Catholic colony, the Bishops of the Church remained predominantly French and Irish. The Shepherds of the Church knew little or nothing of the life experiences or history of the Eastern Europeans whose nickels and dimes were building the churches, rectories, convents, and orphanages which the Church controlled. The notion of the common people having a voice in the administration of Church property was inconceivable and, in their opinion, dangerous. Dangerous, not only because it was contrary to the Code of Catholic Canon Law and the Synod of Baltimore, but, more importantly, because their requests threatened the agenda of often indifferent priests and bishops whose livelihood and elevated status depended on the financial and physical support of the working-class men and women in their congregations. This was the environment which existed in the South Side of Scranton in the late summer of 1896; a moment of passionate conviction which could have come to resolution or explosion. The moment had arrived, as it had before in other cities and towns, when the people’s wants and needs turned into demands and a deep resolve that their priest and bishop hear their voices and respond. Thus the dissatisfied fraction of Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Polish Roman Catholic Church appealed to their Diocesan Bishop William O’Hara to consent to the organization of a new Polish parish in the South Side of the See city of Scranton.

A Seed is Planted

On October 3, 1896, a meeting of the committee to form the new parish resolved to purchase three (3) lots on Locust Street at a price of $5100.00 for the purpose of building the new church.  The sale included a dwelling of nine rooms and a summer kitchen.  By agreement of the sale, the entire purchase price was to be satisfied within thirty days.  The meeting of November 15, 1896 placed the destiny of the Parish on the patronage of Saint Stanislaus, Bishop and Martyr, and decided that the membership in support of the project would be set at the sum of fifty cents per month per member, to be collected and recorded in the individual’s parish book.  Collectors were selected for each area of the Parish population.  By St. John’s Day (December 27) of 1896, the contract to build the new Parish Church of Saint Stanislaus was agreed upon for the price of $10,500.00 with a guaranteed completion date of May 15, 1897.  The winter of 1897 was a demanding one for the organizers.  Money had to be raised to satisfy the building contract, and there still remained the issue of the Bishop’s consent.  It was hoped that when the ailing bishop saw the intense faith and dedication they had for their venture, he would agree to give the new parish his blessing.  Sadly, the committee announced on February 14, 1897 that the Bishop categorically refused to bless the new church.  Inasmuch as the committee refused to surrender the deed of St. Stanislaus Parish to the control of the Bishop, their appeal for a priest, also, fell on deaf ears.  At this same gathering, it was decided to petition Father Francis Hodur to assume the pastorate of this new faith community.  All in attendance, who knew Father Hodur as a compassionate and dedicated man of God, promised their loyalty to the undertaking.  They selected Michael Sznyter and Martin Rabiega to call on Father Hodur at Holy Trinity Rectory in Nanticoke.  Reverend Hodur arrived in Scranton on Sunday, March 14, 1896, at 8:30pm.  He asked the congregation if they desired him as a pastor; the answer was a resounding “YES!”  He asked if they would endure the imminent trial and difficulties with him; and again they answered, “WE WILL!”  Thus began the journey of a humble shepherd and his people.  They would meet and overcome many hurdles together.  Some would fall away, intimidated by “friends” and neighbors, other would lose faith, but most remained and struggled with this young priest; constant in their hope that their Church, the Church of their Motherland, the Church of their heritage would open its heart to the plea and hear the cries of their anguish.  Incredible obstacles still lay ahead.  Some are recorded in the Parish Minutes Books, in the correspondence between Father Hodur and the hierarchs of the Roman Catholic Church, in history books and even in the sealed archives of the Vatican.  More importantly, the story of this First Parish, and the Polish National Catholic Church which it gave birth, is written in the hearts and souls of its people.  It is a human story of those who labored, prayed, suffered, often disagreed, but who finally, with God’s assistance endured in their faith experience.  They have passed to each succeeding generation a legacy summarized in these words: “BY TRUTH, WORK, AND STRUGGLE, WE WILL TRIUMPH!”



It was the aim of the organizers of St. Stanislaus Parish to establish a new Roman Catholic Community in the South Side of Scranton.  Even the Bishop’s objection to their retention of property rights did not deter the organizers from moving forward with their ambitious undertaking.  The minutes of May 11, 1897 record that Father Hodur reminded the assembly that the school payment of twenty-five cents would be required of each student.  This is the first reference to our “Polish School” which remains the only elementary school in the Polish National Catholic Church.  By June 27, 1897, with the building project well underway, it was announced that the Bishop would not agree to bless the cornerstone.  July 4, 1897, Independence Day, was selected as the day on which Father Hodur would bless the cornerstone himself.  It was decided that anyone supporting the work of the Church would be invited to attend.  Those who would condemn the work, would be expelled from the building.  Dedication of the Church postponed until a Polish Bishop or one who would agree to the Parish’s terms was willing to perform the ceremonies.


The one hundred years that follow were filled with events and decisions reflective of the united character of the people of St. Stanislaus Parish and their commitment to the cause to which they offered their hearts, their talents and their treasure. The following excerpts are taken primarily from the work of the Centennial Translation Sub-Committee who dedicated countless hours to the task of making available the proceedings of one hundred years of Parish work available to contemporary researchers and scholars.  Their work will serve as the foundation of more extensive historical writings in the future.  We have included in this expose some examples of our Parish’s participation in the work of the larger community as well and a few instances of “trivia” which give a readable social perspective of the world conditions which prevailed during our first century of existence.  Primarily, it is hoped that the present generations will better understand the role which Parish family and unity played in the daily lives of our ancestors and inspire them, in some ways, to continue the work which they have begun.