St. Stanislaus Kostka: 100 years at the heart of Polish Toronto

  • November 11, 2010
St. Stanislaus KostkaTORONTO - This month marks the start of a year-long celebration in honour of the jubilee year for St. Stanislaus Kostka Church, the oldest Polish parish in Toronto.

“This year is a big milestone for the Polish community,” said Mary Samulewski, chair of the jubilee committee at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church, located in the core of the city near Spadina Avenue and Queen Street West. “The parish is the oldest Polish ethnic parish in the GTA and the fourth oldest in Canada.”

The jubilee celebrations kick off with a special jubilee “mission” preached in Polish by Fr. Robert Skup, a Polish missionary, from Nov. 13 to 21. A mission is a retreat of sorts, with special Masses, intercessions and devotions. Two Masses will be said daily, excluding the Monday, when there will be one. An English mission takes place Nov. 27-28.

The reasons for the shorter English mission is that there are fewer English-speaking members of the parish, said Fr. Jan Wadolowski, pastor at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church.

And there is much reason to celebrate, he said.

“The people are celebrating the jubilee because we have to be thankful to God for the past years and for the years to come,” said Wadolowski.

Some of the upcoming events include “Return to your roots” Masses, where families are invited to sit together as a multi-generational group on Dec. 5 and 12, a special marriage anniversary Mass in March for all couples who wed at the parish and a parish picnic for the Polish community in July, with about 6,000 people expected to attend.

“In the Polish tradition, it’s the lead up which is important,” said Samulewski.

Jubilee celebrations will end on Oct. 23, 2011, with a special Mass and  banquet to follow at John Paul II Polish Cultural Centre.

“Throughout its 100 years, it has not only been a place of worship in the Polish language, but also a place where the Polish culture unfolded and allowed the Polish immigrants to find a familiar home in a strange land,” said Samulewski.

The church building actually dates back to 1879, when it was Western Presbyterian Church. The current parish history dates to 1911. That’s when Sir Eugene O’Keefe, the Toronto brewer, was moved by the piety of the Polish immigrants worshipping at St. Michael’s Cathedral and sought to find them a permanent parish of their own, said Samulewski.

“He basically donated it to the diocese and the diocese sold it to the Polish community for $1,” said Samulewski.  

A plaque fixed to the wall in the narthex commemorates O’Keefe.

Over the years the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and the Felician Sisters have played prominent roles in the parish.

Among the parish’s greatest achievements was in helping resettle refugees from Poland after the Second World War. Then pastor Fr. Peter Klita and his parishioners took in the refugees and were able to help them get on their feet in their new homeland.

Today the parish continues to be a Polish core in the centre of the city, offering Polish language classes, a dance group focusing on the songs and dances of Polish folk culture and a choir that combines Polish sacred music with classical repertoire.       

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