October 9, 2017

Our Lady of the Rosary celebrates 100 years of steadfast faith

Story and photos by Stephen Kiltonic

Springfield Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski celebrated the 100th anniversary Mass at Our Lady of the Rosary Parish in Springfield on Sunday, Oct. 8.

SPRINGFIELD – The Polish community of Our Lady of the Rosary Parish located on Franklin Street, here, celebrated 100 years of faith, Sunday Oct. 8. Springfield Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski concelebrated the anniversary Mass with Father Stanislaw Sokol, pastor, and other priests and deacons of the Diocese of Springfield.

Prior to the liturgy, Bishop Rozanski was presented with several welcoming gifts — a loaf of bread and red and white roses, symbolic of the colors of the Polish flag. In his homily, Bishop Rozanski praised the men and women who came to America from Poland to settle in Springfield, as well as in the surrounding towns of Ludlow, Indian Orchard and Chicopee, despite the struggles they endured in their native country.

“So, those brave souls who sought that better life, came to these shores. They came with promise and with hope. They came with the rich cultural heritage and a deep faith. They came seeking for their children and their grandchildren, a life that was better than they had,” said Bishop Rozanski. 

He added that their courage and strong faith sustained them through the Nazi invasion in World War II and later the Soviet oppression.  

“Through all of that, nothing would destroy the faith of the Polish people. That faith would remain steadfast. It’s a faith that gathers us here today,” the bishop said.

The first wave of Polish immigrants arrived in western Massachusetts from 1885 until 1895 to work the mills and later to establish small businesses.  After the turn of the century, the Polish community formed the Polish National Alliance and the John Sobieski Brotherly Aid Society, also known as the St. Joseph’s Society, with the intent to provide health and life insurance and eventually to establish a permanent parish and church. By 1916, the growing numbers of Poles in the North End of Springfield and Indian Orchard increased to such a degree that a permanent parish was necessary. 

Services were first held at the St. Anthony Syrian church before Our Lady of the Rosary Church was dedicated on Franklin and Leonard Streets in 1918. Father Stanislaus Orlemanski served as the parish’s first pastor. He quickly became known as an extremely hard worker who built and organized the community’s religious, social and educational life. Father Orlemanski opened a parish school in 1919 and supervised the construction of a multi-purpose building which served as a church, rectory, convent and parish hall.

Father Orlemanski later formed the Rosary Athletic Association, whose successful basketball teams became known throughout Massachusetts and Connecticut. Other parish organizations and societies were established including the St. Cecelia’s Choir and Vocal Group which won many regional competitions along with the Children of Mary and the Holy Name Society. 

On May 7, 1939, ground was broken for a new church located on the corner of Franklin and Underwood Streets. With the help of parishioners, the church was constructed for a fraction of the cost. On July 28, 1940, the new structure was dedicated. The much beloved Father Orlemanski would serve as pastor and spiritual leader of the parish until March 16, 1960 when he died on St. Joseph’s Day.

On July 26, 1963, a fire destroyed much of the church’s interior causing several hundred thousand dollars in damage. With a new pastor, Father Ladislaus Rys, a temporary church was set up in the social hall and former church. It would take one and a half years before the renovated church would open on Christmas Day, 1965.

In his concluding anniversary remarks, Bishop Rozanski again praised the parish’s ancestors.

“We pray for them on this 100th anniversary as we indeed give thanks to God for all that they have done for us. Perhaps not being able to give us all the material wealth but rather being able to give us that rich, spiritual treasure — something far greater than any material wealth could provide,” commented Bishop Rozanski. “We indeed rejoice that God allowed them to come here to build that better life together as a people.”

After the 1:30 p.m. Mass, parishioners gathered at the Oak Ridge Country Club in Feeding Hills for a reception, dinner and music provided by the Eddie Forman Orchestra.  A proclamation given to the parish by Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, was also read at the festive event. A centennial anniversary book and a DVD of the Mass and reception will also be available for purchase by parishioners in the near future.

A video version of this story will be featured in an upcoming edition of the Springfield Diocese’s weekly magazine, “Real to Reel,” which airs Saturday evenings at 7pm on WWLP-TV 22 NEWS.