The Priests And Their Deeds
The first census of the United States was taken in 1790, fourteen years after the Declaration of Independence. There are no earlier records, but it may be assumed that most of these inhabitants listed in 1790, already lived here before the outbreak of the Revolution.
This first census listed heads of families by name, and all other persons by numbers only, thereby making it possible to determine those of Polish origin. Taking errors and omissions into account, it may be safely assumed that about one hundred Polonians were heads of families in 1790 and that the total population of Polish or mixed origin was over 500.
After 1790, historical documentation of immigrants arriving at our shores was of a more precise nature. This week I would like to concentrate on where and when Polonian Catholicism began since our religion was responsible for initially establishing the ethnic cohesiveness in the U.S.
The first Polish Roman Catholic priests came to America the very beginning of the 19th century. They were, for the most part, Polish Jesuits from Polotsk, in White Ruthenia, and they settled here at the invitation of the venerable John Carroll, the first Catholic Bishop in the United States.
Father Norbert Korsak (1773-1846), professor of mathematics at the Jesuit College in Polotsk, arrived here in 1805, to take care of spiritual needs of Polish immigrants. He remained only a few years, returning to England where till his death he taught at Stonyhurst College.
Father Boniface Krukowski (1777-1837), known in America under the name of Corvin, was an accomplished linguist. He also was a former professor of the Polotsk College and came to America in 1822. At first he labored as assistant in the Jesuit mission at Goshenhoppen, PA, later becoming its seventh pastor. He was “a first class, tireless missionary” and eagerly administered to spiritual needs of inhabitants of Berks, Bucks, Montgomery, Lehigh and Schuylkill counties which he crossed on horseback. By his energy he brought the mission to a flourishing material state. He died suddenly in Philadelphia in 1837. “He was a holy man,” wrote Bishop Francis P. Henrick of him. Even Protestants revered him greatly for his virtues. Father Krukowski left a diary in Latin.
The most prominent of these early Polish Jesuits was Father Francis Dzierozynski (1779-1850) who was Superior of the Maryland Mission from 1824 to 1830, and its Provincial from 1840 to 1843. After a distinguished career as a teacher in Jesuit colleges in Russian Poland and in Italy, he came to this country in 1821. He was a very able and diligent administrator and organizer, beloved and admired by his American colleagues whose only complaint was his name, so difficult to pronounce. He is credited with saving the Maryland Jesuit Mission from extinction by his wise and successful administration. He was meek and mild-mannered to a degree, and his unselfish, tolerant, conciliating ways won his affection and confidence on all sides. “The excellent Father Dzierozynski” so a contemporary Jesuit described him, “all charity and patience, always bent on seeing the good side of things.” Many contemporaries considered him a living saint. One of his warmest friends was John C. Calhourn, who would frequently visit the good father, for the purpose of gleaming from his conversation some of that philosophic lore for which the great southerner had so keen a relish.
Father Dzierozynski was also Vice President and Treasurer of the Georgetown University and taught moral philosophy and theology there. When General Lafayette revisited America in 1824, it was Father Dzierozynski, in his capacity as the head of the Maryland Mission, who welcomed the Revolutionary hero within the walls of the University and extended his felicitations to him.
He was instrumental in founding St. John’s College at Frederick, MD, and Holy Cross College in Worcester, Mass., one of the outstanding institutions of the American Jesuits. In his later years he performed duties of Master of Novices at the Jesuits Novitiate in Frederick, MD, again endearing himself greatly to all his pupils. He died there in 1850, leaving a memory of a holy life and of great services to the Catholic Church in the United States.
The Rev. Charles Herinsky was most probably another Polish priest who very early labored in America. In 1812, he was secretary to Bishop Benedict J. Flaget of Bardstown, KY.
The Rev. Thomas Praniewicz (Pranewitz, 1793-1869) came to Philadelphia in 1819, and worked as a missionary in the East. In 1828 he departed for France where he became a very well-known figure among the Polish exiles. He published many poems of little artistic value, but remarkable for his admiration of George Washington and other American heroes.
Some Polish priests came here after 1831, with the exiles of the November Insurrection. Father Gaspar Matoga, S.J. (1823-1856), is said to be the first priest to be ordained on American soil, in 1852.
It is worthy of mention that Father Thaddeus Brzozowski, General of the Jesuits, befriended John Quincy Adams during his stay in Russia as Minister of the United States. Adams often served as intermediary in transmitting correspondence between Brzozowski and American churchmen. The General endeavored to convert the future President of the United States to the Catholic religion.
Next week you’ll read about the first Polish settlement in these United States and how it all came about!!
. . . SEE YOU SOON, GOD BE WILLING . . .