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 History of St. Mary of Czestochowa Parish

 

In 1892, a small group of Polish immigrant families desiring to worship God in their own language approached Father Ladislaus Miskiewicz, Pastor of St. Adalbert Church, South Side, Pittsburgh, begging him to intercede with Bishop Phelan (of the Diocese of Pittsburgh) on their behalf. It was through Father Miskiewicz's guidance that the Society of Our Lady of Czestochowa was formed. 

In 1893, men of the society sought help from the Burrell Improvement Company, and two lots located on Kenneth Avenue were donated. A small frame church was constructed, facing the alley in order to face Eastward, and St. Adalbert's clergy continued to minister to the needs of the newly formed parish. In November of 1893, the Diocese of Pittsburgh assigned our first resident pastor, Father Henry Cichocki. Our first annual report noted 63 families, 259 parishioners, 29 baptisms, 8 marriages, 3 deaths and 30 children receiving faith instruction.

The parish continued to grow, and in three years, an addition to the church structure was built with basement classrooms for a school. Over the years, additional lots were purchased under the guidance of the various clergy. Construction of the present church building began in 1911 under the pastorship of Father Francis Pikulski and was completed in 1912 under the pastorship of Father Francis Poszukanis. Once again, four classrooms were furnished in the church basement. The bell from the old church was placed into the South tower of the new church, and a second bell, although from a different foundry, was purchased and mounted in the North tower.

The school was originally staffed by lay teachers, but in 1913 Father Poszukanis petitioned the Felician Sisters of Coraopolis for help to staff the school. A convent was built and a year later, the sisters had full charge of the school. In February of 1914, a fire slightly damaged the new church, but the old church (which had been used as a parish social hall) and the rectory were completely destroyed. As a result of the fire, a new rectory (present-day convent) and a new eight classroom school (the present structure) were built. The school was dedicated in 1922.

In 1927 the parish acquired land for our present cemetery under the leadership of Father Anthony Baron. Father Casimir Orlemanski began the grand task of liquidating the parish debt in 1942 and added an addition to the convent. In 1957 Father Edward Sierocki oversaw the building of the present rectory. In the 1970's, Father Anthony Wozniak undertook the church renovation. In 1986, Father Thaddeus J. Kaczmarek was named pastor as saw us through our centennial year, 1993, during which the organ was expanded, a new sound system purchased, and the interior renovated with new carpeting, pew padding, and paint, while the exterior brick work of the entire campus was repointed. Father Richard P. Karenbauer next served as pastor of St. Mary from 1997 until 2008, and as administrator of St. Mary Church from 2008 - 2010. Under Father Karenbauer's pastorate, the church interior was again repainted and recarpeted, the statues refurbished, the organ facade pipes repainted, and the altars professionally cleaned and regilded. In 2008, diocesan restructuring partnered St. Mary Church with St. Joseph Church (New Kensington), although with the assistance of a parochial vicar shared among other parishes in the region. In October, 2008, Father Alan W. Grote was named part-time parochial vicar. In 2010, a parish son, Father John S. Szczesny, was named administrator. In 2013, Father Daniel Ulishney was appointed Parochial Vicar, and, from 2016 until 2018, Father Gregorio de la Cruz Soldevilla served in this capacity. Begining in 2018, Father Rodel Molina became Parochial Vicar. In July, 2019, Msgr. Michael J. Begolly, D.Min., became pastor.

The parish has seen many changes and challenges. We have survived a dissent which formed St. Peter and Paul Polish National Catholic Church. We ministered to mission parishes in Harwick (Our Lady of Victory) and West Natrona (Our Lady of Perpetual Help). We opened our doors to house the Hungarian Community, St. Elizabeth Parish, who sought to worship in their own native tongue. (The wood-paneled former "school library" was their "church.") We sent our Felician sisters to provide religious instruction for students at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Natrona Heights and the former All Saints Church, East Vandergrift. The last priest to serve as full-time parochial vicar under a parish pastor, Fr. Andrew Kawecki, was transferred in 1990 and not replaced. The parish school closed in 1994, due to insufficient enrollment.

 History of Our Lady of Czestochowa

It is doubtful whether any other representation of Our Blessed Mother with Her Divine Child, possesses a more ancient and glorious history than the painting of Our Lady of Czestochowa. Tradition tells us that St. Luke painted it on the top of a cypress wood table which came from the home of the Holy Family. At the request of the faithful, Mary sat for the portrait. Mary was pleased with the finished portrait, "My grace shall accompany it," and so began the miraculous history of the painting.

The dark coloring is related to the type of oils used in the painting. Medieval restorers were unfamiliar with the encaustic method and found that the paints they applied to the damaged areas simply sloughed off the image (according to the Medieval chronicler Risinius.) The painting displays a traditional composition well-known in the icons of Eastern Orthodoxy. The Virgin Mary is shown as the hodegetria - "one who shows the way."

Venerated for nearly 300 years while hidden in Jerusalem, the painting was discovered by St. Helen while she was searching for the True Cross. She brought it back to Constantinople and presented it to her son, Constantine the Great, first Christian Emperor of Rome. Constantine built a chapel for the portrait and where it remained in for five centuries. 

Miracle upon miracle was attributed to the intercession of Mary by persons praying before the portrait. Over the years, many enemies laid siege to Constantinople. The chapel became a center of hope for the people of the city. During one attack the city seemed ready to fall but the people rallied to the painting and the city was saved. Another time the city was under attack and the chapel caught fire. Everything was destroyed except a small section of wall upon which hung the painting of Mary and Jesus. The intense heat and soot from the fire had darkened the already dark olive features of Mary and Jesus. 

Eventually it was given as a gift by the Byzantine Emperor to a Ruthenian nobleman. The portrait was brought to Kiev and installed in the Royal Palace of Belz. It remained there for 579 years. 

In 1382 the painting received an injury from invading Tartars. An arrow pierced it, leaving a scar which is still visible on the neck. Concerned with the safety of the painting, Prince Ladislaus Opolski decided to move it to one of his castles in Upper Silesia. 

On the brow of a hill called Jasna Gora (literally "bright hill") within a few paces of the town of Czestochowa, the horses drawing the wagon with the painting stopped. No amount of coaxing could make them go on. Mary appeared to Ladislaus and told him this was to be her new home. The Miraculous Image was placed in a chapel and given to the care of the Basilian monks of the Greek Rite. A few years later, Prince Ladislaus gave it over to the Latin Rite Hermits of Saint Paul who are still there to this day. 

The year 1382 begins the remarkable record history of this miraculous painting. If figured in the heroic successful defense of Poland against invaders who were enemies of the Catholic Church. Over time, the monastery as Jasna Gora became a monastic fortress and focal point of Polish nationalism. 

In 1655 the monastery held out against a mighty Swedish army. In 1683 it was the Turks, and in 1920 the Bolsheviks. As a result, Our Lady of Czestochowa was crowned as Queen of Poland (whose feast is May 3). 

During all these stirring historical events the painting did not escape desecration and mutilation. In 1430, Hussites sacked the monastery. Pillaging, they loaded all the treasures of Jasna Gora into wagons. The horses pulling the wagon with the painting would not move. The Hussites, threw the painting off the wagon and the horses moved. One of the raiders seeing the jewels and gold covering the painting slashed at it with sabers, cutting twice into the right cheek of Mary. When he went to strike it a third time, he fell dead. The other raiders fled for fear of Divine Retribution. 

Repeated efforts by skilled artists to patch the scars failed. Each time, the facial cuts reappeared. It is believed to be Mary's will that the scars should remain, as a sign to any who would desecrate her shrine. 

In 1909, vandals tore off the gold crown and 'overdress' of pearls. This sacrilege was repaired with the help of Pope St. Pius X, who furnished a new crown. Pope after pope has granted spiritual favors to pilgrims visiting the shrine, enriching it with many privileges. At present, a painting of Our Lady of Czestochowa adorns the altar of the Pope's private chapel at Castel Gondolfo.