By Cathy Harasta
The Texas Catholic
Bishop Greg Kelly’s emphasis on the call to love one another linked his homily’s prominent themes of gratitude and gospel values when he served as the main celebrant of a special Mass at St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church on Oct. 23 celebrating the 30th anniversary of the parish as the designated home of the Polish Catholic community in the Diocese of Dallas.
Parishioners in traditional Polish dress alternated singing and praying in Polish and English at the observance of faith, history and culture that was augmented by a Polish children’s choir and parishioner-musicians who embodied the parish’s founding spirit as the first African-American Catholic church in Dallas.
Bishop Kelly, apostolic administrator for the diocese, paid tribute to both cultures at St. Peter, citing the role of courage in taking initiatives and praising the courage of St. John Paul II, the Polish pope who so emphatically influenced the global church.
The celebration continued after the Mass with a Polish-American Heritage Festival at Klyde Warren Park in downtown Dallas, where hundreds of St. Peter parishioners enjoyed traditional Polish food, music and dance performances.
“This parish was my life-saver,” said parishioner Ania Joy, who came to Texas from Poland in 1986. “As a new bride, I found this parish a much-needed community. Our two kids got all their sacraments here, and they learned the Polish language and Polish dances. They feel themselves to be Texans, but half of them is rooted in Polish culture.”
Father Jacek Nowak, SChr., the pastor of St. Peter since August 2015, said that the parish, with an average Sunday attendance of about 270, welcomes everyone.
“Today is a special day of great joy,” said Father Nowak, who concelebrated the Mass with Father Pawel Bandurski, SChr., the provincial of the Society of Christ in North America, and Father Zdzislaw Nawrocki, SChr. “We are happy to have Bishop Kelly here.”
Faith and culture
St. Peter, established in 1905, welcomed the Polish faithful in 1986. Fathers from the Society of Christ—Polish priests who minister to Poles living outside their homeland—since have served at the church, located in the State-Thomas Historic District near downtown Dallas.
Two Masses are celebrated in Polish and one in English each weekend.
Joy said that she feels blessed by the privilege of honoring her faith and culture.
“The first Polish immigrants brought the Black Madonna icon with them, the Polish symbol of faith,” Joy said of the revered Our Lady of Czestochowa painting. “I find that providential and beautiful. We are wedded to an African-American parish.”
Myrna Dartson, a lifelong parishioner, called Father Nowak an “amazing pastor.”
“We really appreciate him,” said Dartson, who attended St. Peter Academy, which operated for 80 years before closing in 1987. “He has done so much for this church.”
Father Nowak said that the parish selected its celebration weekend to coincide with Polish-born St. John Paul II’s feast day on Oct. 22, the anniversary of the inauguration of his pontificate in 1978.
Among the women religious at the Mass were members of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth (CSFN) from Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Grand Prairie.
“Our foundress was from Poland, and many of us are from Poland,” said Sister Edyta Krawczyk, CSFN, whose community teaches children’s faith formation at St. Peter the Apostle. “Coming here is like being in touch again with our national roots. It’s really a special place.”
A place to call home
George Kowalczyk, a native of Krakow, Poland, said that he was on a visit as a tourist in Dallas in 1980, when Communist oppression and tension between party rulers and the Solidarity trade union movement was simmering in his homeland.
He said that he did not return to Poland, but spent time in an Austrian refugee camp until he gained sponsorship to come to the U.S. and join his brother in Dallas in the fall of 1981. Martial law was imposed on Poland in December 1981, which spurred an influx of Polish refugees to the Dallas area.
“I was one of the first people working very strongly to have a Polish church in Dallas,” Kowalczyk said. “This church is very close to us. This is our first home. Our two children were baptized here.”
Anna Fraustro, a native of Bydgoszcz, Poland, drives with her family 40 minutes from their Carrollton home to St. Peter.
“I like the community,” said Fraustro, who has belonged to the parish for 12 years. “I was looking for a place where I could come on Sunday and feel at home.”
The post-Mass festival in the park offered many parishioners a taste of home, including pierogi (dumplings), bigos (a stew of meat and cabbage) and paczki (doughnuts).
Joy said that the festive anniversary did not obscure what drew the parishioners together.
“The faith is paramount,” she said. “This community reinforces that.”