ARCHIVAL PHOTO SUPPLIED
Holy Rosary parishioners gather for the first celebration of confirmation in 1922.
A century ago, in 1913, Holy Rosary Parish was built to serve the spiritual needs of Polish families coming to Edmonton.
Now the parish is celebrating the 100th anniversary of its founding, beginning with a parish mission that starts Sept. 29. A jubilee Mass of thanksgiving will be celebrated Oct. 6, at 12:15 p.m., with Archbishop Richard Smith as the main celebrant. This will be followed by a gala banquet at the Polish Hall (10960-104 St.) at 3 p.m.
"As the parishioners of Holy Rosary Parish get ready to celebrate their centennial, they cannot help but reflect upon their beginning, celebrate the present and look to the future with hope and promise," said Barbara Filipowski, a main organizer of the 100th anniversary celebration.
In the 19th century Polish people did not have an independent homeland. Among the Oblates who arrived in Canada in 1841 to preach the Gospel were also Polish missionaries who belonged to the German Province of St. Mary's.
That group of pioneers included Father Antoni Sylla and two brothers, Fathers John and Paul Kulawy. They were stationed in Winnipeg before being dispatched to Southern Alberta to serve the religious needs of the Polish settlers.
They served in Bankhead, Round Hill, Rabbit Hill, Flat Lake and Coleman, among other Alberta villages. The first Polish settlers arrived in the Edmonton area around 1895 as part of the federal government's policy to populate and cultivate Western Canada.
The Polish immigrants wanted their own parish and soon Holy Rosary Church was built. The first Mass was celebrated on New Year's Day 1913. On Aug. 1, 1913, Bishop Emile Legal canonically installed the new parish to serve the Polish community.
"Most of these Polish settlers were Roman Catholic and deeply devoted to the Church. Their faith was not just limited to church attendance; it was an important part of their traditions, identity and everyday life," said Filipowski.
Due to lack of personnel, the Oblates were forced in 1927 to transfer the ministry of Holy Rosary to diocesan priests who worked there for 35 years.
In 1956, Assumption Province was created from the German Oblate Province of St. Mary's. In 1961, from this Assumption Province, the Oblates returned to Holy Rosary Parish and have been ministering there ever since.
Joe Fridel has a lifelong connection with Holy Rosary Parish. His parents were the first couple married there, back in 1913. He was also baptized and served as an altar boy at the church. He was married in the first church, celebrating his 60th wedding anniversary last month.
"My father often spoke of Father Jozef Miksa. I was an altar boy with Father Mieczyslaw Rosiecki, and after that came Father Michal Kaluzny. At that time, a lot of Polish soldiers didn't want to return to their homeland because it wasn't very clear what the government was doing," said Fridel.
He has witnessed the church celebrate many milestones over the years. In 1931, the first priest from the parish was ordained - Oblate Father Frank Kosakiewicz.
In 1945, with a new wave of immigration, the Polish community decided to build a new church. The first Mass in the new church, located at 11485-106 St., was celebrated in 1955, with construction finished in 1959. A rectory was built in 1962 to celebrate the parish's golden jubilee.
The year 1969 was a momentous year for the church when Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, who became pope in 1978, visited Edmonton for the Polish Canadian Congress' 25th anniversary. Blessed John Paul II visited the city again in 1984, and Holy Rosary parishioners made a pilgrimage on foot from their downtown church to the site of the papal Mass at Namao, north of the city.
In 1990, a second Polish parish in Edmonton - Our Lady Queen of Poland - was established on the south side.
And in 2002, Holy Rosary sent 53 young people to World Youth Day with the pope in Toronto.
When Pope John Paul died on April 2, 2005 in Rome, a memorial Mass two days later at Holy Rosary gathered an unprecedented number of faithful.
"Holy Rosary Parish has come a long way from its humble beginnings of a century ago," said Filipowski. "Today, with 1,500 registered families, it continues to be a living and vibrant faith community, ministering to the spiritual and cultural needs of present-day immigrants and the descendants of the different phases/waves of Polish immigration, and to the neighbouring community."
Last December, an Advent retreat was held to help prepare the faithful for the celebration of the Christmas season. Leading the retreat was Oblate Father Grzegorz Janiak, a missionary working in Madagascar. This year, a similar retreat is being led by Oblate Father Slawomir Dworek, a missionary from Poland.
From 1913 to 2003 the parish celebrated 4,574 Baptisms, 2,309 weddings and 1,881 funerals.
The church has several active parish committees, prayer groups, circles and clubs, which create possibilities to enrich the environment in which they live. There is a parish council, finance committee, building maintenance committee, a social committee and a parish library to help church life run smoothly.
Those who wish to deepen their prayer life assemble together in one of four church prayer groups: the Ladies' Sodality, the Good Shepherd Prayer Group, the "It is Necessary for Him to Reign" Prayer Group, and The Circle Devoted to the Most Holy Blood of Christ.
The parish choir, the children's choir and the musical-vocal youth group diversify and enrich the parish liturgies.
"The founding fathers of Holy Rosary Parish would be proud to see that their sacrifice, dedication and deep faith has not been forgotten, but continues to thrive and shape the future of the parish which they founded," said Filipowski.
Another lifelong member of the church is Fridel's niece, Janine Puszkar, who currently serves as an Eucharistic minister. Most of her family members were married at the church, including her grandparents, parents, uncle and brothers.
"It's been an ongoing family connection. Most of them have gone off to more English-speaking churches because they've married people who perhaps don't speak Polish. But over the 100 years, some members of my family have belonged to the church," said Puszkar.
Although she lives near Spruce Grove and sometimes attends Mass at Holy Trinity Church, she feels more at home at Holy Rosary because she knows the people so well.
"I feel close ties to the church. It's been in every part of my life, ever since I was born. I was baptized there, received First Communion there and was married there - it's my home church," she said.
Puszkar maintains that having a Polish church in Edmonton is imperative, and the parish has kept intact its Polish character.
"It reminds us of our roots. We have one English Mass and two Polish Masses on Sunday, and certainly the Polish Masses are very well attended. I would say the church is full at both Masses," she said. "I think people feel comfortable having the Mass set in their native tongue."