Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
July 5, 2010
Polska keeps pioneer spirit alive
Proud parishioners donate time, elbow grease to make their church a living reality
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
POLSKA - At St. John the Baptist Church, the Catholic community continues its work to keep a 100-year-old church alive.
Tucked away off the main highways, the Polska church may be hard to find. But it is certainly not forgotten.
At least 300 people came to the parish's 100th anniversary celebration June 26 at the church, about 18 km south of the village of Holden.
They remembered the early settlers for whom the church was the heart of life, both spiritually and socially. But the people today have not relegated their church to a dusty memory.
The memories are alive, for sure.
Lucy Stambaugh remembers First Communion, weddings and hearing her grandpa sing Polish Christmas carols.
Len Kawalilak fondly recalls summer catechism, church picnics, fall suppers, New Year's Eve dances and getting married in the same church as his parents.
Kawalilak, now living in Rimbey, regularly makes the 170-km journey to his beloved church at Polska to help with renovations so that the church has a future as well as a past.
Despite being short on funds and with no government grants, the community strives to keep St. John the Baptist Church in good condition.
SPIRIT OF THE SETTLERS
Parishioners embody the spirit of the early settlers who put a lot of money and effort into the church in an era when time and money were hard to come by.
The effort has been tremendous, with donations given and labour volunteered. The Stations of the Cross were restored, new windows installed, rotten boards replaced, rusty fence painted and the bell tower repaired.
As well, a lot of cooking, mowing grass and other hard work went into preparing for the celebration.
The church has undergone many upgrades over the last century. Electricity and a gas furnace were added. In 1982, a new foundation was built.
Marlene Miciak, another parishioner, says last year the group painted the two gates black. "My sister-in-law said the fence was all rusted, and we could use some silver paint.
"I went home and got a quart - that's all we had at home - and we painted between the two gates," said Miciak.
"It looked so good that we did it all the way around. That was quite an undertaking, but it turned out really good. It was a lot of fun. Everybody dropped their work at home and came here."
The church traces its history to 1903 when immigrants from Galicia, Poland, came to Alberta, settling in the areas between Daysland and Holden. Sunday Mass was held in settlers' homes. In 1906, land was donated for a chapel and cemetery. The first Mass was celebrated in March 1907.
With the Polska community growing, construction of a larger church began in 1909 and the interior was completed the following year. Bishop Emile Legal blessed the new church in 1917 under the patronage of St. John the Baptist.
GOD AND COUNTRY
For those Polish settlers, the church was an expression of both their faith and their patriotism.
Outside of the church are the words "Boze Zbaw Polske, 1909-1917" which translates into "God Save Poland." Poland at that time was not a recognized country and did not exist on any map.
For Father Leon Kler, main celebrant at the June 26 Mass, God, Church and country should be important in people's lives.
"In 1909, in this place, when the people built the church, they asked God to protect a country that was not even on the map of the world yet - but it was in their hearts," said Kler, pastor in the nearby Killam-Daysland area parishes.
"The church is always an expression of our faith because we do not build a church if we don't believe in God. In this rural area, 100 years ago, everyone with faith was asking God to protect their country."
Today, people everywhere complain that they do not have enough time, the priest said. "We seem to be so busy today everywhere in the world. Being too busy, we so often sacrifice our relationship with God.
COMMITTED TO JESUS
"Maybe after this Mass, when we remember 100 years of history and our memories connected to this church and the people who worked within this church, hopefully that will renew our commitment to Jesus Christ."
After Mass, Father Nilo Macapinlac, pastor for Polska and other area parishes, blessed the graves. Then guests, entertained by young Polish dancers, enjoyed lunch in the Polska Hall.
Miciak shared the story of two boys hunting gophers near the church this spring. A broken power line started a grassfire. They phoned for help, and their grandfather arrived in the nick of time with a water truck to extinguish the fire and save the church.
The work continues at the Polska church. Volunteers want to varnish the pews and paint the sacristy. Next year's major project is to level the cemetery land and do restoration work on the gravestones.
Parishioners are determined to give their church a future.
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.