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The Resolve of The Polish Saturday School.

The beginning of the Polish Saturday School at Holy Cross 1991. Standing from the left: Anna Kirchmann, Wieslawa Babel, Anna Lesinska, Teresa Olędzka, Elzbieta Suszyńska. Sitting from the left: Sister Maria, Rev. Miroslaw Jagielski, Sister Danuta, Anna Rajtar. Courtesy: E. Suszyńska

Author: Katarzyna Litak, M.D.

Determination was the driving force behind establishing and growing the Polish Saturday School at Holy Cross Church in Minneapolis.

The settling of the first Polish immigrants in what is now Minnesota is believed to have occurred in the late 1840s or early 1850s, according to historian John Radzilowski. Upon their arrival, these immigrants found a sense of community and organization within the parishes they established. Polish immigrants in Minnesota were known for their strong sense of community and actively sought opportunities to come together. They formed numerous formal and informal groups, which demonstrated their inclination to join and participate in various organizations. Within the parishes, these groups played a vital role in fostering a sense of unity and preserving Polish traditions. The parishes served as centers for community organizations and provided a platform for Polish immigrants to connect with one another, Radzilowski wrote.

Holy Cross Parish has a rich history dating back to 1886. Shortly after its inception, a school was established in 1888, and initially operated from a small house behind the church. With the rapid growth of the Polish immigrant population, the community expanded, which led to the construction of a new church in 1892 and a new school in 1906. In 1917, the Franciscan Sisters of Sylvana, Ohio, assumed the responsibility of running the school and contributed to its growth and educational excellence. However, as time passed, the parish and school experienced a decline in enrollment. This period of decreased church attendance coincided with the consolidation of regional parish schools, and ultimately the discontinuation of the Holy Cross School and Polish instruction in 1969. The Northeast Regional School rented the school building.

In the cherished photograph taken in 1950, Anatol Maciejny stands proudly in the top row, second from the left, on the steps of Holy Cross Church. This timeless image captures a moment in history, preserving the memory of Anatol's presence within the close-knit community of Holy Cross Parish. Photo: permission of Anatol Maciejny for MPMS use only

Upon his arrival in Minnesota in 1950, Anatol Maciejny found a supportive community at Holy Cross School, where the Polish nuns provided instruction. There was no Polish Saturday School; a facility was unnecessary given the parish school's availability of Polish language education.

However, Anatol encountered a unique challenge during his academic journey. Despite the opportunity to speak Polish at Holy Cross School, his circumstances presented an opposite problem. He eloquently commented on his experience to shed light on the intricacies and nuances of his educational path within a community that valued and preserved the Polish language and culture:

“I arrived in the United States on January 31, 1950, at age fifteen, during a particularly snowy year. When we arrived in the United States, I primarily spoke Polish. I started learning English. I attended Holy Cross [school] until the end of the year. The teachers were all nuns, and they spoke Polish instead of English, which wasn't helpful for me to learn English. I did not make any progress in English there.”

The establishment of the Polish School in Minneapolis in the 1970s was a response to the growing desire among Polish immigrants in the United States to preserve and pass on their cultural heritage to younger generations. During this time, there was a favorable social climate towards ethnic groups, including Polish Americans, that encouraged the exploration and celebration of ancestral traditions.

Leopold Wierzbicki, Roma Tubielewicz-Kehne, Kathy Waldron, and later Chester Rog played instrumental roles in founding the school in 1977. The initial aim was to provide Polish language and cultural education to young Polish Americans who received their primary education in American schools. The school faced various challenges, including locating a permanent location and finding qualified teaching staff. Despite these obstacles, the school found a home at Holy Cross Church and later moved to All Saints Church and Baptist Church.

The teaching staff included Roma Tubielewicz-Kehne, Kornel Kondy, Elżbieta Suszyńska, Ewa Jelińska, and Wojciech Komornicki. They dedicated themselves to teaching the Polish language and instilling knowledge of Polish history and geography. The Polish School also advertised in a monthly newsletter called Polam, which helped foster a sense of community and kept families informed about school activities.

Elzbieta Suszyńska. Photo: Courtesy of E.Suszyńska

After Wierzbicki's departure in 1980, the Polish School temporarily ceased its activities, and Polish language lessons were primarily provided to adults by dedicated individuals like Roma Tubielewicz-Kehne, Kornel Kondy, Chester Rog, Elżbieta Suszyńska, and Prof. Leopold Polakiewicz.

In the 1980s, there was a significant influx of young Polish families with children to Minneapolis and St. Paul. Elżbieta Suszyńska, who already had teaching experience in the 1970s, recognized the need for Polish education and felt compelled to establish a new Polish Saturday school. With the support of Rev. Miroslaw Jagielski and the publication of information about the school in newsletters like Polam and Polish Bulletin, the Polish School officially began its classes on October 11, 1990, with 12 students at the Northeast Community School in Minneapolis.

As the school expanded, it brought in more teachers and introduced a more comprehensive range of classes to accommodate students of various ages and language abilities. The support of Rev. Miroslaw Jagielski played a crucial role in securing permission to use the premises of Holy Cross Church, despite his initial doubts about the feasibility of the school. Magdalena Świderska shared her exceptional talent with the children by organizing classes where they created Christmas tree ornaments and Polish cut-outs. Barbara Rowińska taught the art of making palms for Palm Sunday. Blanche Krbechek was a patient and skilled instructor who enthusiastically shared her knowledge and expertise in Easter egg coloring techniques.

In the second year of operation, a school office was established that housed a small library and teaching materials. Elżbieta Lewicka-Schaefer and Janusz Żórawski made significant contributions to the musical aspect of the programs, while Edward Rajtar dedicated his time to choreography and preparing the children for performances. The traditional meetings with St. Nicholas became unforgettable experiences for the children. Jan Rajtar generously invested his valuable time to create beautiful decorations for school events.

PSS students with Santa, Undated. Photo: Courtesy of E. Suszyńska

Over the years, the Polish School actively participated in Polish national celebrations and organized religious instruction. It expanded its curriculum to include Polish lessons for non-Polish-speaking children and preparation in Polish for sacraments like First Communion and Confirmation. The school also engaged in various cultural activities, such as musical performances, Nativity plays, Easter egg painting classes, and creating decorations for school events.

Elizbieta Suszynska. Courtesy of: E. Szyszynska

In 1993, the school was named after Adam Mickiewicz and its charter was drafted. Throughout the years, the school continued to evolve under the leadership of various coordinators, such as Anna Rajtar, Barbara Rychlik, Maria Szkaradzinskaya, and Renata Stachowicz. New initiatives, including a GO club, a children's choir, and a ski club, were introduced to enrich the school's program and provide additional opportunities for students.

It is clear the Polish School in Minneapolis has fulfilled and will continue to fulfill its important role in preserving Polish culture, language, and traditions thanks to the dedication and commitment of the many individuals involved. The dedication and commitment of the teaching staff contributed to the school's growth and success over the years.

Read More:

Polska Szkola Sobotnia 1991-2001
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