By Richard Campbell
The parishioners of Our Lady of Częstochowa gave Thanksgivings a little early this year with an elaborate celebration that included a special visit from the Archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Sean O’Malley to celebrate their churches’ 125th anniversary. Distinguished guests from near and far crowded in with the congregation for a mass that moved beyond the traditional Catholic ceremony to include testimonies of faith and remembrances of the church that is the magnet for the Polish community in New England. This would be the first official visit of the Cardinal to the church, and accordingly many detailed preparations for this service were in evidence.
High above the sanctuary that was heavily adorned with beautiful red and white flowers, Our Lady of Częstochowa is illuminated. She is known as the Queen of Poland, whose revered original namesake dates back to at least 1384 (that was a prototype of a 5th century icon) and resides in the monastery of Jasna Gora, Poland. For though the parish was established in 1893, the local version of this portrait is a cherished artifact that was rescued from the church fire in 1973 by a local Polish fireman who lived next door.
Before the Cardinal’s entrance, pastors and lay people scurried about setting the sanctuary, while different speakers recalled a history of the church, and made introductory rites. From the Adult Choir aloft the opening piece was sung in Latin was “Gaude Mater Polonia”, which in English is “Be joyful Mother Poland”. Children of the parish took their place near the alter to sing out brightly in both Polish and English, “Jesus, You’re My Firm Foundation” and in Polish “Jezus Chrystus to Panow Pan” which translates into “Jesus Christ is the Lord of all Lords”.
After Cardinal O’Malley was ushered in by altar boys, Fr. Jerzy Żebrowski, Fr. Andrzej Treder as well as other pastors from visiting churches, all observed as the Cardinal blessed the sanctuary and paid tribute to the congregants. O’Malley read first from the Letter to the Hebrews, emphasizing Christ as the eternal savior. The Cardinal introduced the story of Jesus being questioned about “the greatest commandment” and Jesus’s response. By averting the Pharisee’s legal trap Jesus reportedly did not site a particular commandment, but a summation of the meaning of true faith, “that you shall love God with all your heart and all your soul, and all your mind… and that you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Cardinal O’Malley spoke passionately of our lives as a gift from God, saying: “that everything we are, everything we have is a gift.”
With the spring board of God as the anonymous benefactor, the Cardinal emphasized that every Eucharist (Mass) is a Thanksgiving, and of the special qualities of this particular celebration of the church’s faithful. His continual emphasis upon loving God above all else, but to love others, even your enemies, (even if they are Yankee’s fans), revealed a serious and playful side for which the Cardinal is known. Upon the liturgy of the Eucharist, the consecration and the bringing forth of gifts, homemade bread, portraits of Saints, the portrait of Our Lady, a blessing for Pope Francis and stained glass from the original church were presented. When the congregation received communion from the Cardinal and pastors, needless to say, these rituals were given a more spectacular feeling of majesty.
Adult members of the church congregated to Saint Pope John Paul II Hall for an informal celebration and dinner while a separate party was held for the children, and all were invited to an historical exhibition “Fathers of Our Independence.” Introductions were made by Parish Council Member, Co-founder and Editor of The White Eagle, Marcin Bolec and his wife Barbara who is Vice President of the Polish American Conference. Fr. Jerzy Żebrowski rushed after putting finishing touches around the hall and gave thanks for all those who contributed to this significant celebration. Fr. Zebrowski made sure to introduce the greater liturgical family of pastors who worked at, or were affiliated with the church over the years, which was kind of an international testimony to the widespread Polish community. As he made a toast to the celebrants one could sense his feeling of joy at having pulled off -quite exquisitely- an event that was months in the making.
Former Boston Mayor Ray Flynn, who was also an Ambassador to the Holy See, was introduced and recounted his early life in the Polish Triangle, having been baptized at Our Lady of Częstochowa, and brought up on Boston Street next door to the ceremonial hall. Flynn spoke of the many contributions of the Polish people to our nation, as well as stories of the bravery of the Polish resistance. He described the parish as being a true home that he comes back to regardless of his many travels around the world. The food offered would have made any Polish grandmother proud, and the tight knit community embodied the feeling of thanks for the warm company of others. Zachowaj Ducha przez kolejne 125 lat! Or… Keep the Spirit for another 125 years!