Polish Harvest Festival Reveals Solid Church Community

By Richard Campbell

Our Lady of Czestochowa is the bedrock of the Andrew Square area around which a small community of businesses revolve who support the church activities and bring people back to the old neighborhood to practice their faith and socialize. Among the two big public festivals, the Fall Harvest one is known as much for its food as for the cultural displays. For such a small festival the fall harvest attracts a fairly sizable group of people from considerable distances to celebrate, remember the mother country culture and see old friends. For visiting neighbors who don’t belong to the church, the festival is a welcome early fall diversion, a place to bring the kids and experience something different.

I had a lively conversation with Barbara Bolec whose husband is the Editor in Chief, and co-founder of the White Eagle.  The White Eagle is the leading Polish newspaper that serves 350 thousand Polish American readers in Massachusetts and is also distributed in 15 states.  I kidded her that the Polish community is the best kept secret in Andrew Square, but in truth Andrew Square would be a wasteland without this quietly proud community. She discussed the prevalence of Polish culture in Massachusetts, with Worcester and Chicopee as being hot beds of Polish communities, and the pivotal history Poland played in the American Revolution. We touched on the subject of the Polish hero General Kosciuszko who fought on our side in the war of independence and designed West Point.  Besides the deeper history, in Boston we discussed how the church and school activities, restaurants and delis, give the Polish Triangle a unique identity.

The festival itself is perhaps as much about good food as it is about Polish culture, but among the tables of books, literature and arts, there are spirited organizations. Kids played in the big inflatable Sesame Street House, and a few bands hit the stage with traditional Polish music. Massachusetts Miss Polonia 2019 Julia Sudol from Chicopee was on hand graciously moving through the crowd, greeting children and posing for selfies.  The Honorary Consul of Poland, Marek Lesniewski-Lass greeted former Ambassador to the Holy See, Ray Flynn, his wife Cathy, and son City Councilor Ed Flynn, as well as City Councilor Michelle Wu, Marcin Bolec, and his wife Barbara. All were entreated to some fine Polish food. There is something so dignified about the way the Polish people handle occasions- part old world humility, with a bit of self-deprecating fun, there is much for South Bostonians to learn from this community.

While Boston doesn’t come close to places like New York or Chicago, the Polish community still weighs in around 4.5 percent in Massachusetts.  The church embodies one of the older emigrant traditions and has been a part of South Boston since 1893, when Polish emigrants raised the money to purchase the land on Boston Street, and on October 2, of that year Fr. Jan Chmieliński became the first Polish parish priest in Boston. The church laid foundation the following year and dedicated the building to “the Queen of all Poles Our Lady of Czestochowa.”  Today Fr. Jerzy Żebrowski is the current pastor of the church who has been in that position since 2015, and the church serves approximately 700 families. The church owes its name to a more famous monastery and shrine in Poland.

The original Our Lady of Chzestochowa is known also as the Black Madonna, she is a revered icon of Mary at her shrine in Jasna Gora Monastery, who appeared after traveling from Constantinople via Belz to Czestochawa Poland. There are many stories about the original 6-9th century icon which seem to parallel the Catholic Church’s influence in Hungary and Poland. One of the more verifiable ones is that Prince Władysław was the person in the 14th century who brought her to rest at Czestochowa. The French gold fluer-de-lis on her lapel signals the icon having been in Hungary during the reign of Charles I.  Without getting to deep into Catholic Mariology, she is attributed with having miraculous powers- the most prominent of which was the saving of Jasna Gora Monastery from a Swedish invasion.

Perhaps unknown to many South Bostonians, the original South Boston church was once completely destroyed by fire in 1973, and here it was not the icon’s miraculous powers that rebuilt the church, but the dedicated Polish community, many of whom still attend its regular services. Besides being a house of faith, the church should probably get some kind of small business award, as its presence brings a steady stream of visitors to Andrew Square to patronize the local shops. It should be noted that 2018 is the Jubilee year, the marking of the 100th anniversary of Polish Independence, and November 11th is their National Independence Day. This year’s modest Fall Festival has a little more historical import. Wszystkiego najlepszego i długo żyj Polska! Or… Happy Birthday and Long Live Poland!

Jeanne Rooney

Jeanne Rooney is the Editor in Chief for South Boston Online.