St. Stanislaus Parish in Meriden, Connecticut, has the distinction of being the first Polish parish founded in the Archdiocese of Hartford. The initiative was taken by the immigrants themselves on January 1, 1889, when John Damach and friends established a Society of St. Stanislaus, Bishop and Martyr. With land at Jefferson and Oak Streets already acquired by the immigrants, Bishop Lawrence Stephen McMahon appointed Fr. Antoni Klawitter as a first pastor in 1891. Bishop Lawrence Stephen McMahon dedicated the first St. Stanislaus Church, a small wooden edifice, on January 8, 1893.
With a $9,000 treasury, Fr. John L. Ceppa bought land for a new church site at the corner of Pleasant St. and Olive St. On September 7, 1908 Bishop Michael Tierney dedicated the new church. The architects were Reiley and Steinback of New York and Stamford, Connecticut.
As the Polish language book written in 1942 The Golden Jubilee of St. Stanislaus B M Parish in Meriden, Conn (pol. Złoty Jubileusz Parafii Św. Stanisława B M w Meriden, Conn) records, "Every beginning is difficult." Amongst the many Polish immigrant parishioners, there was much initial discussion whether the church would be wooden or brick, towering or low and humble, how to make the altar and organ, would there be a hall, would there be a school, would the tower be tall and cubic or circular like in the old country, gothic architecture or romanesque architecture; the only certainty was that it would prove to be very difficult.
The need for a new church was evident by the many parishioners, who were packed in the tiny church like sardines in a tin can. Of course it had not always been this way; the first two Meredeniacy were Franciszek Szumny and Michał Kloc, who like in the old country, went to Mass every Sunday; Poles began to cluster around them in Meriden. These early Polish immigrants to Meriden went to the Saint Rose of Lima Irish Church, built in 1848, but they did not know a single word spoken there, nor a single song they sang, or even a single prayer they prayed.
These devout Roman Catholic Poles began to organize a community, the Society of Saint Stanislaus Bishop and Martyr, because they wanted from the beginning to have the help of a good Polish Saint. With St. Stanislaus listening to the immigrants' prayers, they began to earn the money to give the church a beginning. They bought a small piece of land from Mr. Składzień for 700 dollars in 1892. The lot on Jefferson Street was 100×170 feet and on top of a hill, so it was a bit uncomfortable for the older parishioners, but the land was cheaper than elsewhere; however, they did not worry and said it was higher and closer to Heaven. The Society of St. Stanislaus Bishop and Martyr immediately began collecting the funds to build a new, temporary church on the site.
Bishop McMahon sent the first Polish parish pastor, Father Antoni Klawiter, to Meriden on 23 October 1892 to help the Poles to establish a parish and build a church. Father Klawiter was a Polish insurgent in the January Uprising of 1863 against the Russian Empire.
Together with the parishioners, within a few days of Fr. Klawiter's arrival, on 30 October 1892, the pastor of St. Rose's Church, Fr. P. F. McAlenny, dedicated the first stone of the Polish church. The first Polish church in Meriden, and in the state of Connecticut, was very modest, measuring 40 feet wide by 90 feet long. The original St. Stanislaus Church was built with a small school wing and a few small rooms for the pastor's residence; the construction cost was $5,000.
On 8 January 1893, Bishop of Hartford Lawrence McMahon dedicated the new church. During the blessing service the parish, whose parishioners were not well off, collected $87.44. The Bishop of Hartford lent them $1,400 for the building of the church.
After having been built by the parishioners of Saint Stanislaus in Meriden, the church was dedicated in September 1908. One hundred years later, the church was showing her age and in need of repairs and renovations. Rev. Edward Ziemnicki, the pastor, called for a committee to oversee the project; it was chaired by Alan Lagocki. On 14 September 2008 there was the kick-off of the 100th-anniversary Century of Faith Church Restoration Campaign, which brought the parish together to renovate the inside of the church. The project was overseen by Kronenberger & Sons Restoration, Inc. of Middletown, Connecticut, with initial estimates of approximately $500,000. Each Parish family was asked to prayerfully consider making a pledge to the campaign; the three-year pledge commitment was made payable monthly, quarterly, or annually.
The initial plan for the scope of the restoration to the nave, side altars, balcony, Sanctuary, transepts, and aisle side walls was to scrape all loose and peeling paint; repair damage on the walls and ceilings; clean and treat all surfaces to be painted; clean and remove dirt from all the artwork and stencils, including faux marble and painted murals; repair and touch up the faux marble at points of failure; clean the stained glass windows; repair the wood trimming around the windows and doors; touch up damaged areas within the artworks; re-gild the capitals using gold paint; clean all architectural woodwork, not including pews; paint the ceilings, walls, and trim in original color scheme. Full restoration to the two transept murals on the Sanctuary ceiling and the Risen Christ behind the Tabernacle. New stenciling at the side Altars. New carpeting at the main church, sanctuary, and altar steps. Installation of new plywood and vinal flooring under the pews. Remove and dispose of existing kneelers and replace with new ones. Restore off-site all the nave pews from scratches, dents, marks and discoloration; wax and residue removal; lacquer and re-install with new fastening hardware.
Alan Lagocki, chairperson
With origins reaching as far back as the days of the Society of St. Stanislaus Bishop and Martyr in 1891, the teaching tradition at St. Stanislaus School in Meriden is rich and well-proven. The school was originally housed in the classroom wing of the previous church on Jefferson Street, the first Polish church in Connecticut, serving area youth between 1892 and the construction of the modern school building in 1915. The school continues to this day teaching young students from kindergarten and first through eighth grades, preparing them academically to succeed and excel through Christian values and proven knowledge.
St. Stanislaus School
Home of the Academic Achievers
Followers of Gospel Values
Starting from the year 1990, the Sisters of St. Joseph taught a pre-school program in the Convent, which existed for well-over a decade. Many of St. Stanislaus' students in the 1990s and 2000s spent 11 out of the first 14 years of their lives together, as many students were in the 3-year-old and 4-year-old programs at the Pre-School, followed by St. Stan's Parochial School Kindergarten through 8th grade; leading to longtime bonds, as many of these students continued on to higher education together.
The St. Stanislaus Pre-School ended during the closing years of Father Edmund Nadolny's 12 years spent at St. Stan's; he left in 2006 to Sacred Heart Church in East Berlin, Connecticut.
With the closing of St. Stanislaus Pre-School in the mid-2000s, the need for preparation before entering school was evident and St. Stanislaus' facilities became a center of 3- to 4-year-old learning through the City of Meriden's School Readiness Program. The City's aim is to provide care for three- and four-year-old Meriden residents based on a sliding fee scale. The School Readiness Program at St. Stan's helps to prepare young students for Kindergarten.
However, it should be noted, that the School Readiness Program at St. Stanislaus' Community Center is not run by the staff at St. Stan's or under the direction of the Archdiocese of Hartford, rather it is a program through the City of Meriden.
Undoubtedly the beginning of the Parish, the Society of Saint Stanislaus Bishop and Martyr was in existence from 1891, and was the very foundation of the parish, church, and school. This society has closed down.
This society meets bi-annually to conduct a meeting and pray the Holy Rosary together.
Meeting during the week in the school's cafeteria, this is a very active organisation for the older members of the Parish.
The Knights of Columbus help to conduct services within the Parish periodically throughout the year.
As an ongoing, year-round fundraiser for the Parish, with proceeds going towards the school or church, Mr. Tom Wronski, a dedicated Parishioner, has for many years organized pierogi making. A group of dough-makers get their early on a Saturday morning to prepare the dough; which is then given to the rollers, who roll the dough thin and cut it into circles; which then are given on trays to the stuffers, who fill the pierogi with Farmer's cheese, potato-and-cheese, or saurkraut filling; which was made the day earlier by the filling-makers; next involved are the boilers, who parboil the raw pierogi; which is then laid out on tables to dry and begin to cool, are then put in the freezers to chill, and finally are put in bags of a dozen based on the filling by the baggers. All of the work is done by volunteers of all ages and backgrounds, who enjoy making pierogi, helping the Parish, and spending time on a Saturday morning with fellow parishioners.
The pierogi are made on many Saturdays throughout the year in preparation for holidays, Parish gatherings, and the Polish Festival, formerly the June Festival, where they are quickly sold-out.
Ceppa Field is located on Gale Avenue, in Meriden, not far from the church; and is currently used by Platt and Maloney high schools.
The Meriden diaspora is Connecticut's oldest Polonia, having been started well-over one-hundred-and-twenty-years-ago. With the modern Polish language largely the result of the turbulence of World War II, there is a recognizable difference between the Polish spoken in Meriden by older immigrants together with their children, and today's Polish speakers in the Ojczyzna, or Fatherland. Some of the earliest Poles to Meriden came in the 1870s, and all of the Polish immigrants which started Saint Stanislaus Parish emigrated during the age of the partition of Poland, meaning many of Meriden's Poles left from the Austro-Hungarian, German, or Russian empires; and not from Poland. And in the early Parish, perhaps the majority of those immigrants came from the Kingdom of Galicia.
Many of these early immigrants left before World War I from Galicia during the Great Economic Emigration, beginning in the 1880s with the mass emigration of Galician peasantry and temporarially ending with the outbreak of the Great World War. The war separated many families on opposite sides of the Atlantic, so to this day many St. Stan's Parishioners maintain Christmas and Easter card contact with distant cousins and families in the old country.
Many of Saint Stanislaus' Polish parishioners returned to fight for Poland's cause in the Blue Army, or Haller's Army, which was formed in France by Poles from diasporas from all over the United States, Canada, and Brazil, as well as by former prisoners of war from the imperial armies of Germany and Russia; they were organized under Gen. Józef Haller.
After the First World War, 1914–1918, many more Poles left the Second Polish Republic for a new start in America. With a thriving economy and industry in Meriden, many of these Poles made their way to Meriden and into the Parish.
The immigration of Poles slowed tremendously after World War II, but continues to this day with new Polish parishioners often finding their way to St. Stanislaus in Meriden.
As a Parish with a very long history in Polonia, the language spoken in Meriden is a lively and enjoyable one, but not particularly correct. Meriden's Polish is the result of the mixing of the dialects and gwaras spoken before World War II, of the entrance of new words from a developing culture, and from the simple passage of time as language changes or is forgotten. A number of minor features of Polish vocabulary spoken in the first half of the 20th century have been retained in gwara merydeńska, which now sound archaic to modern Poles.
Additionally, gwara merydeńska is largely half-na-pół, that is, a part Polish and a part English. Perhaps, the best example of this interesting and endearing form of Polish may be:
"A policeman gave me a ticket on the highway."
Which in modern Polish would appear as:
"Policjant dał mi mandat na autostradzie."
However, in a Polish typical of older Polonias in the United States, this may appear as:
"Kap dał mi tiketa na hajłeju."
Indeed, many Poles which come to an older Polish diaspora may at first find this half-na-pół language to just be an abomination of the beautiful and very complex Polish language, but many will find themselves slowly slipping into this almost unstoppable form of Polish; close contact with both languages makes this form of language often unpreventable. It has a certain history and character to it, which makes its existence somewhat pleasant, however, using this form of dialect with either visiting Poles or in the Fatherland sometimes leads to confusion. It may also be worth mentioning here that some words developed in Polonia before being sent back to Poland, where they are now commonplace and a true part of the Polish language.