Holy Family RC History
All over the nation this year Americans are preparing to celebrate the bicentennial of the founding of this country - and the nine hundred and fifteen families in Holy Family Congregation of Cudahy have a double reason to celebrate as it is also the year that their parish observes its 75th Anniversary.
The early Americans who captured the spotlight of history were ordinary people united in a common cause, and here there is a parallel between those fiery patriots and the turn-of-the-century founders of Holy Family; each began with a dream and persevered through hope, prayer, and faith.
The American founders left us all a rich heritage. The founders of Holy Family Congregation created a legacy that has endured through three generations. They laid down the foundations for their future in this section of Cudahy - and for their children and grandchildren for generations to come.
The history of this parish is a remarkable story of perseverance that has survived two world wars and the Great Depression, yet grows stronger in spirit as the years go on.
The Early Days
It was 1900. For some twenty years the city of Milwaukee and the entire United States had been in the midst of a great wave of immigration from Europe. People came in droves from every European country to find freedom in America. Their hearts were filled with hope and belief in the causes of liberty and the chance to start life anew - free from the oppressions and restrictions that were stifling them in their homelands.
Almost every week, particularly, Polish families arrived in Milwaukee to join friends and relatives who had settled here in the 1880's and 90's. The first settlers were fishermen who built homesnear the lake and on Jones Island.
But then came the craftsmen, laborers, farmers, teachers, shopkeepers, technicians of all kinds, bringing with them their skills, their centuries-old heritage, and their strong Catholic faith. They wanted an opportunity to hold their heads high once more, to better themselves, to live honestly and decently in this great land of
opportunity. The city of Milwaukee was created and grew great by the talents of these people.
Most of the Polish immigrants settled on Milwaukee's south side and helped to build many of the Polish parishes that sprang up there in those early times. But as the years went on, and as more and more Poles arrived here from the mother- country, families spread out still further, children grew up and married and sought homes of their own.
Many came to put down their roots in the quiet village of Cudahy, to the south of Milwaukee. Others, with backgrounds as farmers, worked the rich loam of the truck farms spread out west of the lakeshore.
Because of all these newcomers, Cudahy, despite its meager facilities, muddy, unpaved streets, and lack of transportation, grew so fast in these years that it was soon evident that the village would have to incorporate as a city.
Catholic Polish families in the southeastsection of the village were soon established in their own homes and fathers were making 'good money" in the tool shops and packing houses of the area.
They were in favor of Cudahy becoming a city but all the time they were working quietly on a personal and more important goal: a church of their own.
A committee was formed. Leaders went from home to home to talk over the problem. Everyone agreed on the need for the church. Getting to Mass on Sunday, especially in the winter, was a difficult task.
Finally a petition was formally written and presented to Archbishop Sebastian Messmer of the Milwaukee Archdiocese. To their surprise and gratification the archbishop saw their needs immediately and assigned the pastor of St. Adalbert's Church in South Milwaukee to take on the Cudahy Polish Catholics as a mission - the first step toward a new parish.
From then on events moved swiftly. Each Sunday the Reverend Ladislaus Mscisz came to Cudahy to say Mass in the homes of families but it was evident that soon a church would have to be built for them.
The Congregation of Holy Family was incorporated on July 5, 1900 - six days before the village of Cudahy itself became a city and the new parishioners were joyous for both of these wonderful occasions.
Then the cornerstone of their first church, on land donated by Michael Cudahy, Sr., was laid the following year, April 21, 1901. It was built at a cost of three thousand dollars, a fortune in those days to Polish families who had scrimped and saved to make the dream a reality.
One of the early parishioners of Holy Family Congregation remembers those early times well. Mrs. W. Kulczycki, who now lives in Elmhurst, IL, writes:
"It brought back memories when I heard ofthe plans for your 75th Anniversary .
"I was three years old when my parents brought me to Cudahy from Pennsylvania,along with my older brothers and sisters whowere born in Poland. I am 77 years old somy family must have come to this country
"There was no church and I remember wewent on the streetcar every Sunday to Massat St. Adalbert's in South Milwaukee, andwhat a long way it seemed!
"A group of Polish immigrants, among them my mother and father, got together at a meeting and decided to build their own church.
"There were only two streets in Cudahy then, Underwood and Pulaski Avenues. (We lived on Underwood near Lake Drive and the cottage is still there.)
"Once the ground was broken for the church the men helped put up the walls by hand. They did this after work and on Sundays, for they all worked 12 hours a day then, six days a week, and there were no unions then.
"They dug and poured the foundations, helped put up the walls and nail down the floors, as well as numerous other jobs.
"When it was finished we were all so proud! Father Mscisz came on that first Sunday and said Mass at 10 o'clock and all the families came. From then on the little church was so crowded every Sunday that we children knelt and sat on the steps of the communion railing.
"I am proud that my parents were among the first pioneers of Holy Family. Their names were Anastazy and Ludwika Granczewski.
"As I think about those early times and how hard we all worked to build a church, I am reminded of the lines of a famous author: 'Man's reach must exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?'
Finally, after five years as a mission of St. Adalbert's, the parish learned that it would have its own pastor and the work was immediately started on a rectory for him. He was the Reverend Paul Gora who served the parish from 1905 to 1910.
The families in the parish were large ones, and while the schools in Cudahy were adequate, many parishioners wanted religious training for their children. For those first five years Frank Garstecki
taught some of the children in a little wooden building next to the church. He was also the congregation's first organist.
A life-long member of the parish, Stanley Witkowski, whose father was one of the church founders, recalls that first little school:
"Frank Garstecki was the principal and only teacher for one hundred and twenty-four pupils. I don't understand how I learned as much as I did in that one room!"
Another parishioner who was a child then, Mrs. Frances Niedzwiecki, describes how the classes were conducted:
"Everybody sat on long wooden benches in front of slanted desks, facing the teacher. There was a big pot-bellied stove in front, which the boys kept going with wood. I remember that the smarter kids sat toward the back, near the chimney."
When many of Holy Family's older parishioners think today of those early times they remember with great affection the church's second pastor, the Reverend John Kalczynski, who served them well - from baptisms to marriages, confirmations to funerals - for the next twenty-seven years.
Under his leadership, from the very start, steady progress was made to establish the parish in the community. And during those years the church rolls grew by leaps and bounds as more and more newcomers moved within the parish boundaries.
The New Church
In 1930 life was good in Cudahy. Most people owned their own homes and kept their lawns and gardens neat and tidy. Streets were paved and sidewalks and electricity installed. Most of the men had jobs nearby and took pride in their work and their homes. There was a sense of well-being and gratitude that the American dream was indeed a reality. Some bought cars. Almost every familyhad a radio. They believed, as the famous politician said, that there was a "chicken in every pot" in this wonderful country.
Everyone felt optimistic about the future and families participated happily in the busy life of their parish. A general meeting was called by Father Kaiczynski and a committee drew up plans for a big new church.
On August 23, 1930, the Right Reverend Monsignor Bernard G. Traudt blessed the cornerstone on Swift and Underwood, and the following June Archbishop Samuel A. Stritch dedicated the imposing, newly-completed brick structure.
Our present church was built at a cost of sixty-five thousand dollars and had a seating capacity of five hundred and fifty. It was then, and still is, considered one of the most beautiful churches in the southern section of Milwaukee County. The old church was dismantled and rebuilt into a residence nearby.
Then came the Depression. Despite the huge debt and sudden unemployment that hit so many of the parishioners like a bombshell, pride in the new church was ever present. With fierce Polish loyalty, they determined somehow to lessen the debt during those hard years. Many men were out of work and families could not keep up their pledges. Others offered their services in lieu of money in the Sunday envelopes. And all, many only after long years, returned their financial promises in full.
The church was there, a reality, a monument to their loyalty and faith in God and in themselves. And, somehow, as the years went by, they all weathered those hard times.
The War Years and After
The first assistant pastor was appointed to the congregation in June, 1932. He was the Reverend Szczerbiak. Previously, priest-professors from St. Francis Seminary had assisted with the crowded Sunday Masses. Father Stephen was succeeded after two years by the Reverend Joseph Kasperowicz.
After serving his flock for twenty-seven years, Father Kalczynski was transferred to St. Paul's Church in St. Francis and the Reverend John Stencel was appointed by the archbishop as the new pastor.
During Father Stencel's pastorate, the Holy Family parishioners experienced both sad and happy times. Work was plentiful once more - then came World War II and many young men from the parish went off to fight in Europe and the South Pacific. Many, unfortunately, did not return, and many were wounded. There was a period when almost every Sunday young men's names were read out from the pulpit as dead or missing in action. Almost every family had a gold star or a blue star in its window; hundreds of candles were lit, Masses said, and lonely vigils kept by anxious parents.
During these war years and afterward the character of Holy Family Parish changed somewhat as new families came and old ones left. Polish was no longer spoken exclusively in the homes and many other nationalities took up residence in the parish. Many housewives went to work for the first time to help out in the war effort. And everyone was united in the cause of peace.
Still the needs of the parish were not forgotten. During Father Stencel's time the church and church auditorium were redecorated and one hundred and sixty thousand dollars paid off on the debt. The school grounds were improved, a brick garage was added behind the rectory, and repairs were made to the church steeple.
Not long after the war years, in 1954, a convent was built for the Sisters, the old rectory was remodeled and an addition added to it.
Parish life was active. For most people within its boundaries it was their very existence -from kindergarten to old age their lives revolved around the parish. A St. Vincent de Paul Society was organized. The Home and School Association, Holy Name, Young Ladies Sodality, Children of Mary, Scout troops, Christian Mothers and CYO brought parishioners of all ages to the church weekly. It was, as it is today, the hub of their lives.
The young curates appointed to Holy Family during these years helped to take some of the burdens from the pastor's shoulders. In such a large parish they were the guiding lights of many activities, always popular, and they worked long hours at their duties.
Remembered often by today's parishioners were the Reverend Stephen Szczerbiak, Joseph Kasperowicz, John Stanczak, Edwin Peksa, Robert Schubert, Joseph Baran, Robert Czarkowski, Edward Wawrzyniakowski, Paul Kwasny, Stanley Baranowski, Richard Skowronski, Daniel Lasecki, Paul Raczynski, and Richard Talaska.
Father Stencel died on January 8, 1957, after nearly twenty years of service to Holy Family Congregation. He was succeeded by a pastor who was familiar to many, the Reverend Joseph Kasperowicz, who had been a former assistant.