Wallingford church celebrates a century

Wallingford church celebrates a century


WALLINGFORD — A century ago, St. Casimir’s Polish National Church was a wooden structure built by the hands of the polish immigrants who founded it.

Before that, parishioners gathered for worship in a house on Bristol Street. When that became too small, they moved to a barn on Orchard Street.

An undated picture from the early days of the church hangs in the basement. It shows trolley tracks and parishioners crowded on the stairs of the front entrance.

The surrounding area has transformed significantly over the century but much of the church remains the same. It still has the original stained glass windows adorning the walls. Several old, wooden pews rest in the basement.

Holy Trinity Polish National Catholic Church in Southington also turns 100 this year and a joint celebration to recognize both churches will take place Oct. 19. A mass will be held at Holy Trinity at 4 p.m. followed by a banquet at the Aqua Turf Club.

The Rev. Joseph Krusienski has been with the Wallingford church for 30 years. He explained that the Polish National Catholic Church was formed in 1897 in Scranton, Penn. The church has a number of key differences from Catholicism, such as not recognizing the authority of the pope.

“It’s a more democratic sort of church where people are the ones that govern the church,” Krusienki said.

The church’s oldest member Frances Swantek, 92, can remember a time before television, when church activities were the highlight of family fun.

“We always had Polish food and we had picnics and outings for the kids,” Swantek said. “It was very active.”

Swantek still attends mass frequently.

She recounted many significant changes in the church during her lifetime. It was initially made up almost entirely of Polish immigrants, with many young families. Now, it caters to a more diverse crowd.

“Our mass is in English and sermons are in English so even though it’s a Polish church, it’s just kept the name,” she said.

In 1945, a fire destroyed part of the original steeple, ruining the floor-to-ceiling pipe organ on the second floor balcony.

“My sister lived right across the street from the church and it was her husband that actually went in and saved the sacraments,” Swantek said. Her two brother-in-laws “ran into the church in the fire.”

She said it was devastating.

Some years later, the church’s exterior was bricked. Aside from the changes to the outside, “the interior is basically the same,” Kruskienki said.

Colorful stained glass windows from the time the church was built line the walls of the chapel, some containing the names of the donors. Krusienki estimated each window would be worth thousands of dollars due to their authenticity and craftsmanship. Each contains a detailed image of Christian symbolism. Krusienki wouldn’t be surprised if the parishioners made the windows themselves.

“In the early days of the church there was not a lot of money,” he said. “People really rolled up their sleeves and did a lot of work.”

Frances Swantek’s nephew and fellow lifelong parishioner Robert Swantek, 77, keeps up the grounds of the church with his wife, Kim Swantek. He said his father mortgaged his house to help fund the bricking. He said many other parishioners did the same, buying bricks and financing the upgrade themselves.

He says he is glad the church has made it to 100 years.

“It means a lot when I see how many churches are closing up,” he said. “A hundred years, I think it’s pretty darn good.”

ltauss@record-journal.com 203-317-2231 Twitter: @LeighTaussRJ

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