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St. Stan’s history examined as Polish parish celebrates 150 years


The church at 123 Townsend St. on Buffalo’s East Side is known by several names. Officially it is St. Stanislaus Bishop & Martyr Church.  But for most of our area, it is known as St. Stan’s, the mother church for Western New York Polonia.

Father Cole Webster, the new pastor of Family #30, delivers his homily for St. Stanislaus’ 150th anniversary Mass on June 4. (Photo by Nicole Dzimira)

On Sunday, June 4 during the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity, a celebratory Mass recognizing the 150th anniversary of St. Stan’s was celebrated by Bishop Michael W. Fisher.

Western New York’s Polish community was on hand to fete the church that had such an integral role in the rise and sustenance of the area’s Polish community.

On hand for the Mass were Polish Heritage Dancers, parish trustees, former and current parishioners, and the Buffalo Mass Mob.

Music was provided by the Chopin Singing Society, directed by Dr. Thomas Witakowski.

In his homily, the incoming pastor of Family #30 Father Cole Webster thanked Bishop Fisher, clergy, all parishioners, guests, and the ardent followers of Buffalo Mass mob. Family #30 includes St. Stanislaus, St. John Kanty, St. John Gualbert, St. Katherine Drexel, and Corpus Christi. (Father Mariusz Dymek, OSPPE, will serve as pastor of Corpus Christi that is owned by the Paulist Fathers.)

“This is a historic day in St. Stanislaus Parish,” Father Webster explained. “And we are here to proclaim the sacred message of Jesus Christ.” 

Father Webster said he is of all Polish descent despite the non-Polish sounding last name. His family grew up in Buffalo’s Black Rock section.

“We are all here today because we have a story to share, and we are here because of our story,” he continued.

A proclaimed lover of history, Father Webster recounted looking through parish photos and seeing the tradition and history of the parish reflected through those images.

The church’s history began with the settlement of 30 or so Polish families who settled on Buffalo’s East Side in the late 1860s. Yearning for something familiar, those Polish families began to attend St. Mary Church on Broadway and Pine. Founded by German immigrants, those Polish families stood in the back of the church and dared not occupy the pews. St. Mary’s assistant pastor recommended the families visit St. Michael Church in downtown Buffalo and a special Mass was said for the fledgling Polish congregation in the side chapel. 

A visiting priest to Buffalo from Bohemia returned to Rome and convinced 29-year-old John Pitass to come to Buffalo to minister to the burgeoning Polish community. Pitass came to Niagara University to finish his studies, was ordained, and named pastor of St. Stanislaus Parish. Eighty-two families supported the construction of the first church built on the current rectory site in 1873. The main church, in all its grandeur, followed 13 years later. Father Pitass served as pastor until 1913. 

Father Webster recounted the meteoric growth of Buffalo Polonia as families migrated to the neighborhood surrounding the church. During the 1897-1898 school year, 2,153 kids were registered in the grammar school. In the early 1900s, the church boasted 25,000 parishioners.

Bishop Colton High School was established through Msgr. Peter Adamski, St. Stan’s third pastor.

Father Webster praised the selfless work of the Felician Sisters who arrived in 1881 and became an integral part of the parish community and for their work of more than 142 years in the parish. His tribute was greeted with healthy applause. 

“What a parish ultimately is … is the people, as Bishop Fisher explained earlier,” he continued. “The challenges that we overcome to become who we are and those challenges made us.”

You have shared so many Polish American community stories with me and I hold them sacred.

“Down the street at the Broadway Market, you could buy live chickens. Our parishioners patronized the stores along Broadway…. Sattler’s, Kobacker’s, and Neisner’s. But as we look at the past, we cannot fool ourselves and romanticize life, because life for many was not easy,” he said.  

Father Webster related that by the end of the 1800s – 18,000 Polish immigrants lived in tenement housing. Shared restrooms were the norm and people traveled to neighborhood bathhouses to take a shower. He said his grandmother would save a nickel and had to choose whether to go to the movies or go to the bathhouse. People collected coal that fell from trains so that they could heat their residences.

“They had to have something intrinsic to themselves, and then something extrinsic to themselves to lift their souls,” explained Father Webster. “The struggle here is where we find victory. In the face of squalor, beauty.”

“The tenacious faith that built these churches are examples of who we are today, and we are not only celebrating 150 years as a church, but as a community.”

“We continue to propel St. Stanislaus and pass on the hope, and the fulfillment and meaning that is found in a relationship with Christ Jesus to the next generation as we simultaneously continue to be those hands and feet of Christ caring for our neighbors and for those who are striving to build a new life for their families here in East Buffalo, just like the Polish community once did.”

“We look forward to the future in confidence for all of us that we have heard the timeless story that we have heard in our gospel which speaks to the core of who we are as Christians and as our mission as Church. God so loved the world that He gave his only Son, and everyone who believes in Him will not perish but will have eternal life.  So let us rejoice because we have a message of love and hope that we are not finished sharing.  So, to St. Stanislaus, and all who are gathered today, we pray for a prosperous future,” he concluded. 

Listen to Michael Mroziak reporting.