By Ray Marshall
(c) Copyright 1996 Ray Marshall, all rights reserved
Subject Headings within this article:
Duluth, Minnesota, located at the western end of Lake Superior, for a short period at the end of the last century was expected by its boosters to become the next Chicago and was expectedto reach a population of several millions.
They must have made their projection in the Summer.
With the opening of the Minnesota Iron Ranges and increase of shipping of Iron Ore back east for conversion into steel, and the expected growth of the Dakotas, Montana, Nebraska, Colorado, etc., with the arrival of millions of immigrants, the future for Duluth seemed unlimited. For water and rail transportation would be needed to feed and supply these populations, and what City was better situated to take advantage?
What the prognosticators didn't count on was the internal combustion engine and the growth of highways, and perhaps just as critical, the cutting off of immigration with the onset of World War I. Duluth went from 4,500 in 1880 to 105,000 in 1920 where it peaked. It is now about 85,000.
Polish immigrants were not a huge percentage of the population; Yankees, Canadians, Scandinavians, and Finn's were the dominant cultures. But there were areas of Duluth on the Central Hillside and in West End where significant numbers of Poles settled, married, raised families and built churches. Rice Lake and Gnesen Township just north of Duluth were populated almost exclusively by Polish farmers. By 1895 a large group of Polish single men can be found working in the newly opened iron mines and a sizable group began to settle in Carleton and Pine Counties around Sturgeon Lake where they tried to eke out a living as farmers.
Other than the odd Church jubilee booklet, very little has been written about them. Most came and stayed as common laborers. Few owned businesses and the majority of those were saloons. A few, ignorant of the climate and the poor soil, attempted to farm for a while. But they did marry and have children in prodigious amounts (my great grand-father, John Marszalkiewicz, and his brother and sister had together over 40 children themselves.
These pages are an attempt to chronicle these people and to provide a depository where all interested can easily gain access. My thanks go out to John Movius and the Federation of East European Family History Societies.
A selfish reason for originally doing the work is that I am not aware of where my Polish ancestors came from. The best guess is Poznan Province, probably Gnesen Diocese. Perhaps someone with better information may show up to view these pages and will be able to provide me with my needed information.
If you have any questions about research in Minnesota, Duluth, or the Duluth Polish people, you may contact me at: email@example.com
I may be reached by mail at:
4052 Minnehaha Avenue
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55406
Telephone: (612) 721-7593
I. St. Joseph's Parish, Gnesen Minnesota
In 1870 there were about 3,000 people in Duluth, including a small group of Catholics with "several Polish families." Father Chebul, a Slovenian missionary priest whose diocese was the entire "Northwest", would come over from Superior, Wisconsin, several times a year and stay for a few weeks each time to say Mass and minister to his flock. The Catholic community bought land at Second Avenue West and Fourth Street in 1872 for Sacred Heart Parish.
In 1876, there were over 30 Polish families who formed their own separate parish, St. Joseph's, in Gnesen, a township named for the first royal and religious capital of Poland and its first cultural center. This was also the District in Poland from which many of the settlers had emigrated. Some of those Poles had arrived in Duluth as early as 1867.
The church was located about 10 miles north of Duluth, perhaps an all day trip in those days. They dedicated their building in November of 1878. Many of the Poles attempted to farm there and in adjacent Rice Lake Township because they had come from agricultural areas and were unskilled in any trades. They generally supplemented their income by working for logging and other companies which were working in the area.
As late as the 1890's, the residents of Gnesen and Rice Lake Townships were almost exclusively Polish in nationality.
Martin Lepak donated two acres of his homesteaded land for the use of the new parish. Lepak, who had immigrated in 1869, married his Polish born wife after only getting to know her for one day and with $8 in his pocket, filed his homestead claim for 160 acres in 1871. The land was cleared with only an ax and they left the stumps in the ground and planted around them. Rocks were removed by the children.
The members of the parish donated their own labor to construct the log building in 1874. Later, wooden siding was added to make it look nicer. Initially there was no permanent pastor and itinerant missionary priests such as Father J.B. Jeny and Monsignor Joseph Buh (another Slovenian), who primarily served the native Chippewa and scattered Europeans settling in Western and Northern Minnesota. Even these priests were able to be present to administer the sacraments for the Gnesen parishioners only a few times a year.
The parishioners wrote back to Archbishop Miecyslaus Ledochowski, of Gneizenow to see if he would be able to send them a Polish priest. At the time, the late 1870's, the Prussian rulers of Poznan were ferociously attempting to reduce the influence of the Polish Church, Culture and Language among the Polish Catholics. They had even gone so far to arrest the Archbishop who was opposed to their policies. Thus, with problems of its own, the Polish Church was not able to assist its emigrant children in Minnesota.
After the creation of the Duluth Catholic Diocese in 1889, more frequent visits by Duluth priests became possible. A cemetery was established adjacent to the Church and the first burial was held in 1895.
The old church soon became insufficient in size and a replacement church was built on the same site in 1900. Early St. Joseph's records have been lost in a fire.
II. St. Mary Star of the Sea Parish, Duluth, Minnesota
Most Poles decided not to farm when they arrived in Duluth in the early 1870's, but rather obtained jobs in the city because, either they did not have the money to buy property, or, it may have been their intention to save up enough while working to enable them to return to Poland and purchase a farm there. Or maybe they hated farming and desired to make their fortune in a city.
About 1876, 40 Polish ladies from the Sacred Heart parish in Duluth started a Rosary Society which became the nucleus of St. Mary's.
The 1880 census shows that there were about 260 foreign-born or foreign-mixed Poles in the city. In 1881, tired of commuting up to Gnesen for church festivities, baptism, marriages, funerals, 100-140 Polish families formed a local branch of the St. Stanislaus Kostka Society, a Polish-American fraternal organization, and bought two lots and in 1883, built the first St. Mary Star of the Sea Parish in downtown Duluth. The building cost $4,200 and was dedicated in November, 1883.
Actually, the trips up to Gnesen were probably infrequent. There was no permanent pastor there for a very long time, and during wet periods, it may have taken almost an entire day to travel the five or ten miles, depending upon the route.
Thirty-nine of the members of St. Mary's formed the Society of St. Joseph in 1884 "to honor St. Joseph by assisting at Mass, Benediction and Processions, by visiting the sick and burying the dead." The Society affiliated with the Polish National Alliance, a fraternal organization formed to assist Polish immigrants. One of the principal forms of assistance was life insurance.
Fraternal insurance plans in those days commonly required a $5 initiation fee and 50 cents per month for those 18-30, 60 cents for those 30-45, and .75 for those 45-50. Death benefits commonly $750 for the husband and $250 for the wife.
Seating at church services was in the Polish fashion, that is, women on the left and men on the right. Pew rents were levied to support the upkeep of the church. Pledges were sought from the wealthier members. A two room school house, St. Stanislaus, with provision for about 100 students to start, was also built at that time. By 1887 there were 900 parishioners in the small church so it was given a steeple and 30 more feet of space in 1888 and rededicated.
Much of the financing was provided through public fairs and balls in the community with the French and the Irish Catholics participating with them in the fundraising efforts.
The local chapter (#81) of the Polish National Alliance had been formed in 1887. The PNA groups were generally more secular in nature, more inclined to assimilate as Americans and were not inclined to be slaves of proclamations from Rome or the American Catholic Church. The Polish Roman Catholic Union (PRCU), on the other hand, was an organization set up by the American church hierarchy and its adherents were generally more conservative and more obedient to church proclamations. The latter organization did not have a Duluth branch.
The St. Stanislaus grade school connected to St. Mary's was originally staffed by two Benedictine Sisters from the Duluth convent. The curriculum most likely consisted of Religion, Polish History and Grammar, American History, English and Arithmetic. At times, over 150 were taught in its classrooms. Later, perhaps because they could speak better Polish, Franciscans from Rochester, MN, were asked to serve the school and did so until 1934 when the Great Depression caused the final closing of the school. Their order later relocated to Sylvania, Ohio.
In 1896, a Polish school was built on Garfield Avenue in the West End of Duluth for those Poles who had moved there to be closer to their industrial jobs on Rice's Point and locations further west. This became the nucleus of St. Peter and Paul Parish which was begun in 1901 with 80 families as its nucleus.
Duluth's first Bishop, James McGolrick, arrived in 1889 from St. Paul (prior to that time, the area had been administered by St. John's Abbey near St. Cloud). A great parade was met him at the old wooden train station and escorted him to his new home. The parade was led by the Polish Brass Band and the Father Matthew Temperance and the St. Stanislaus Kostka Societies, followed by the Ancient Order of Hibernians and the French group. In the windows of the St. Thomas School (the original name for the school in the Sacred Heart Parish before it became the Cathedral) were signs reading "Drink Blights Hope" and "God Bless Our Land."
It is presumed that the parade organizers kept the temperance group between the Poles for some ulterior motive: either to keep them sober, or to keep the Band from fighting with the St. Stanislaus Kostka folk or vice versa. At the evening festivities, among others, the Polish spokesman welcomed the new Bishop and remarked that "[the Polish people of Duluth] had been driven from their homes, but that their religion had taught them to be courageous."
The "Father Mathew Temperance Society" had been founded by Father Theobald Mathew who came to this country from Ireland in 1849. Drunkenness was a major problem in this country at that time (probably today, too) and his efforts were lauded by no less a statesman as Henry Clay who referred to as a "bloodless revolution" at a reception held for Father Mathew by President Zachary Taylor. A national organization, including Minnesota groups, had been formed in 1872 to further the interests of the group.
The Pastors of St. Mary's also served the parishes in Gnesen and in Sturgeon Lake, about 50 miles closer (and warmer) to Minneapolis. Father John Srocka, who served St. Mary's between 1889 and 1905, constructed St. Isidore's in Sturgeon Lake in 1890. Actually, the Sturgeon Lake Poles had moved up from Winona to try their hand at farming. After 1906, St. Joseph's was served out of St. Casimir's in Cloquet.
The original St. Mary's church building burned down in 1905 and in 1906 the 300 families of the parish built the current church for $30,000.
1905 was the year that a Polish Archbishop visited the Poles in Duluth, no doubt trying to put out the tensions between the Poles and the Irish dominated Catholic hierarchy. There were no Polish born/speaking Bishops in the United States and this was a large bone of contention for the Polish community, not just in Duluth, but all around the country. It led to the foundation of the Polish National Catholic Church in the 1890's. The use of the Polish Language in the religious services and discomfort with the doctrine of Papal Infallibility which had been proclaimed at the first Vatican Council in 1870 were other reasons people used for forming new National Catholic churches.
In 1907, Rev. Szierzputowski, pastor of St. Mary's after Father Sroka, led a portion of the parish members in a schism whereby the created St. Joseph's National Catholic Church in Duluth.
St. Mary's Church remained closed for some months until the appointment of a new pastor, Rev. Stanislaw A. Iciek. Father Iciek was responsible for the organization and construction of St. Casimir's Parish in Cloquet, 20 miles to the west of Duluth, and a very important lumbering town. The old St. Mary's parish residence was sold and a new one built in 1912.
III. Founding Members, St. Mary Star of the Sea, Duluth, Minnesota
Ecclesia Polonorum in Duluth erecta est anno Domini 1883 sub titulo Beaptissimae Virginis Mariae, Stellae Maris." Benedicta ab Illustrissimo ac Reverendissimo Domino Episcopo A. Claudensi Dre Ruperto Seidenbusch die 25 Novembris 1883. Adfuermat aequentes sacerdosses huic celebritati: Rev. Pr. Stemper, Rev. Pr. Odorinus; Rev. P. Clemens Gruenholz; Rev. Pr. Christoph Murphy;. . . . .Liberalitate et munificentis populi Polonici hujus oppidi aedificate et omnibus neresfarnis rebus provisia est haec ecclesia. Die 1 Januarii 1884 primam administrationem hujus parochial eposcepit Rev. Pr. Clemens Gruenholz parochius. Albertensis et missionarius Polonarum hujus Diocesis et Dakotae. Anno hujus mense Aprilis sedite rata est domus pro parocho et postea, mense Septembris orhola pro Polonaris infantibus, in quo parochos . . . et ducae . . . .
Fundatorum et Benefactorum Nomina
Provisonowi Pierwri w novej Parafi obvani [Provisional Founding Elders]
The above founding members of St. Mary, Star of the Sea, Roman Catholic Parish in Duluth, Minnesota, are believed to have immigrated from the Poznan and Gniezno regions of occupied Poland beginning as early as 1868 to Minnesota, and perhaps earlier to other places in the United States.
They were members of Sacred Heart Parish in Duluth or St. Joseph's Parish, a Polish church located in Gnesen Township, a few miles north of Duluth. St. Joseph's had been founded about 1876; the early records of the parish were destroyed by a fire long ago.
Records from Sacred Heart Parish are available and are also stored at St. Mary's, which is located at 325 E. Third Street, Duluth, MN, 55805. While there are still a few Polish parishioners at St. Mary's, the priests are no longer Polish, and few still speak the language.
After listing the eight "elders" at the beginning, there was an attempt made to alphabetize the balance of the list. But some names were duplicated, and some were added at the end. For ease in finding names, I have roughly alphabetized the list by first letter of the last name.
Please forgive the transliterated Latin and Polish. Errors are due more to my ignorance than of the penmanship on the original document.
IV. St. Peter and Paul, Duluth Minnesota
The Church on Twenty-Fourth Avenue West and Fifth Street was built in 1901 under the management of the trustees, Anthony Koneczny, Stanislaus Walczak and Anthony Kasnirek. Rev. W. Rakowski was its first pastor. In October 1903, Rev. Leo Laskowski took charge and administered the parish till January, 1909.
About this time the National Catholic Poles made a determined effort to secure the title to the property. Apparently, there had been a school on the property for sometime before the erection of the church. That school was paid for members of the Polish Community and was staffed by the Benedictines and dedicated primarily to teaching Polish and English. The matter was fought out in the courts till the decision was rendered in favor of the Roman Catholic authorities. There was a couple of years of "unrest" in the parish until a new pastor was found (Father Joseph Cieminski) to reorganize the "distracted" parishioners.
One of the chronic conflicts between the Poles and the American Catholic Church was that even though the people paid for the buildings, the pastor controlled them. This was only recently decided at the 1883 Baltimore meeting of American Bishops (who also at that time created the famous Baltimore Catechism). That and the lack of Polish Bishops in the essentially Irish and to a lesser extent German dominated Church were sensitive sores and resulted in the creation of several break away movements. After all, since the Poles had fled German domination in their homeland, they certainly did not want to subject to Irish and German domination in the United States.
At about the same time when the Polish Americans were rebelling against domination by German and Irish Cardinals and Arch-Bishops, there was a strong movement to break the American Catholic Church into ethnic divisions: that is, the Irish-American Church, the German-American Church, and the Polish-American Church (the Italians and other Catholic immigrants were just beginning to immigrate in large numbers). Rome very quickly quashed that movement (Cahensylism, after a German cleric who came up with the idea and declared that their would be only one American Church.
One factor which did have the effect of binding immigrant Catholics to their Church was the virulent anti-Catholicism which broke out in the late 1880's under the auspices of the American Protective Association. This movement, which was especially strong in Duluth in 1893 (their slate of candidates won every seat on the Duluth City Council in that year). One of their prime objectives was to keep Catholics from being employed, either in the public or private sector. The other was to prohibit state support of religious schools.
After the hardships of the Panic of 1893 lessened, the movement died out, but there is no doubt that the attitudes of many did not change and it remained difficult for many of Duluth's immigrant Catholics to find steady and financially secure employment.
Rather than leaving the Church which many would think would be the appropriate thing to do, most of the Poles clung closer to it, the major reason being that the taint of "Romanism" no doubt stayed with them wherever they moved. But also, no one wants to have his beliefs forcibly changed. Especially if that one's ancestors had fought and died for those beliefs. That has been proven for thousands of years time and again.
It appears possible that the parishioners of St. Peter and Paul may have broken away from Rome for a short period but were enticed to return to the fold with the appointment of a Pole as an auxiliary Bishop in Chicago in 1908.
V. St. Josephat's Polish National Catholic Parish, Duluth, Minnesota
The Polish National Catholic Church was founded in Scranton, Pennsylvania in 1897, in response to the need to Polish-Americans for an active voice in their religious life. Prior to that time, the Roman Catholic Church, with its Irish-German hierarchy, had largely ignored the need for new Polish parishes. There were no Polish bishops, it was not permitted to teach the Polish language in parish schools in some dioceses, and congregations were compelled to accept whatever pastors were appointed to them, including decision regarding the use of properties which they had provided the money. The Church with its German/Irish hierarchy, began to be seen as an oppressor like their former Prussian rulers, rather than as a benefactor of the 900 Polish parishes in the United States.
In Scranton, Polish anthracite miners and factory workers of the Sacred Heart Church requested lay representation in parish affairs. Their request was refused and riots followed. The group, with the help of Fr. Franciszek Hodur, then formed its own church, St. Stanislaus. The first Synod was held in 1904, in Scranton. By that time, there were two dozen parishes and 20,000 members in five states.
Theological reasons were given to justify this new religion, which still has its headquarters in Scranton. The movement objected greatly to the Vatican Council of 1870 which granted infallibility to the Pope (when specifically speaking on matters of faith and morals) "To make a perfect and infallible god of a mortal and fallible human being indeed a heresy no true Christian and Catholic could accept."
The PNC bishop went so far as to travel to the Netherlands to Utrecht to be consecrated by a Jansenist bishop there so that he could legitimately trace his authority back to the Apostles who, he believed, were not under the leadership of St. Peter. Jansenism was a 16th Century European heresy which still lives today. Much as Anglican Bishops are considered to be real bishops by the Church, so too did Catholic Bishops leave the Church in the Jansenist movement. The Church considers those that they ordain and consecrate to be fully ordained and consecrated priests and bishops, even down through time.
In 1907, St. Josephat's Polish National Catholic Church was established. There was a great deal of bitterness over this split in the Duluth Polish community (not the least of the reasons probably being that the dissidents would not be around to help pay for the new St. Mary's which had just been completed after the first church burned). They were locked out of St. Mary's and not allowed to use it and window breaking and mud throwing occurred at their new location at a Lutheran Church at 2nd Ave. W. and 2nd St.
Soon after, the dissident Poles constructed their own church at Third Avenue East and Fifth Street. But they had a difficult time paying their mortgage. They formed a Savings and Loan Association to help their efforts. But many of their parishioners had joined out of "curiosity and hatred." These soon fell away or maybe went back to St. Mary's or another Catholic Church (St. Peter and Paul in West Duluth which had been formed about this time as a second Polish parish in the city.) In 1908, the Nationals sued the Catholic Diocese for the return of the school buildings at this new parish which had been built by them. They were not victorious. No doubt this suit was made in the intent to sell the land and use the funds to help pay for the new church.
The management of the Savings and Loan Association, apparently guilty of "unsound and corrupt" business practices, caused it to fail (in the 20's?) and times were tough. A lot of parishioners lost their life savings and their faith in the new church and left it. The debt doubled, and members "gave all they could and borrowed more." Creditors, like vultures pounded on the closed doors of Parish meetings. Young people drifted away. But the mortgage finally was retired on schedule in 1948 to much celebration and relief.
VI. Polish Cemetery, Duluth Minnesota
The Polish Catholic Cemetery in Duluth, actually in Rice Lake Township, but on its border with Duluth, was founded in about the year 1892, by donors who provided the 20 acres land for the site.
The first Catholic Cemetery in Duluth (called Calvary, like the current Cemetery) was established in 1881 on 11 acres at the north end of 12th Avenue East, the site of what became the Diocesan "Thomas Feigh Hospital for Crippled Children", but which was to become later the Carmelite Corpus Christi convent, now, in turn, abandoned. The Corpus Christi Home was staffed by Carmelite nuns from England and was originally used as a home for unwed mothers and later for girls with various sorts of problems. They left Duluth in 1968 and the building is no longer owned by the Church.
The construction of the Polish Cemetery, apparently resulted from the feelings that the German-Irish hierarchy in the Church made the Poles feel "second rate." After all, the Poles had left their homes because their Prussian rulers had made them second rate in their birthplaces. When the Irish Bishop McGolrick decided to build Calvary, the Poles said "no" and built their own, in an appeasing moment, right next door to Calvary, on 20 acres of less well drained land.
The first burial at the Polish Cemetery took place at about the same time. Some of the early monuments were of wood and not replaced with stone.
The new Bishop, McGolrick, appointed in 1889 no doubt had much to do with this. His relationship with the local Benedictine nuns of the Priory of St. Scholastica was often fractious. No doubt, prior to the Bishop arriving, the Poles may have held many of their services in Polish and he attempted to put a stop to it. It was probably during this era when the German speaking nuns of St. Scholastica were replaced by the Polish speaking Franciscans. originally from Rochester, MN, and later from Sylvania, Ohio.
After the splitting off of the Polish National Catholic Church and the formation of St. Josephat's parish in 1907 because of the language, control and infallibility issues, the "Nationals" retained ownership of the Polish Cemetery.
The Cemetery then remained without sacramental sanction of the Church for many years. Although Roman Catholics were permitted to be buried there, graveside services were prohibited by the Diocese. In fact, at a funeral in 1978, the Catholic priest remarked that it was the first time that he had ever been at the Polish Cemetery. The reforms of the Vatican II Council no doubt had a great deal to do with the change.
VII. Polish Family Research - Duluth, Minnesota
Many of the first Polish immigrants who came to Duluth came in the late 1860's, when the construction was commencing on the first railroads, including the start of the Great Northern Railroad from just west of Duluth to Seattle on the west coast.
How they got to Duluth is unknown, but probably they were recruited by railroad construction companies and other firms seeking cheap labor. There was a boom between 1869-73 and then a financial Panic when many of the recent immigrants left for greener pastures. Many Poles stayed, however (probably because they were broke), and they built their first church in 1876 in Gnesen, just north of Duluth. St. Mary Star of the Sea parish was built in the city in 1883, St. Peter and Paul School in 1895 or so, their parish building in 1900 or so, and the members of St. Josephat's Polish National Catholic Church (who split off from the others) built their church about 1907.
The Poles were the dominant settlers in Rice Lake and Gnesen Townships, just north of Duluth. They attempted to farm there and did so for 20 or 30 years. Most ultimately found employment in Duluth, or left.
Polish Genealogy Resources for Duluth, Minnesota
These are some of the resources available to those seeking information on their Polish ancestors who may have been in Duluth at one time or another between 1869 and 1920 or so: