Visit to Toledo by Special Envoy of the Pope: Most Rev. Archbishop Albin Simon, 15 June 1905
Fr. A. J. Suplicki, pastor of St. Anthony Parish, was a Vice President of the Polish Catholic Union and a member of the Executive Committee of the Polish Congress held in 1904. From these activities, a discussion was held between the Pope and the Archbishops of Warsaw and Przemysl, Poland to have a Polish Bishop visit the Polish-American population to assess their religious conditions and needs.
What precipitated this six to eight years prior was the development of the Polish National Catholic Church. When Poles arrived in the United States, they often found that the Roman Catholic Church differed from what they had experienced in their European communities. The American Roman Catholic Church was often led by a mix of Irish and German bishops from previous waves of immigration. As Polish immigration continued, and represented over ten percent of the Catholic population in the US, the church included no Polish bishops. While ethnic Polish parishes were being built and had large populations, such as St. Anthony and St. Hedwig in Toledo during this time, the demand for these ethnic parishes was greater than often the Church’s willingness to create them. Poles could not establish a new parish without approval of the local diocesan Bishop. This often meant that either an existing Polish congregation would need to assimilate with non-Poles or vice-versa. While local Polish parishes were built and completed with local monies and labor resources of the parishioners themselves, the local Bishop or diocese retained property rights to the parish. Non-Polish Bishops also held the authority to command whether a parish school could teach their students in their ethnic language and culture.
Many Poles felt this was offensive because their culture was highly invested in the Roman Catholic Church and they themselves raised the funds to build these churches. In 1897, a young Polish-born priest, Franciszek Hodur, was invited to assume leadership of St. Stanislaus Parish in Scranton, Pennsylvania. He traveled to Rome in 1889 and presented to church authorities a four-point plan to support Polish Catholics in the United States. These points were appointing ethnic Polish Bishops, parish property rights, greater control of the congregation to self-governance, and to select its own pastor. Rather than holding a construction dialogue, Fr. Hodur was excommunicated by Bishop O’Hara of Scranton in September 1898. Fr. Hodur was to go on to organize the Polish National Catholic Church and establishing a fraternal society, Spojnia.
The traditional Roman Catholic Church and many traditional faithful Polish of the Catholic Church were debating the actions of Fr. Hodur and whether they were treated fairly by the Bishops and dioceses, so this lead to discussions between the Pope and the Archbishops of Warsaw and Przemysl, Poland to have a Polish Bishop visit the Polish-American population. The decision was made then for Archbishop Simon, a Polish Bishop who resided in Rome, to visit various Polish parishes in the United States. One of his chosen locations was Toledo, Ohio and to visit St. Anthony’s Parish with a representation of clergy and parishioners from St. Hedwig’s and St. Mary Magdalene in Rossford.
This was a large event, and had much pageantry and reverence. The Archbishop visited Erie, Pennsylvania before arriving from Toledo and he arrived in Toledo at the Union Depot and was transported by a horse drawn carriage greeted by the uniformed and non-uniformed societies from each of the parishes and a large parade conducted the Archbishop to St. Anthony’s Parish. The Ameryka Echo reported that there were 32 carriages in the parade and over a thousand people participated in this parade. It also provided the Archbishop’s speech that evening. Below is a synopsis from a translation from Polish to English. (The Archbishop was not in support of Hodur or of the Polish National Catholic Church.)
Thank you, dear brothers, for the wonderful reception you gave me. I represent Rome and Poland. What is Rome? Rome is the Church of Christ, a rock, a Christianity. Against this rock some people draw their weak hubs; it creates an independent church – scales against the rock.
There are people who are blind, bourgeois, and limited. But fortunately you do not have them here in Toledo, so I will not discuss them. You honor our dear motherland, Poland, persecuted and chased by a Muscovite on the one hand, and a Prussian on the other. I attribute to two of my guilds the honor of being welcomed by you. The splendor of this reception testifies to your strength and this strength you derive from the consent that reigns between you and your priests. Honor your priests, obey them – and you will gain the more strength and respect. The Holy Father sends his blessings to you through me.
Archbishop Simon then celebrated Mass the next morning in St. Anthony and gave the sermon. He then traveled to St. Hedwig to visit the church and school and visit the parishioners and Fr. Doppke, who was pastor, traveled then to Rossford to visit St. Mary Magdalene.
While Archbishop Simon was at St. Anthony, he was a guest of Fr. Suplicki at the parish rectory. The Ameryka Echo managed to interview the Archbishop.
The Ameryka Echo reported that at first Fr. Suplicki refused entry to the rectory, that he felt the Ameryka Echo was an anti-religious publication. However, the reporter pressed on and asked whether the Archbishop had the right to decide whether to speak with the reporter. The Archbishop consented and an interview was conducted. Below is a synposis of the translated interview. The reporter was not identified, so we can’t assume it was A. A. Paryski.
The Archbishop asked what what the Ameryka Echo and what it was about.
The reporter replied that it was a weekly publication for Poles and that he would like to ask the Archbishop a few questions. The Archbishop retorted “An exam? When I graduated from university, I passed by exams and I thought I was done with them. But I was wrong because here in America I am being examined again!”
The reporter was quick thinking and said “Let’s just have a normal conversation and asked “How did your Excellency come to America: as a delegate or as a missionary?”
The Archbishop answered that he came not as a delegate or as an inspector but “I come as a privileged man. My journey does not have an official character. I do it at the request of the Holy Father, expressed to me privately.”
When asked to detail the purpose of the journey, the Archbishop explained that he was collecting news and that he later would visit parishes in Poland, near his hometown of Zmeryce. After he returned to Rome, he would report to the Pope.
The reporter pressed on. “It is no secret to your Excellency that in local Polish parishes there are frequent disputes between the people and the priests. What is the cause of the disputes?”
The Archbishop replied that he believed the priest was often guilty of the disputes, sometimes the Bishops.
The reporter again pressed on. “The financial affairs of parishes are probably the most common cause of disputes, aren’t they?
The Archbishop replied that “in the management of parish funds, priests often reveal a lack of tact, also do the parishioners. There are priests who tell parishioners that managing funds is their responsibility, not the parishioners. There are parishioners who will tell the priests the same thing. The Holy See has no objection to parish funds being administered by a parish committee. But it is not proper for the higher ecclesiastical authority to interfere in these matters, ordering who is to maintain control over parish funds. Parishioners and priests must decide for themselves. Although according to the law1 , administration of church property belongs to the clergy. It is for th is reason that money donated to the Church is no longer the property of the donors, only the Church.”
Then the questioning too a turn toward the subject of independent churches. The reporter asked “What does your Excellency think is the cause of independent churches?”
The Archbishop explained that financial conflicts occurred with priests and the parishioners and then the Polish people had a desire to have their own bishops. He explained that the Polish in America did not seem to understand that any Bishop, whether foreign or what language he speaks is a Bishop and that they do the same work throughout the Church.
However, the Archbishop took a more serious tone and went on to say “The simpleton will go to the so-called independent church. He sees that there is the same altar, the same pictures, and a priest dressed the same way. He thinks this church is as good as the Catholic Church. But the fact is that they do not understand the unity of the Church of Christ. Independent churches have no future before them. That the only one Church that is true is the Roman Church…” The Archbishop went on to say that “independent churches will survive somehow because their followers put considerable sums into them: building the churches, schools, etc.”
When asked about the Poles desire to have a Polish bishop, the reporter emphasized that it was thought that those who received a bishopric were those who had the richest parishes, were the most powerful priests. The Archbishop challenged the reporter as he became irritated—“Where are these priests?” The reporter said “I will not mention them, I am unable to prove, this is what I am hearing. They might be a punk in Chicago.”
By now, it seemed the reporter understood he irritated the Archbishop and he asked him “Excellency, how should Poles regain Poland’s independence.” The Archbishop brushed him off “this topic is too broad.”
The Archbishop went on to explain that his journey to America was a special blessing from the Holy See, a kindness for the Poles.
From Toledo, the Archbishop went on to visit other cities in the United States, including Milwaukee and Detroit. His travels through the United States were likely intended to take the temperature of Catholics to see just how far spread the Polish National Catholic Church ideas were. Fr. Hodur, a progressive in his father, more than 60 years before Vatican II, insisted on Polish be used to celebrate Mass rather than Latin. It was not until Vatican II that the vernacular or local languages were used to say mass. He also organized the Polish National Union (Spojnia) as a fraternal society to help Polish National Catholics obtain financial security by providing members with financial services, educational opportunities, and ways to care for their elderly and disabled family members.
Toledo Polish parishes did not seem to experience the same desires as those of the Polish National Catholic Church. However, we have seen many of the same trends during this time–there were Poles who joined fraternal societies and did belong to the Polish National Union or the Polish National Alliance, they purchased insurance policies through these organizations, they also worked to build strong Polish parishes–the Cleveland dioceses (the original diocese that administered Toledo parishes) and later the Toledo diocese certainly did seem to support them as there were a number of Polish parishes in the Toledo diocese.
1. I do not know whether the Archbishop was referring to Canon law or American civil laws here. Canon law does regulate the purchase, ownership, administration, and sale of goods, services, and lands and uses dioceses, parishes, missions, etc. as “public juridic persons” (organizations that act as individuals for legal transactions). However, not knowing how the churches are deeded and how civil law also works with non-profit, religious entities, it’s not clear to me exactly what the Archbishop was referring to. He could have been referring to both in a very general way and it is unclear to what is meant by clergy–whether the local parish priests, the diocese itself, the Bishop, Rome, etc.