By David Kilby | Correspondent
Radoslaw Dlugowski was heartened to witness the 110th anniversary celebration of St. Hedwig Parish and the 90th anniversary of the building of the church because he finds it to be “a good church and a great community.”
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“The parish is always there for us. The pastor always helps the people, including people outside the church.”
As Dlugowski joined scores of fellow parishioners for the anniversary Mass of Thanksgiving that was celebrated by Father Jacek Labinski, pastor, Oct. 12, he remarked on its extraordinary reverence, the way the parishioners have been able to seamlessly bring together their Polish national heritage and their love for the Catholic faith, and the energy and enthusiasm that Father Labinski brings to his responsibilities as pastor.
In his homily, Father Labinski made a connection between the banquet of the Lord that is celebrated at Mass before a community and family of God with the parish anniversary observance that included exposition and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament after the Mass, followed by a festive banquet in nearby Ambassador Banquet Hall.
Reflecting on how meaningful it is for him to serve as pastor of St. Hedwig, Father Labinski said he appreciates that he is able to uphold beloved Polish traditions and speak the language of his parishioners.
“It’s a Polish parish. I was born in Poland. It’s like being at home. It’s about being with my countrymen,” he said.
A brief history on St. Hedwig Parish that is found in “Upon This Rock: A new history of the Diocese of Trenton” that was published in the 1990s tells of how the parish traces its roots to the end of the 19th century when the first influx of Polish Americans settled in southern Trenton and attended Mass in St. Stanislaus Church, there. As the number of Polish immigrants increased in the northern section of Trenton, the need for a new Polish national parish emerged.
Polish Americans in northern Trenton started four different organizations to help make a new parish a reality. The Casimir Pulaski Society organized a school and hired a lay teacher. Masses were celebrated in the school by priests from Holy Cross Parish, Trenton, and funds were raised to build St. Hedwig Parish.
In 1904, Bishop James A. McFaul accepted the Polish American community’s petition and established St. Hedwig Parish as an independent parish on July 16. Father John Supinski emigrated from Poland to be the first resident pastor. He oversaw the construction of the church, school and rectory.
Father Supinski’s successor, Father Joseph Urban appealed to have the Felician Sisters staff the school, and added two classrooms. Father Julian Zielinski added two more classrooms and oversaw the construction of a new school in 1922 as well as the present church in 1924.
Father Arthur Strenski acquired two homes for use as a new convent. Msgr. Martin J. Lipinski’s 35-year pastorate included many accomplishments such as an assessment of the parish’s spiritual life, renovations to the parish buildings, a new convent in 1941, an expansion of the cemetery, and payment of long-standing debt.
Msgr. Francis L. Zgliczynski improved and renovated parish buildings. In 1987, the youth center was renovated to house the Felician Sisters. A pre-school opened in 1989, and in the early 1990’s a chapel in honor of Our Lady of Czestochowa was constructed in the convent on Indiana Avenue.
At 90 years old, Julius Wszolek is proud of being a lifelong parishioner and treasures how the parish community has been a constant presence in his life.
Noting that he graduated from the parish grammar school and currently serves as the parish sacristan, Wszolek recalled that “I went into the military for World War II, came back and belonged to the parish again. I was called back for the Korean War, came back again,” he said.
Wszolek shared that his uncle helped organize the construction of the church, which was built 90 years ago, then spoke of the memorial that is next to the church and has the names of all the parishioners who served in the military for World War I, World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam War and Persian Gulf War. The names of those who died while serving are listed in the center of the memorial.
Parishioner Bozena Bienkowska was sentimental as she recalled her 25-year membership in St. Hedwig and how it was the first Roman Catholic church she attended in the U.S. after arriving from Poland.
“This parish became my parish. Everything was new. Church was the place where I stepped in and felt safe and felt at home,” said Bienkowska, who sings with the parish choir and helps plan the parish’s participation in the pilgrimage to the Our Lady of Czestochowa Shrine in Doylestown, Pa., every August. The pilgrimage has been a memorable event for parishioners, Polish Americans and Catholics of many backgrounds throughout the region for 12 years.