The story of the Polish Parish
It all started with a letter…..
But to the Polish community however - one vital aspect of life was still missing: spiritual leadership and a place to worship. And so – they sent a letter to the "Polish Daily" in London extending an invitation to Polish Catholic Priests working in the UK to come to Bradford, establish a Parish Church for the Polish community here and provide for their spiritual needs. The response came from Capt. Canon Boleslaw Martynellis, who became the first Polish Parish Priest.
At first, the Masses were celebrated at St. Patrick’s and later at St. Joseph’s. In the spring of 1948 the parishioners funded an icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa, which has a symbolic place in polish history and in the heart of every Pole. (This icon is now permanently housed in a special altar at St. Joseph’s.) This was the beginning of the Polish Parish Church.
In its first years 1948-52 the Polish Parish Church drew more and more people into its religious and social activities. The new Parish Priest Henryk Borynski (whose mysterious disappearance in 1953 attracted much publicity in the local press) quickly established the Polish Parish Council, Polish Catholic Youth Association, Church Choir and Rotary Circle.
However – the Polish community still had a dream to fulfil: they longed to have a Church of their own. This meant to them everything they held dear: a small piece of homeland, a place to worship, and a crib of polish culture for generations to come. Initially - a 21-year lease on a church building in Lansdowne Place was signed and in March 1960 the church was consecrated. Shortly after this the nearby Polish Parish Club was opened for social meetings and celebrations.
Finally – there came a significant year 1971, when through their generous donations, the Polish community, led by their Parish Priest Canon Stanislaw Czesnikowski, purchased the church building in Lansdowne Place. At last the Polish community was to have its own Parish Church - under the invocation of Our Lady of Czestochowa. Building works on the presbytery and installation of the new organ were soon completed and in 1973 the whole parish community started preparing for the coming celebrations of the 25th anniversary of the Polish Parish Church in Bradford. Letters of congratulations arrived from across the UK and from Poland. Much revered Silver Jubilee blessings were received from Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, then the Primate of Poland, who thanked the parishioners for their loyalty to the faith and to the nation.
The pontification of Cardinal Karol Wojtyla as Pope John Paul II brought much jubilation to Poles in the UK and all over the world. In January 1979 the Polish Church in Bradford received special recognition and thanks for their achievements from their much beloved Pope.
In February 1998 the Polish Parish Church celebrated its Golden Jubilee. In memory and tribute to the humble beginnings of the Parish, a special commemorative Holy Mass was celebrated at St. Joseph’s. Led by the Rev. Bishop David Constant, Polish Parish Priest Bronislaw Gostomski, Rector S. Swierczynski and ministers from other Bradford churches, this Mass was dedicated to all generations of Poles in Bradford, who in homage to their faith and to their country, often with a great personal sacrifice, never gave-up their dream and in the end - made it happen!
The Polish Community Centre (PCC)
The next "stepping stone"
The year 1985 saw another dream come true, when the Parish Council, led by the Parish Priest Teodor Poloczek, bravely decided to purchase an old warehouse adjacent to the Polish Parish Club in Edmund Street. Building adaptations prepared by Mr Marcel Baranowski were accepted by the Planning Department and, thanks to a substantial grant from the City Council, the building works started.
After a few years of hard work under the eager supervision of the new Parish Priest Bronislaw Gostomski, this huge project was completed. Today this splendid building, named The Polish Community Centre, is positively buzzing with activities and serves as the Day Centre for the Polish elderly, Polish Saturday School, headquarters for the Polish Ex-Servicemen Association, Centre for the Polish Catholic Youth Organisation, and as a meeting place for the Parish Council as well as for cultural and social community events.
Today, Poles in Bradford can be truly proud to have thriving organisations active within their parish, such as: The Parish Council (RPD&A) – established at the very onset of the Polish Parish Church, it supports the work of the Parish Priest and, under his Chairmanship, provides guidance and support to all parish organisations.
Polish Catholic Elders’ Circle (KSWK) – provides everyday assistance to sick and lonely elders as well as spiritual, social and financial support.
Polish Catholic Youth Association (KSMP) – aims to reinforce moral and patriotic foundations and cultivate national traditions.
Polish School (Szkola Polska) – From 1949 polish children had the opportunity to widen their knowledge of Polish language and learn basic subjects such as history, Geography and religion in the native tongue of their fathers. At first, lessons were held in hired rooms. Now the Polish School has its permanent place in the Polish Cultural Centre. Today the School has 140 children in attendance.
Polish Scouts (Harcerze) – aims to provide a wide range of extra-curricular activities, including summer camps, and - in keeping with the old national traditions of the movements - supports religious events within the parish. One extremely noble service performed by Scouts is caring for old Polish graves at Bradford cemeteries, for which they have earned a deep gratitude from the Polish community.
The Day Centre – housed in the Polish Cultural Centre, it provides an ideal haven for the Polish elders, often lonely and ailing in health. The Day Centre holds regular twice-weekly meetings, providing lunches and teas, as well as spiritual support and social entertainment.
Working together with other Churches and with the City. Involved in the "Faith in the City" programmes, the Polish Parish Church actively participates in many Catholic and multi-denominational Services held across Bradford. It also welcomes other churches to its own commemorative services. Recently - in April 2005 - two Remembrance Masses in tribute to the late Pope John Paul II were celebrated jointly with other churches in Bradford and Leeds, with a moving Homily given by the Bishop David Constant.
The Polish Parish Church enjoys wide recognition from the City Leaders as a true representative of the Polish community. As part of his "Unity and Peace in the City" programme, Lord Mayor Cllr Allan Hillary and his Chaplain Rev Geoff Reid attended a Civic Mass held at the Polish Parish Church on 8th Feb. 2004 and celebrated by the present Parish Priest Father Wieslaw Duracz. Welcoming the Lord Mayor, Father Duracz said, "We are delighted that the Lord Mayor chose to spread his message in this way". In his speech to the congregation, the Lord Mayor stressed "the Poles had helped to enrich the cultural diversity of the City and brought a greater harmony and unity to Bradford".
Another memorable event illustrating City Leaders’ support for the Polish Parish Church was the event "Saluting Siberian Deportees", honouring the 65th anniversary of the martyrdom suffered by thousands of Poles, who were brutally deported to the savage labour camps of Siberia in 1940 –1943. The Remembrance Mass, followed by an exhibition of memorabilia, was held on 13th Feb. 2005, attended by the Lord Mayor Irene Ellison-Wood, Rev Geoff Reid and representatives of the local media press.
More recently, following Poland’s accession to the European Union, both the City of Bradford and the Polish Parish Church saw a notable influx of Poles – young single people and families. This brought a closer co-operation between the Polish Parish Church and civic organisations. For instance - representatives from the Local Education Authority, Employment Agencies, Housing Departments, finance and other organisations, regularly support Information and Advice Surgeries, held on behalf of the Parish by Mrs Helena Danielczuk. These Surgeries help the newcomers to build their lives, integrate into their new environment and make a positive contribution to the community.
The Polish Parish Church Today:
Today, building on its experiences of the past years, the Polish Parish Church, under the dynamic leadership of the Parish Priest, Father Wieslaw Duracz and his Assistant, Father Slawomir Wojciechowski, prepares to meet a whole range of new challenges in every aspect of its life. Fast growing numbers of new parishioners in Bradford create a need for more services, both in terms of celebrated Masses and other spiritual services to be provided. The physical growth of the parish, which now also serves large Polish communities in the neighbouring towns of Halifax, Keighley, Todmorden, Dewsbury and the city of Wakefield also adds to the volume of Parish work.
In addition, the unprecedented high attendance of the newly arrived children from Poland presents its own challenges to the Polish School, teachers and resources. However, there is no doubt that, despite these challenges, the Polish Parish Church in Bradford will keep on growing from strength to strength. The never failing commitment and dedication of the Polish community will ensure that the huge legacy of the past generations will continue to flourish as living proof of their loyalty to the Catholic faith and to a thousand years old national traditions.
In the words of the Polish Parish Priest Father Wieslaw Duracz – "Today, we the community of Poles in Bradford, proudly celebrate the 60th Anniversary of the Polish Parish Church, but as citizens of Bradford we also want to celebrate the national, cultural, and religious diversity of our neighbours, and – together with them - bring a lasting peace and unity to our wonderful City".