The abbreviated history outlined on these two web pages consists of only the trials of the parish after the procurement of the property by Eugene O'Keefe in 1911. The original church and parish hall had been built in 1879, as indicated by a date stone on the northeast corner of the church building, was known as West Presbyterian Church. Our parish history begins after the purchase , remodelling and transition to the Polish community.
The history does not go into extensive detail, it merely highlights the major events taking place in that period. Whether it be WWI, or the depression, or WWII, the parish history mirrors that of what was taking place in Canada and the world in this turbulent period, and how parishioners stood together to meet and overcome these challenges.
In the narthex of St. Stanislaus church there is fixed to the wall a bronze plaque with this legend:
"This church, now dedicated to St. Stanislaus Kostka and formerly known as the Western Presbyterian Church, was purchased and remodelled for the Polish congregation of Toronto on the 15th of April 1911, by Eugene O'Keefe, Private Chamberlain to His Holiness Pope Pius X, and by his daughter, Mrs. Helen McLean French. This act of charity and devotion to Almighty God will ever be remembered with fervent prayers by the grateful Polish People".
The First Pastor.
Father Joseph Hinzmann was the first Parish Priest. European by birth, American by education, he spent himself tirelessly in the service of his flock. Due to the trying economic conditions preceding the first world war, he was all things to all men. He fed the hungry, he found employment for the jobless, he lifted the hopes of the discouraged. During the war he rallied his people around him and organized relief and Red Cross work. When the Polish Army was training at Niagara-on-the-Lake, the parish hall and rectory became shelters for volunteers who came to Toronto from all parts of Canada and the United States. Father Hinzmann remained in charge of the parish until July 1919. He was replaced temporarily by Father Charles Barron, who was followed in August by Father L.N. Blum. Father Blum remained until May 1921.
The soldier - priest.
Then came, in the middle of June 1921, the soldier, the professor of history, the man of letters, the linguist, Colonel, the Rev. John J. Dekowski. Born in Poland, educated in the United States, he joined the Congregation of the Holy Ghost Fathers. In the Army of General HaIler his many qualities of heart and mind endeared him to the officers and men. His deeds of valour obtained for him the highest Polish decoration, Virtuti Militari and the Croix de Guerre from the French Government. Father Dekowski came to St. Stanislaus as a war hero, a distinguished son of independent Poland. A gifted orator, he won the hearts of all. Tall of stature, solidly built, military in bearing, he wore his heart on his sleeve. He was kind and gentle, sympathetic and generous. His love and priestly zeal found countless outlets for good works among his parishioners.
Then came the depression. Each passing year brought new difficulties and new worries. The unemployed, the homeless, the hungry, the hopeless. St. Stanislaus parish, whose members were practically; all unskilled labourers; with no knowledge of English, with no reserve funds, living in rented quarters, was struck a terrible blow. Wave after wave of discontent wore down the strength of the Pastor. Broken in health and spirit, Father Dekowski finally submitted his resignation at the end of March 1935 into the hands of the new Archbishop, the Most Rev. James Charles McGuigan.The Oblate of Mary Immaculate.
The first Oblate in the Archdiocese of Toronto was Father Stanley Puchniak who arrived on June 29 1935. Two weeks later he was joined by Father Thomas Schnerch, the former Provincial. On the 18th of August Father Schnerch left and was replaced on a permanent basis by Father John Bednarz.
It has been an experience several times tested that the best way to know a new parish is to make a through parish visitation. This the Pastor started a few days after his arrival. Richmond and Adelaide Streets took several weeks to do because several hundred parishioners lived there. Only a few owned their homes. The people were poor and lived very poorly. The homes were overcrowded.
The tempers were often on edge. The priest had to be patient. But the results were excellent. From then on, every year, the parish visitation by the Fathers started in January and continued until Easter, sometimes unfinished due to other pressing work. Some families, particularly those with special problems, were visited more frequently until their problem were resolved. Fr. Bednarz devoted himself with great zeal to the apostolate among the fallen away, the lax and the indifferent. He was the consoling angel of the sick. They were encouraged to make the First Friday. The patients at the Weston Sanatorium were visited on Thursday, and Holy Communion was brought to them on the First Friday of every month. Fr. Bednarz was faithful in this during his entire stay in the parish.
The two Fathers, while continuing the parish visits, spent much time in discussing the various complex problems and their solution. It was agreed that the only road to peace and harmony in the parish was the spiritual road through the Sacraments. In the first sermon to his congregation the Pastor said: "The only barometer of your Faith will be the Confessional and the Communion railing".Public adoration.
In order to centre devotion on the Holy Eucharist, permission was obtained to have Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament every First Sunday of the month from the end of High Mass until the evening devotions. The parish was divided as follow: the children came at 2 p.m.; the women at 3; the men at 4; and the youth at 5. One of the Fathers was present with each group. The Rosary was said, the Litany to the Sacred Heart recited and an appropriate meditation was read.
After all these years if is felt that this public Adoration was instrumental more than anything else in promoting fidelity to Sunday Mass and frequent Communion. This practice, started in October 1935, lasted until 1953.
In the autumn of 1935 the church societies were reorganized. This work took much time. It was not easy to impress upon the members that the purpose of a church society is personal sanctification through a greater life of piety. The women's Holy Rosary Confraternity was the first to be reorganized. The members, about 50 at that time, were very co-operative and exemplary. Another small group of women, who were Third Order members in Poland, asked to be organized. This group, through their prayers and example, did much good in the parish. The Holy Name Society followed in turn. Each society had their Communion Sunday every month and the majority of the members were faithful to it. The few men, who, from the beginning, formed the St. Vincent de Paul Society, deserved much credit for their work of charity.
In July 1937, a third Father was sent to this parish. He was Father Peter J. Klita. He was immediately placed in charge of the Young People. What had been done with the adult groups a few years ago, he did now with the youth.Devotion to Mary.
As the Oblates are honoured with the title of Mary Immaculate, it is only fitting that they foster and spread a tender devotion to our heavenly Mother. The Polish people are traditionally fervent clients of Mary whom they invoke as the Queen of Poland. May and October devotions are always held daily and great numbers of parishioners attend each night. Mary's feasts are observed with special solemnity.
The Felician Sisters.
An important chapter in the history of this parish was begun when the first Felician Sisters arrived on October 12, 1937. They conducted a Day Nursery on Richmond Street, taught catechism to public school children, held classes in Polish and carried on limited social work among the sick. Their kindness, their life of prayer and penance brought new blessings within a few short years.
All this zeal and sacrifice began to yield abundant fruit. Within several years the annual Holy Communions rose from a low of 2.000 to 25.000.
The Staff increases.
Father John Sajewicz came to St. Stanislaus from Poland on December 18, 1938. He devoted himself to work particularly among the very young. After Fr. Bednarz's departure, Fr. Sajewicz took over his charges. When the Polish Army was in training at Owen Sound, he supplied the chaplain services until their own chaplain arrived. He volunteered to serve as chaplain in the Polish Armed services. He left St. Stanislaus in 1943 with the gratitude of every parishioner for his work, with admiration for his sacrifice and with best wishes for God's blessing upon his future.
Until 1940 the accommodations for the various activities in the parish were very limited. The hall, attached to the church under the same roof but separated by a solid brick wall, was a typical Protestant church Sunday school assembly. At one end it had a balcony running up in tiers. In the spring of 1936 the tiers were pulled down and above these 3 additional rooms, each 25 by 35 made available. But this was not enough.
The children's and Young People's activities were now multiplying, the Polish school was increasing and there was no room. It was then decided to rebuild the entire hall. The gothic ceiling and roof were torn down. Twenty two feet above the floor steel beams were put in and above these 3 additional rooms each 25 by 35 feet, were added. With the balcony this provided four class rooms for the Polish school, for the Saturday catechism classes and for group meetings of the various societies. The washrooms and cloak room, which were in the hall, were moved to the basement of the church. The enlarged hall with a special entrance from Wolseley Street was now 116 feet long and 35 feet wide.
The hall and additions were put to excellent use. Here is a typical weekday evening of activities: 4 to 6 p.m. four classes of Polish conducted by the Felician Sisters; 6:30 to 8 Scouts and Guides; 9 to 10:30 Volleyball or Badminton for the Junior or Senior CYO The investment of some $20,000.00 into these improvements paid for itself over and over again. The chief benefit was the family spirit it created.
In the early spring of 1940 Father John Bednarz left St. Stanislaus for the mission field in Manitoba. He left the memory of a good priest, kind and understanding who was always at the disposal of anyone in need. The sick and the wayward lost in him a devoted friend who always had time to console those who suffered and to encourage those who were forgetful.
The year 1940 was a year of tragedy for the Poles of Toronto. It struck violently and unexpectedly on June 4th when Father Walter Gulczyn'ski, pastor of St. Mary's in West Toronto, died in an automobile accident. This was an irreparable loss to the Polish community. Father Peter J. Klita was placed in charge of this parish.Integration into Canadian life.
The Fathers tried to systematize their parochial work. A national parish had to play an important part in the lives of its members. While ministering to their spiritual needs, the new and old immigrants needed other assistance which they could get nowhere on account of their language limitations. The parish had to fill their social needs by organized social activities. Classes of English for the adults were conducted for many years, first by one of the Fathers, then as they grew in number, with the help of competent lay persons. The Felician Sisters took over and conducted this adult education until the Government set up its own night schools.St. Stanislaus Credit Union Ltd.
In the late 30s, due to unemployment, individual families were encouraged to purchase farms in the Niagara Peninsula and garden acreage at Bradford. The Fathers were often asked to give financial assistance to families. These were always short term loans. This need grew to such an extent that it became impossible to assist all those who applied. In 1944, the Fathers made a special study of Credit Unions. In July 1945, with the assistance of others already familiar with the movement, they started weekly meetings to explain its benefits. The advantages seemed too fantastic to be credible. Many were sceptical.
There were twenty courageous members who signed the application for a Provincial Charter. It was granted August 9, 1945. After 15 years of activity, after helping thousands of families, the Credit Union's assets today are in excess of $1.800.000.
Setting their sights on the future, the Fathers were ready to make many sacrifices in order to build up a strong Catholic generation. The boys and girls were encouraged to go into higher Catholic education. The brighter ones and those whose resources were limited were helped along with scholarships. Today, thanks to these efforts, and thanks particularly to the untiring assistance, guidance and encouragement given by Father Smith, we have a generation of Polish young men and women who are distinguishing themselves in the professions and reflecting credit upon the community in which they grew up.
In September 1939, the tragedy of war dealt a telling blow to the Polish community. Archbishop McGuigan, in a beautiful gesture, came to address the parishioners. His words of encouragement were deeply appreciated.
A very active Red Cross unit was formed in the parish under the direction of the Felician Sisters. Throughout and after the war, these activities continued and there was a steady flow of relief goods going from the parish to the Red Cross headquarters.
The War and Victory Bonds, once the people were educated to them, were snatched up by the thousands. The annual Red Cross campaign found many willing workers who canvassed districts assigned to them. The parishioners were generous in their contributions. The parish collected and sent thousands of Dollars to the various relief agencies, to the Polish Army and to Refugee Camps.
The finest part of all Was played by the combined senior and junior CYO. Under the inspiration of Father M. J. Smith, their Director, they conducted campaigns, organized socials, collected offerings for our boys and girls in the armed services and in prisoner-of-war camps. It was only when these veterans returned that the CYO understood how much their gifts meant. To know that they were not forgotten back home meant everything to them. Each one overseas received a carton of cigarettes every month and a parcel at Christmas and at Easter. At one time there were as many as 180 parcels sent out each month. The money allotted for this purpose amounted to over $4.000.
Father Peter J. Klita was appointed Superior and Pastor of St. Stanislaus, December 1, 1946.The refugees
Among the great achievements of St. Stanislaus parish were the post-war years when thousands of Polish immigrants were coming to Canada. Under the capable leadership of Father Klita, the parishioners outdid themselves in placing every family that arrived. The Polish community took them in and helped them as they could. The facilities of the Credit Union were placed at their disposal. Thanks to the strong organization of the parish and the industry of the refugees, they soon were on their own feet, a credit to the community.
After a fruitful administration, Fr. Klita was transferred to Oshawa at the end of 1952. He was replaced by Father Stanley Prokop who came from western Canada. He undertook the new experience of his vast parish with great enthusiasm. He made many improvements. As pastor of the mother of Polish parishes in the Archdiocese, he was most generous in helping to build St. Casimir's Church.
When in September, 1958, Fr. Prokop accepted the pastorate of St. Hyacinth in Ottawa, his place was taken by Father Anthony Murawski. A war veteran with a distinguished record, he brought a breath of Poland into St. Stanislaus parish. With the arrival if Fr. Murawski, who had been an assistant at St. Casimer's parish ,the parish could prepare to celebrate it's first 50 years in 1961.
Fr. Murawski took steps to reinvigorate the youth of the parish with a sense idealism, personal and collective identity and purpose, through the appointment of capable and idealistic assistants through the early 1960's into Poland's millennium of Christianity in 1966.
What the first Oblates at St. Stanislaus established with labour and pain, their Oblate successors continue with undiminished zeal and energy. True, the membership of the parish has changed within the last fifteen years, but the religious spirit and the Catholic traditions remain. As the first years were hard and trying, so the later years brought much joy and happiness to the Fathers and to the parishioners. St. Stanislaus became one large, happy family.
Little has been said about the material achievements of the parish. Though important, they are secondary as a means is to an end. The purpose of the Church is to feed the supernatural life to the soul, to sanctify it. The priest is primarily, not an administrator, but a shepherd of souls. This is his calling and his responsibility. The Fathers, conscious of this task, have always tried to discharge this duty to the best of their ability.
After twenty five years of labours, the Oblate Fathers can say: Quid retribuam Domino . . .
What shall I render unto the Lord . . .
In the matter of vocations, St. Stanislaus parish has contributed her share of four Priests and eight Felician Sisters.
History Part 2