About the Church and Poles in America
Anna Przewoznik talks to Fr Marek Kasperczuk, Rector of Bishop Abramowicz Seminary in Chicago.
Anna Przewoznik: – You have been the Rector of Bishop Abramowicz Seminary in Chicago for two years. Please tell us what the Church in America looks like. We often associate it with the Polish community in Chicago but there are also Americans…
Fr Marek Kasperczuk: – Americans, Poles, Spaniards and other nationalities introduce their religious traditions and character into the reality of the Church in America. But these are first of all the American people. The Church in the USA is a relatively young Church, some 200 year old. It developed in rather hard conditions. The first American diocese was founded in Baltimore in 1789. The waves of the immigration from Europe at the beginning of the 18th century were coldly welcomed by the American culture that had already been shaped by the Protestant Church. Many tensions occurred in this background. It was a kind of trial for the American Catholics’ faith. The aversion towards them evoked some incidents from time to time. This situation continued almost to the beginning of the 20th century.
The second experience, perhaps a more internal one, that formed the faith of Americans was the wave of liberalism, individualism and secularism that swept over America in the 1960s and the 70s when the cultural apogee began influencing strongly the Church, too. It was also the problem of certain negligence in the education of children and young people, which later affected the vocations. Today, after the years of difficult internal experiences, this Church begins its revival and assumes her own form and dynamics that do not only influence Catholics, opening themselves to Lord God, but also the faith of other people. I only want to mention that in 2005 the Catholic Church accepted 73,000 new believers and in 2008 there were 81,000. One can see in the pastoral work the simplicity with which Americans receive the truths of faith, how much God is important to them and how the faith of Americans draws others.
– In Chicago the Polish community is big. What influence do Poles have on the faith of Americans?
– The Polish community in Chicago has had various periods of immigration. The first wave of immigration was connected with the construction of the river canal and then many people found jobs here. The next waves were after World War I and the immigration during the marshal law, the so-called post-Solidarity immigration. In the opinion of Cardinal Francis George, Archbishop of Chicago, Poles have contributed much to the renewal of the Eucharistic cult and Eucharistic services over years. Our attitude of love for adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, our love for Mass and the cult of the Blessed Sacrament, including Eucharistic processions, are testimonies for the American people who react to them in an increasingly strong way. This is a huge contribution of the Polish community in the Catholic Church in the USA.
As far as the percentage of Poles is concerned the interesting thing is that 10-15 years ago ca. 10-15 % of the Polish immigrants lived within the city boundary whereas 5-10% lived in the suburbs. Together with the increase in the wealth of the Polish community these proportions have changed and nowadays in Chicago there are 5-10 % of Poles whereas 10-15 % of Poles live in the suburbs. This creates new pastoral challenges. Earlier it was easier to care for the Polish immigrants since they were within the city. Now there are dispersed. On the other hand, this situation leads to the creation of new centres that organise pastoral work with Masses celebrated in Polish. There are 55 centres in Chicago and 91 Masses are celebrated in Polish on Sunday.
– These data testify about the need of formation for Polish priests in the United States. Tell us how Bishop Abramowicz Seminary in Chicago functions?
– The task of our seminary is to prepare seminarians from Poland to continue further studies and seminarian formation at the main Mundelein Seminary of the Archdiocese of Chicago. Our seminary is a bridge between Poland and the USA for those who want to minister in the Church on the American soil. Experience teaches that even if Poland becomes slowly like America the cultural shock for someone who comes to the Unites States from Poland is still big and this can create problems at first. Therefore, our Seminary prepares its alumni as far as the culture and language are concerned, facilitating their process of preparation for the priesthood at Mundelein Seminary.
The seminarians prepare to serve in the Polish and American parishes. Because of that they must get to know the daily culture and context of life of those to whom they will be sent so that they could understand people. This is the aim of our Seminary: to preserve all that is good, holy and worthy from the Polish culture and to root it in the American culture. America is a country of big polarisation. This is a country where one can become holy easily and where you can become condemned. So the challenge is special. We want to help our alumni preserve their identity, use and develop these values that have been worked out in the really good system of Polish major seminaries.
– Tell us who can be your seminarian?
– Certainly, one needs to discern the vocation to serve the Polish community on the American soil. We invite both those who consider entering the way of the priestly vocation and the alumni who have finished two years of philosophical studies at major seminaries in Poland. Those who consider the priestly vocation can take a two-year course in the major seminary in Poland as preparation to leave the country and then they will continue formation at Bishop Abramowicz Seminary in Chicago, of course having the consent of the Polish bishops and rectors of the major seminaries in Poland. This preparation can include the possibility to learn advanced English and get to know the elements of the American culture.
– Your relatively young seminary, with only a decade of history, has already prepared for work 25 priests...
– That’s right. The seminary is young but I must bow my head in appreciation for my predecessors who made enormous efforts to found the seminary, for example Fr Ryszard Milek, and developed it over the past years. It was not easy to formulate a programme in the American conditions in which one could not follow an example of a similar seminary. The next rectors did their best to develop the recruitment and administration of the seminary. For the last years we have tried to order and strengthen the programme and rules of the seminary. Two years ago a special Vatican committee paid a visit to all major seminaries in the USA. The report of the committee, directed to Cardinal George, gave a good evaluation of the whole formation conducted at our seminary.
– So pastoral challenges are enormous for you, priests… I think that to end our conversation it would be good to give more information about Bishop Abramowicz Seminary in Chicago.
– I cordially invite anyone to consider the possibility to come to the USA in order to serve Lord God and people. You can find us in the Internet very easily. Just write ‘Seminarium Biskupa Abramowicza’ in any browser. And visit our website. You can also phone us in Poland; the phone number is 796-565-679. You can get basic information about our seminary when you dial this number. Of course, I can also answer any mails as I regularly correspond with candidates to our seminary (firstname.lastname@example.org). Our website is: www.abramowiczseminary.org I wholeheartedly invite all to contact us.