Mary, Mary

On October 25, 1903, Chicago’s Polish newspapers proudly announced that Archbishop James Quigley had consecrated the new St. Mary’s Church of Perpetual Hope, creating the first Polish Roman Catholic Church in the country. This title was a long time coming for the congregation–the parish had been established 21 years earlier to serve Bridgeport’s growing Polish community. In that time, St. Mary’s was led by two pastors, changed location once, and went into debt twice before it finally saw the completion of the mammoth brick building with three soaring copper domes that became its permanent home.

But this Sunday, as St. Mary’s celebrated its 130th anniversary mass, those difficult 21 years seemed like a small price to pay. The enduring building is evidence of an investment well made–the towering copper steeple, now distinguished by its patina, and the intricate, Byzantine-style sanctuary have aged beautifully. While St. Mary’s Polish history is evident in its architecture, its congregation now reflects Bridgeport’s ethnic diversity.

The special occasion was marked by the presence of Bishop Alberto Rojas, who pointed out that 130 years means countless weddings and baptisms, innumerable conversions and confirmations, and a constant dedication to the people of the neighborhood.

The continuing health of the parish could be seen in the crowd that gathered for the celebratory reception after mass in the gymnasium next door. While several women served a spread of cakes and cookies, families posed for photos with the Bishop and flyers were passed around detailing new youth ministry events.

Though the original versions of those 1903 Polish-language newspapers announcing the church’s consecration still hung on the walls of the sanctuary, it was clear that St. Mary’s is focused on the future. Despite this, Sunday’s celebration provided a well-deserved opportunity to remember the past. As Bishop Rojas pointed out, “130 years doesn’t take long to say, but it is a long time to be.”