At last count, there are approximately 150 Churches in Erie County serving the spiritual needs of our residents. Some have large congregations, while others are quite small. All of them, however; are very important to those who belong for their spiritual life and happiness. To be fair, I opened the 1888 book about Erie and am writing about the first Church I set my eyes on, which happened to be St. Stanislaus Church.
The history of St. Stan’s in Erie is tied closely with the history of Poland and the waves of immigrants leaving that country. During the 1800’s, the borders of the country known as Poland were in constant flux as Russian, Prussian and Austro-Hungarian empires conquered its land. Citizens faced severe repression, land shortages and chronic unemployment and left, many times hoping to return to their beloved homeland. They took with them their strong work ethic, language and for most of them, their Roman Catholic faith. The first Polish immigrants to arrive in Erie were Andrew and Catherine Mendlewski with their family in 1868. Drawn to the growing number of factory jobs in Erie, a large, unknown number of Poles came later.
St. Stanislaus Church was completed in 1885 at the corner of 13th and Wallace Streets. By 1896, there was standing room only for Sunday services in the small wood structure, so the current brick building was completed in 1898.
St. Stanislaus School began in 1887 and by 1901 had 650 students and 11 teachers (can you imagine that today?). The school closed in 2001 due to declining enrollment, financial constraints, and the changing demographics of the neighborhood.
Polish immigrants continued to arrive and live on the lower Eastside of Erie. [NOTE: Polonia is a general term for people of Polish decent living outside of Poland. It isn’t unique to lower East Erie] Other Catholic Churches were established later on Erie’s Eastside: 1903, Holy Trinity Church at 22nd and Reed; 1911, St. Hedwig Church at 3rd and Wallace; and in 1914, St. Casmir Church at 7th and Hess. Each still have active congregations, but services are rarely if ever offered in Polish, so all are open to anyone who would like to attend.
St. Stan’s continues to serve residents physically close to the Church as well as those who travel distances to attend services. Before the Coronavirus lockdown, I had the good fortune to attend a Lenten fish and pierogi dinner that members of the parish annually put on as fundraising for their beautiful Church building. The crowd was large, and the food was delicious!
In 2019 I was blessed to travel Poland. It is still an extremely faith filled country and judging by the horrific history of the country and their survival as a culture, I can easily see why.
For additional information about St. Stanislaus Church and the history of the other Polish Churches in town, please visit the St. Stanislaus and the Erie Polonia History websites. To all of you, my gentle readers I say: Dziękuję Ci (Thank you).