Long before the English Colonies united and became our present great nation, immigrants from Poland have been living here. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, great masses of Europeans arrived in the U. S. (the Poles comprising a principal part). At this time, 10 percent of all immigrants were Polish. More than 2 million Poles came to America between 1870 and 1914. A large amount of these Poles settled in the Tri-state Metro region where they started or joined social, fraternal, religious or athletic groups associated with their heritage.
The Polish experience in Yonkers at the turn of the20th century found a city enjoying a swift growth of industry, with the Poles eager to toil and make a living here. Many labored at the Alexander Smith Carpet factory, Otis Elevator, the "Sugar House" and other local industries. Yet, among this dynamic environment, there was something missing to the Polish of Yonkers. To address the lack of a Polish parish, those who wished to hear Mass in Polish traveled to New York City or one of the outer boroughs such as St. Valentine Parish in Bronx-Williamsbridge, whose Pastor was Rev. Joseph Dworzak. This situation, coupled with the encouragement of Rev. Dworzak, led the Poles (and their societies) to decide on establishing a Polish parish for Yonkers.
Rev. Dworzak received a delegation of Poles from Yonkers on September 10, 1899. Their aim was to engage his assistance in creating a Polish parish in Yonkers. On September 21 st, Rev. Dworzak attended a meeting in Yonkers upon which the St. Casimir Society was organized, with officers elected and dues established. Rev. Dworzak, as organization leader, wasauthorized to petition the Archdiocese for creation of the Church of St. Casimir, Yonkers, New York. On September 24,1899, Rev. Dworzak was receieved by Archbishop Michael Corrigan, D.D., who granted permission for the project and nominated Rev. Dworzak the first Pastor of the fledgling parish.
Father Dworzak remained the resident Pastor of St. Valentine (Williamsbridge, N.Y.). To avoid any conflicts and allow the new parish its own resident Pastor, Rev. Dworzak searched for a worthy candidate. Rev. Michael Slupek was selected andappointed as Pastor of St. Casimir by Archbishop Corrigan on December 19, 1899. Father Slupek became the first resident Pastor.
On January 21,1900, with the benevolence of Rev. K. Corley (Pastor of St. Mary's Church), Father Slupek celebrated Mass in a side chapel and gave the first sermon i n Polish. On June 7, 1900, Father Slupek (through a third-party agent- M r. George Streeton, an architect) was able to purchase four acres of land at Nepperhan and Yonkers Avenues, for the sum of $4,000 from the Copcutt family. Father Slupek guided the parish to become incorporated; however, he resigned as Pastor on February 14, 1901.
The appointment of Rev. Anthony Jakubowski on March 10, 1901 as Pastor heralded the organization of a parish committee to build a church and rectory. To ensure success of the task, a loan of $25,000 was secured from Emigrant Industrial Savings Bank of New York. The building contracts were signed on September 5, 1902. On September 11th, consecration and groundbreaking ceremonies for the new church took place, followed by a parade with the mayor and local dignitaries present. The scene was repeated on November 9, 1902 with the blessing of the cornerstone for the new church. In December 1 902, Rev. Jakubowski retired from Yonkers.
The departure of Rev. Jakubowski was the catalyst for the return of Rev. Joseph Dworzak, the founder, as well as the first and fourth Pastor, of St. Casimir Parish. On January 25, 1903, Rev. Dworzak celebrated High Mass at a local Yonkers church (St. Mary's). May 26, 1 903 marked his move into the newly built Rectory of St. Casimir. In June 1903, on the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity, the first service was held in the new church. Even as these events transpired, Rev. Dworzak privately envisioned greater things. He realized the new church would soon be inadequate to provide the space for his growing congregation. He began at this stage to plan for future expansion. By September 1906, plans for a Parish school were attained. Sunday school and Polish language classes were conducted in the hall under the church. Soon a program of daily classes developed. In 1910, the Reverend Sisters of the Resurrection arrived at the par ish and assumed teaching duties. During this timeframe, Rev. Dworzak was able to purchase 22 parcels of land, including the Cupcutt Mansion (the "Kamienica") for the sum of $26,000. At a cost of $20,000, the mansion was moved and remodeled to serve as temporary classrooms and housing for the Sisters. The young St. Casimir School began to grow. To conclude with these endeavors, on May l3, 1912, the statue of Thaddeus Kosciuszko was unveiled in front of the mansion (being displayed for its first Memorial Day ceremony).
The "greater things" envisioned by Rev. Dworzak became reality with the start of construction of a new (our present-day) church and school in 1925, with the Diocesan approval of Architect J. S. Giele's proposal. On August 23,1925, the cornerstone was blessed and groundbreaking commenced. During September 1925, classes began (in the first story of the new school building). On February 27, 1927, the new church and school were officially opened. On Ash Wednesday, March 6, 1927, the last Mass was held in the old church and the Most Holy Sacrament was transported to the new sanctuary. A formal consecration was conducted on the new church by Cardinal Hayes on May l3, 1928. As a fitting vestige to this time of dynamic building for the parish, the Pulaski Day Parade was held i n New York City on October 10, 1 937. Msgr. Dworzak served as Parade Grand Marshal in 1944.
The sum of $750,000 was the total cost of the new church and building construction projects. The parish offset this amount with $325,000 in parish funds and $50,000 from a special building fund. Through the diligent efforts of the parish community (and incorporating funds from donations, fund raisers and bazaars), the balance of the mortgage was repaid by 1948. A gala banquet commemorating the "mortgage burning" was held at the Polish Community Center on Sunday, January 25, 1948.
In reflection, it must be emphasized that all that is St. Casimir's (with the exception of the Convent building) exists due to the unwavering dedication of the parish's founder, Rt. Rev. Msgr. Joseph C. Dworzak. He was the consummate visionary. It would be a grave injustice not to note that, among the many accolades he received, possibly none could have been more meaningful than that awarded to him by a grateful Polish nation: the order "Polonia Restituta" and "the Gold Cross of Merit." His passing on February 21, 1 951 indeed marked the end of an era.
It would be remiss not to note the physical grandeur of the new church (a product to Msgr. Dworzak's "greater things"). Many fine artistic embellishments were incorporated in its construction. The regal exterior yellow brickfacing contrasting and complementing the nobility of the aesthetic interior achievements. Within, the artistry is manifested in such explicit forms as the handcarved (Austrian) Altar of the Souls in Purgatory, the Main Altar of white Cararian-Italian marble, and the pillars of imported Italian marble. The stained glass windows (from Germany) rival in beauty those found at the medieval European collection at The Cloisters. An organ whose rich tones inspire the soul presents an awesome sight with in the church choir. These constitute a minute share of magnificence to a church which could serve as a cathedral.
The sense of devotion by the clergy and parish members corresponded to the deep personal sacrifice manifested with the somber desire to serve their country in times of peril. During the First World War, 125young men from the parish served in the armed forces of the United States (with an additional 75 sons of Poland serving in Polish armed forces). Two decades later, the call was answered again with 34 parishioners (including Sexton Joseph Kabala) making the ultimate sacrifice during World War II. (The later engagements of Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf and other actions contained participation by members of the parish community or their relations. May all these veterans forever be remembered.)
The fifth Pastor, Rev. Vincent J. Raith, directed the parish from 1951 to 1 969. The parish continued to expand, as reflected by the construction of the new Convent building. Yet, concurrent with this growth, major social and economic changes were occurring in the United States and our local environs, The status with the parish school changed dramatically over these years. The Golden Jubilee year (of 1950) had a school attendance of 516 students in 16 classes. As the 1950s closed, this number grew even larger (by 1959, the student body exceeded 700). These were the "boom" years for the parish school. The school was involved in many activities. The school produced an outstanding Fife and Drum Corps (originally conceived as a Boy Scout Drum and Bugle Corps in 1937 by Mr. Frank Lutomski and his assistant Mrs. Helen Wallinger). There were 4 active Girl Scout Troops. Our large vibrant CYO Teenage Club actively participated in all aspects of diocesan CYO life, including conference weekends at Blair Lodge and in New York City.
It was during these times that the Sisters of the Resurrection outgrew their quarters and were in need of a new home. A campaign was initiated under the guidance of Rev. Raith. On May 2, 1954, ground was broken for the Convent, On Christmas Day, 1954, Rev. Raith celebrated the first Mass in the Convent's chapel. For his efforts, Cardinal Spellman personally blessed the Convent on March 13,1955 and announced the elevation of Rev. Raith to Monsignor by Pope Pius XII.
In 1966, the celebration of Poland's Millennium as a Christian nation impacted greatly on the parish community of St. Casimir. This was personified by the parishioners' development of the chapel of Our Lady of Czestochowa. To commemo-rate this great occasion, artist Jan Krantz was commissioned to create an Icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa. On August 28, 1968, this beautiful Mosaic Icon was unveiled and blessed in a formal ceremony.
On February 12, 1967, the Rev. Msgr. Vincent J. Raith was invested as Prothonotary Apostolic by Rev. Bishop Aloysius J. Wycislo (of Chicago) in a solemn ceremony and Pontifical Mass. This event was followed by a banquet at the Polish Community Center. In 1 969, after serving 1 8 years as Pastor ofSt. Casimir's Parish, Msgr. Raith retired.
In 1969, Rev. Edmund A. Fabisinski was appointed the sixth Pastor of St. Casimir (upon the retirement of Msgr. Raith). Father "Ed's" tenure was marked by much needed maintenance work to the parish buildings and the demolition and removal of the old church. On March 9, 1974, Cardinal Cooke announced the elevation of Rev. Fabisinski to Monsignor by Pope Paul VI. A great banquet celebrating this honor for Father Ed was held on April 28,1974 with over 600 people attending.
As economic and social conditions within Yonkers changed, factors affecting the parish became pronounced. The immediate surroundings of the parish were influenced. A migration of parishioners to areas outside and beyond Yonkers was apparent. During this timeframe, extensive road construction, demolition and public works projects were engaged in and around the avenues of Nepperhan and Yonkers and the adjacent areas. Due to this, some of the old flavor, landmarks and sights of Yonkers disappeared or changed. The construction of the Nepperhan Avenue Arterial forced the relocation of numerous parishioners who lived in this area. Many who relocated left St. Casimir entirely. With these conditions ongoing, the parish endured.
Rev. Eugene A. Kosnik became the seventh Pastor of St. Casimir on June 25, 1977. During the twenty years he served the parish, a new parking lot was established and extensive renovations to the school building and church were undertaken and completed.
It was in this timeframe that severe economic pressures to the parish became the norm. As the number of teaching Sisters diminished, the cost to the parish escalated. The increased finance of lay teachers and overall rising operational costs compounded this problem. The Arterial construction had caused an exodus of many families from St. Casimir (and the parish rolls). To illustrate this phenomenon with respect to the school's student body, enrollment dropped from 710 students in1959 to 200 students in 1975 (and fell below the 200 mark in the 1990s).
It was also in the 1990s that the Sisters of the Resurrection, after almost nine decades of service to St. Casimir's Parish, were recalled for other assignments (some finding retirement at their order's motherhouse at Castleton, New York). To honor their dedication, the parish showed its thankfulness and love with a grand banquet on April 13, 1997, at the Polish Community Center, for the Sisters.
On July 1, 1997, Rev. John Michalak became the eighth Pastor to serve the parish of St. Casimir (under the administration of the Pauline Fathers, in conjunction with the New York Archdiocese). He has inherited a parish challenged with the stresses of coping with limited resources. Rising operational and maintenance costs appear to be synonymous with our modern times. Recently a new kitchen and general improvements have been made to the school building. The interior of the church has again undergone restoration and cosmetic repair. The Convent building presently serves as a Friary for the Franciscan Friars.