Polish Catholics in Brooklyn

Since today is the Feast of St. John Cantius (1412-1473), Polish priest and theologian, this is as good a time as any to focus on a local parish named in his honor. St. John Cantius Church was founded in 1902 for Polish Catholics in Brooklyn’s East New York section. The Poles have long moved out of East New York, and the parish was recently merged with another. This article on its early years may be of interest to readers:

St. John’s Cantius R. C. Church, East New York
Brooklyn Standard Union July 1910
The growth of Brooklyn’s population in recent years of foreign speaking people who are settling in the borough.
In the last decade particularly the influx of Italians, Russian Jews, Slavs and Poles has far exceeded that of previous years. Little communities of various nationalities have sprung up in every section of the city with mushroom rapidity and in spite of the tendency to colonize these new subjects of Uncle Sam are rapidly assimilating American ways and customs. Perhaps the most progressive of all the newcomers in this regard are the Poles. They have invaded the borough in such numbers in the last ten years that their influence is now being felt in almost every walk of life. First to feel the effect of the presence of these newcomers was the Catholic Church and in 1896 the Rt. Rev. Bishop Charles E. McDONNELL decided that the best way to look after them was to establish separate houses of worship. In South Brooklyn and Greenpoint the colonies were unusually large and in l896 a Polish church was established in both sections. Previous to that time there was but one Polish Catholic church in Broooklyn – St. Casimir’s on Greene avenue.

Both of the new churches, St. Stanislaus Kostka, in Greenpoint, and Our Lady of Czenstochova, in South Brooklyn, flourished from the beginning, and in the course of the next five years the influx of Poles was so great that the Bishop decided to establish another parish in East New York, which would also embrace the territory including Canarsie, Woodhaven and Brownsville. This undertaking, begun in a little mission at Pitkin avenue and Wyona street in 1892, bore fruit from the start and has culminated in the present Church of St. John’s Cantius, New Jersey and Blake avenues, recognized to-day as one of the most promising of the Polish churches in the diocese of Brooklyn. The present high standing of the institution is largely due to the arduous labor of the present pastor, the Rev. Thomas MISICKI, D.D., who founded the parish.

St. John’s Cantius Church has had a fight for existence which has seldom been paralleled in the wide range of the history of church growth in Brooklyn, but in spite of that fact, the church has property valued at $60,000, on which there is a debt of but $21,000, a remarkable record when the modest means of the people who constitute the congregation is taken into account. The property consists of the splendid plot of ground which has a frontage of 150 feet on New Jersey avenue, 150 feet on Vermont avenue and 200 feet on Blake avenue. On this strip is the handsome Romanesque edifice, the basement of which is utilized as a school for the proper religious educational training of the children of the congregation. There is also a brick pastoral residence at 477 New Jersey avenue and a few doors down the convent of the Sisters of Nazareth, who guide the destinies of the children in the school.
When Father MISICKI established the parish the section of East New York in which the church is located was hardly more than a wide stretch of farmland. Houses were few and far apart, but there was every indication that the district would soon experience a building boom. It did, but not in the way that Father MISICKI anticipated. In the eight years in which he has been the spiritual director of the Polish Catholics of the district Father MISICKI has seen upwards of 2,000 dwellings erected, but more than three-quarters of them are tenanted by families of a contrary religious faith. The fact remains that most of the settlers are Hebrews has made it impossible for more than a few Christian churches to prosper. More than a dozen have given up the sturggle in the last few years and moved to more favorable localities. The few that have remained in the field are barely holding their own, and for the most part draw their congregations from outside of their parish limits.

There are other disadvantages. Father MISICKI’s people for the most part are a laboring class who depend largely on factory work for a livlihood. There are very few factories in the section, and for that reason the members of the congregation are loath to settle in the vicinity of the church. As a result, few live within the parish limits, so that it is necessary for many to journey long distances to services. In inclement weather this makes a great difference in the attendance. In spite of conditions so discouraging, Father MISICKI has managed to more than hold his own, and so far the church has never had a losing year. The congregation which consisted of but a little more than 100 souls at the start, has steadily increased, until at the present time there are about 200 families, or a little less than 2,000 souls.

Over the years the parish has been home to Hispanic, African-American, and more recently Haitian parishioners. The plaque on a statue outside the church honors this diversity.

About Pat McNamara

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