Holy Rosary Parish in Edmonton marked a momentous occasion this past Thanksgiving long weekend as it celebrated the 110th anniversary of its founding. There was much to be thankful for. Parishioners, priests and Archbishop Richard Smith, the main celebrant, gathered around the altar in a Mass of Thanksgiving on Sunday, October 8, 2023 to give thanks to our Heavenly Father for the parish’s founders; and for the blessings bestowed upon the parish over the past 110 years. Members of the Rosary Sodality also gave thanks for 90 years of service to the parish.
The church, filled to capacity for this momentous and joyous occasion, was a testimony of the parishioners’ deep faith, love and devotion. Janine Puszkar and her husband had the honour of bringing up the Offertory. Puszkar is the granddaughter of the first couple to be married in October 1913, at the original church. Special guests at the Mass included Aleksandra Kucy, Consul General of Poland in Vancouver; Janusz Tomczak, president of the National Branch of the Canadian Polish Congress; Greta Derus, president of the Canadian Polish Congress, Alberta District; and the Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate. Members of Polonia organizations were also in attendance. The presence of the Knights of Columbus Honour Guard added colour and splendour to the occasion.
Spiritual preparations leading up to the Jubilee of the parish included a seven-day Holy Mission just prior to the 110th Anniversary celebration. This Mission, led by Father Paweł Gomulak, OMI and Father Janusz Napierała, OMI, from Poland, was very well received. It provided an opportunity for spiritual renewal, and a new understanding of Christian identity.
Two hundred fifty people gathered at the Polish Hall for the Gala Banquet immediately following the Jubilee Mass. Archbishop Smith and Father Tomasz Krzesik, OMI, pastor of Holy Rosary Parish, were given the honour of cutting the first piece of the anniversary cake.
Entertainment during the banquet was provided by the Holy Rosary Worship Group. Father Krzesik made a guest appearance on stage, performing the song “Polish Flowers:. His performance was met with an enthusiastic response from the audience.
The first Polish settlers arrived in the Edmonton area around 1895. They came as part of the federal government’s immigration policy to populate and develop the vast regions of the Canadian Prairies.
These Polish settlers were Roman Catholic and deeply devoted to the Church. Their faith was not just limited to church attendance; it was an important part of their identity, traditions, rites of passage, and everyday life. The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate from the two Roman Catholic churches in the Edmonton area at the time, St. Joachim’s and Immaculate Conception, ministered to the needs of the Polish immigrants. Most of these immigrants knew very little English or French, and experienced many hardships understanding the priests and partaking in the sacrament of Reconciliation. This hardship was especially felt by the older generation.
Around 1898, two brother priests, Fathers Wojciech and Jan Kulawy, OMI, residing in Winnipeg, began travelling to Alberta, once or twice a year, to tend to the welfare and spiritual needs of the Polish pioneers. Nonetheless, the absence of a familiar place of worship and a Polish-speaking priest, with whom they could communicate, created a deep void in their lives.
Bishop Emile Legal, OMI, realizing the need for a Polish speaking priest in his diocese, assigned Fr. Paweł Kulawy, OMI, to look after the spiritual welfare of the Polish settlements in central and southern Alberta. Fr. Paweł Kulawy, OMI, the third and youngest of the Kulawy brothers, arrived from Poland in the late fall of 1903, and for the next 18 years, would serve Polish Catholics across the province, concentrating mainly on the Polish settlements in the Edmonton area. Fr. Paweł Kulawy, OMI would make long journeys between these settlements at all times of the year, to preside over Catholic Mass, communions, weddings and funerals. He was the only connection most settlers had with other Polish settlements and the outside world. In the early 1920’s, Fathers Paweł and Jan returned to Poland to help found the Polish Province of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. They would later perish at Auschwitz in 1941.
As Edmonton began to grow, so did the number of Polish settlers to the area. The Polish community began to consider building its own church where they could sing and pray in their own language, and have a Polish speaking priest to keep their faith and traditions alive. On October 27, 1911, 100 families met for the first time to discuss such a project. Since the first meeting was held in October, Jan Sagan suggested that the name of Holy Rosary be chosen as the name of the future parish. In 1912, Father Paweł Kulawy, OMI, received permission from Bishop Legal to build a church. The building firm of Holmes and Christoferson Company was contracted to build the church for $1,500 with a promise to have it completed by Christmas.
The first Mass in the new Polish Church, on the corner of 95A Street and 113 Avenue, was celebrated on January 1, 1913. The church was canonically erected as the spiritual centre for Polish people in Edmonton and area on August 1, 1913. For the first 20 years, Mass at the parish was celebrated twice a month as the priests also had to tend to the Polish Missions in the surrounding areas.
With the arrival of an influx of post-Second World War immigrants, the need arose to build a larger church. The first Mass, in the newly erected church on the corner of 106 Street and Princess Elizabeth Avenue, was celebrated on May 15, 1955 in the church hall. Construction of the church was finished in 1959. A rectory was built in 1962 to celebrate the parish’s golden jubilee.
Today, Holy Rosary Parish continues to be a living and vibrant faith community, ministering to the spiritual and cultural needs of present day immigrants; the descendants of the different waves of Polish immigration; as well as the neighbouring English speaking community.
To view more photos from the day, visit the Edmonton Archdiocese on Facebook.
Barbara M. Filipowski