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History of St. Ladislaus Church, 1978

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▼ St. Ladislaus History

-from the St. Ladislaus 75th Anniversary booklet, ©1979

St. Ladislaus Church

The historically famed city of Wheeling, West Virginia, situated on the banks of the beautiful Ohio River is the birthplace of St. Ladislaus Church in the year of 1903.

The necessity of a Polish Catholic Church became evident in the Ohio Valley since 1880 when Polish immigrants settled here to work in the thriving steel industry. Many of the immigrants were from West Prussia with a knowledge of the German language so their spiritual needs were adequately ministered to by attending St. Alphonsus Church which served all the German speaking Catholics of Wheeling.

However, between the years 1890 and 1900, there was a steady stream of Poles to the South Wheeling area who came from the partitioned Poland, then known as Austrian Poland or Galicia, and Russian Poland, and it is these immigrants who felt the dire need of a priest who could understand and speak their language since they knew little or no German. Many of these attended Mass and religious services at the Immaculate Conception Church located on 36th Street. It was these Poles who appealed to the then pastor, Rev. Joseph Mullen, to come to their spiritual assistance. Trying to appease the people in some small way, Father Mullen called on Father Ladislaus Miskiewicz, pastor of St. Adalbert's Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to come for a day or two during the Easter season to accommodate these immigrants in fulfilling their Easter duty. The spiritual emptiness of these Poles was ever-present as they voiced their grievances to Father Miskiewicz.

Father Miskiewicz advised the people to get into action by organizing themselves into church societies. Following his suggestion, about thirty members organized into a men's society known as St. Ladislaus. Soon after this organization came into being, a Father Lipinski of Cincinnati, Ohio, organized a women's society which became known as St. Hedwig's Society.

A life of new hope now opened up for the Poles as these two organizations went about collecting funds to purchase a land site for a church. A committee was formed to appeal to the Most Rev. P.J. Donahue, Bishop of Wheeling, to come to their aid. Bishop Donahue graciously promised to do all in his power to assist the plight of these Polish immigrants.

In November, 1901, a young student from Sts. Cyril and Methodius Polish Seminary in Detroit was ordained for the Wheeling Diocese-it was Father Emil Musial. Given the task of organizing a Polish Parish and building a Catholic Church in South Wheeling, Father Musial showed the intensity of his faith and his national pride. His zeal and determination were great and in the spring of 1902, ground was broken for the new church. In June of the same year, the cornerstone was laid. Not quite a year later, on February 22, 1903, on a beautiful, sunny, though snow-covered and frosty day, His Excellency, the Most Rev. Bishop P.J. Donahue dedicated St. Ladislaus Church-at that time the first and only Polish church in the Diocese of Wheeling.

The dedicatory services were preceded by a marshaled parade of uniformed societies and bands from nearby churches and towns. High Mass was celebrated at 10:30 a.m. with His Excellency, the Most Rev. Bishop P.J. Donahue officiating. The singing was rendered by the choir of the Church of the Immaculate Conception under the direction of Miss Elizabeth Gundling. Bishop Donahue delivered the dedication sermon while other addresses made in the Polish language were given by a number of visiting clergy present from Providence, Rhode Island, Staten Island, New York, and Dillonvale, Ohio.

The cost of the new pressed brick and grey stone church was about $20,000. The interior was handsomely arranged with a large main altar and two side altars. The carved oak pews cost about $1500. St. Ladislaus Church was surely the pride of its people on that frosty February morning.

The parish began to grow rapidly and very soon the need of a school was felt. A one-room school was opened in the basement of the church. Various lay teachers staffed the small school with Father Musial himself helping with the teaching. This type of staffing was not dependable and proved quite unsatisfactory. It was at this time that a petition was extended to the Felician Sisters from the Detroit, Michigan Province, to send some Sisters to teach in the school. Four Felician Nuns responded to this petition and since the year 1911, they have been staffing St. Ladislaus school.

Because of the growth in the number of pupils from year to year, it became necessary in 1920 to purchase the present three-story building. It was remodeled into eight classrooms and an auditorium. The school enrollment at the time was about 430 pupils taught by eight FelicianSisters.

With parish growth and expansion, members organized into various societies. Prominent among the organizations were the Women's Rosary and Men's Rosary Societies, the Holy Name Society, the Sodality, the PTG, and others. A parish choir and lodges also materialized. Of the lodges, the two most active were the Polish National Alliance (P.N.A.) and the Polish Roman Catholic Union of America (P.R.C.U.). Needless to say, these organizations and lodges helped to unify and enrich both the spiritual as well as the social aspects of the parishioners.

The P.N.A. sponsored a Polish Boy Scout group known as the "Harcerze." This group was similar to the Boy Scouts except that their activities were conducted in the polish language. Polish Folk Dances and a baseball team were also under the sponsorship of the P.N.A.

The P.R.C.U.'s activities were geared toward the adults of the parish. They sponsored a semiprofessional baseball league and an amateur basketball team. For many years the highlight of the baseball season was a Sunday afternoon double-header against another P.R.C.U. team either from Ohio or Pennsylvania. This exciting Sunday afternoon was followed by a dinner dance held in the "Polish Hall."

The school auditorium was referred to as "Polish Hall" by all living in the area. Father Musial was proud of its multi-purpose uses. In the 1920's commercial movies were shown there; wedding receptions, communion breakfasts, political rallies and countless other social events were also held there. Many and varied formal and semi-formal dances sponsored by the parish organizations took place in the Polish Hall. This was the era of the big band craze and the highlight of the year was the pre-lenten Paczki Ball. This annual two-day affair was the big social event of the season for over two decades.

The Parent-Teachers' Guild was formed with a special aim in mind-that of assisting the school in meeting its expenses and bringing about some needed renovations. With its first President, Sophia Zastudil, and the others who followed in her footsteps, the parish school was the first in Ohio County to have complied with strict fire regulations imposed upon all schools after the disastrous Chicago school fire. Through various fund projects, the PTG helped in the acquisition of new edition textbooks, a water fountain in each classroom, floor tiling and carpeting, needed chalkboards, school field trips for the children, etc.

Invited to conduct a mission at the parish, Father Stanley Salwierz, upon the request of the Pastor stayed on as his assistant. (Fr. Musial was at the time incapacitated with a broken leg.) From March 1947 to 1951, Father Stanley endeared himself to the parishioners. He was a great organizer of sports activities and possessed a knack of fund-raising. It was through the energetic initiative and efforts of Father Salwierz that the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, which is a memorial to honor those who served in the WW II Armed Forces, was built in the courtyard of the church. The grotto was designed and built entirely by the men of the parish.

Since illness and age rendered Father Emil Musial unable to function fully in his pastoral position, Father Thaddeus Grondalski was appointed as an assistant on March 8, 1952. His determination, skill, ability, and zeal were immediately projected into church property repairs and the beautification of the grounds. To him is credited the design and creativity of the now famous Nativity display at the outdoor grotto. News media, as well as hundreds upon hundreds of people come to view the Nativity scene each Christmastime. The lighted water fountain in front of the grotto was also his innovation.

Tragedy struck on May 28, 1961. Father Emil Musial died.

The assistant, Father Thaddeus Grondalski, became the pastor of St. Ladislaus Parish on June 7, 1961. Father Ted was obliged to face the fact that with time there was an exodus of industry from the Ohio Valley and with it a loss of population in the parish. The dwindling of parishioners was felt in a financial way, but as always the members of the parish worked hard to overcome this problem. The school, because of a lack of teaching sisters, was forced to hire lay teachers and this became an added financial burden.

One of the organizations which flourished during Father Grondalski's administration was the St. Ladislaus Booster Club. This group formed to assist the athletic program of the school. With dynamic leadership, the Boosters re-organized the coaching staff, the cheerleaders, and the pep club in the school. New equipment was purchased and the school sports activities were promoted by the Boosters.As a result, enthusiasm swept through the school-an enthusiasm which placed good sportsmanship, academic progress, and parental interest in their proper perspective. The Boosters are also credited with an organized physical fitness program in the parish which involved not only the school children but also the adults. The school yard was converted into a basketball and volleyball court, and exercise classes were conducted on Saturday morning for the adults. At the same time the children participated in the J.F. Kennedy Physical Fitness Program in the school.

In June of 1972, hurricane "Agnes" struck the Wheeling area severly-the parish hall was flooded. Father Grondalski appealed for Federal funds for repairs and remodeling the church hall. A loan was granted and the parish social room was remodeled. Air conditioning was also installed in the church and the social room.

This was the era of the calling of the Second Vatican Council by His Holiness, Pope John XXIII. The universal Church was in the time of trying changes. Father Grondalski applied his tact and diplomacy in introducing these changes into our Parish in order to implement the Decrees of Vatican II. This included more participation of the laity in the role of parish government. Father Ted formulated a Parish Council with elected officers to help in the decision-making policies. At this time also the Cursillo movement took root at St. Ladislaus Parish and the fundamental spirituality of this group was felt by many families.

With Father Ted's approval, the best fund raising event for the church was revived-the Annual Street Fair. It was always a success and the additional revenue helped to keep the church and school property in good repair.

His Excellency, Bishop Joseph Hodges, named Father Grondalski pastor of Sacred Heart of Mary Parish in Weirton in March of 1973. His twenty-one years of dedicated service to St. Ladislaus Parish will always live in the memory of the people.

Throughout the history of St. Ladislaus Parish the people have always been blessed with good, dedicated priests. On March 12, 1973, Father Joseph Jamula became the 3rd Pastor of our Parish.

During that spring and summer, one of the first actions of Father Jamula was to continue the efforts of consolidating the schools of St. Ladislaus and St. Alphonsus parishes. As a result of this consolidation, children from all five south Wheeling parishes (St. Alphonsus, St. Ladislaus, Immaculate Conception, Our Lady of Lebanon and Our Lady of Perpetual Help) would be attending the Wheeling Catholic Consolidated School.

Father Jamula's initiative was instrumental in adding a kindergarten to the St. Ladislaus building of Wheeling Catholic Consolidated School in 1974. The extensive remodeling of the school, weekly children's liturgy, visits to school, participation in consolidation functions, all speak of his deep love of children. Since the PTG was dissolved with the closing of the parish school, Father Jamula organized St. Ladislaus Ladies' Guild as a spiritual and social organization for the women of the parish.

Continuing the renovation of the Social Room was among Father Jamula's undertakings. It was also through his suggestion that the Church Social Room was named Musial Hall, another tribute to the first pastor of St. Ladislaus Church.

To aid the elderly and infirm parishioners who find difficulty in climbing stairs, a stair glide was installed in the church. Periodically Father Jamula celebrates a Mass of Annointing for the sick and elderly in Musial Hall. His frequent visits to the hospital and taking communion to the sick and elderly are a display of his respect for the sick and aged.

Beginning with January, 1977, various plans were put into effect for the community celebration of the Diamond Jubilee of St. Ladislaus Parish. The renovation of the church interior was the focal point of this undertaking. These renovations included interior and exterior painting, sanctuary remodeling and lighting, wood panelling, new pews, wall-to-wall carpeting, a new organ, and sculptured glass doors were added to the main entrance, all of which have not changed the traditional identity of St. Ladislaus Church.

The jubilee celebrations were many and varied. A concelebrated Mass of Thanksgiving was followed by a social hour and dinner for all the Felician Nuns of and from the parish. This event was a small thank you to these servants of God who dedicated their lives to the education of our children.

The celebration of the 75th anniversary of St. Ladislaus Church commenced with a solemn Mass of Thanksgiving on Sunday, October 22, 1978 at four o'clock. It was concelebrated by the Most Reverend Bishop Joseph H. Hodges, D.D., Bishop of Wheeling-Charleston, the Rev. Joseph M. Jamula, Pastor of St. Ladislaus, the Rev. Thaddeus Grondalski, Pastor of Sacred Heart of Mary, Weirton. Other guest concelebrants included-His Excellency Bishop James E. Michaels, D.D., S.S.G., V.G., Auxiliary Bishop Wheeling-Charleston, Rev. Emil J. Dobosz, V.F., pastor-Church of the Immaculate Conception, Clarksburg, and others.

His Excellency Archbishop Nicholas T. Elko, D.D., Auxiliary Archbishop of Cincinnati preached the English homily, while Rt. Rev. Msgr. Ferdinand M. Sojka, pastor, St. Mary Church, McKeesport, Pa. delivered the sermon in Polish. Miss Rosalie Olinski was guest soloist for the offertory and communion hymns.

On this same day, thousands of miles away in the city of Rome, Italy, the investiture of Pope John Paul II was taking place. It was the day of our 75th Anniversary and the day a Polish Pope began guiding the universal Roman Catholic Church. Polish people throughout the world take pride in our new Pope, as the Polish people of St. Ladislaus Church have always taken pride and preserved the Polish traditions in this parish.

The evening of the jubilee at 6:00 p.m., the elegant and renowned Glessner Auditorium in Oglebay Park, was the scene of a festive banquet to honor the occasion. Among the distinguished guests present were Congressman, Robert R. Mollohan with greetings from Washington, D.C., Secretary of State, A. James Manchin with greetings from the State Capitol of West Virginia, Mayor, John W. Fahey with greetings from the City of Wheeling. The principal address was delivered by the Most Rev. Nicholas T. Elko, D.D., Auxiliary Bishop of Cincinnati; acknowledgements were made by the pastor, Rev. Joseph M. Jamula, and the Most Rev. Joseph H. Hodges, D.D., made the closing remarks and gave his benediction. A native of the parish, the Very Rev. Emil J. Dobosz, V.F., was the toastmaster for the jubilee festivities. Dancing followed the banquet program.

Now that the Diamond Jubilee Mass and the Banquet- together with other allied preparations and activities have become a part of our history, fond memories remain and a feeling of thanksgiving to God for His blessings for the more than 75 years of the existence of St. Ladislaus Parish.

Three-quarters of a century's history lie behind us. Years of growth, development, struggle, change and progress. Years that saw generations flow through the doors of St. Ladislaus Church; years of pride in the past and hope for the future.

We close the celebration of the 75th Anniversary of our parish with a sincere prayer that St. Ladislaus Church will be able to continue to share in the lives of its people and be a source of spiritual growth and development. Ad Multos Annos!

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