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Polish National Catholic Church


The Polish National Catholic Church was established on March 14, 1897 in Scranton, Pennsylvania. It came into existence as a result of the resentment of Polish Catholics to the lack of Polish-speaking clergy and disputes over legal, property, and other administrative issues. Its origins go back to the turn of the century when thousands of Poles arrived in the U.S. and, like most national groups, tended to settle among their own countrymen in Polish-speaking communities located in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin. The predominantly Irish and German hierarchy and clergy in these areas were unfamiliar with the ways of the Poles, who in turn wanted to have their own priests and to run their own parishes on a trustee basis, contrary to the decrees of the Councils of baltimore. Conflict between the non-Polish clergy and some strongly nationalistic Poles led to small schisms and eventually to the formation of a separate and distinctly Polish National Catholic Church.

The first significant schism occurred in 1895, when Anton Koslowski, an assistant at St. Jadwiga's parish, Chicago, Ill., and a large group of parishioners clashed with the bishop over parochial administration. When Koslowski set up his own church, All Saints, he was excommunicated. After organizing several other parishes, he associated himself with the Old Catholic Church and received episcopal consecration (see old catholics). He then formed The Polish Old Catholic Church, which at the time of his death in 1907 had 23 parishes.

In Scranton, Pa., a similar and far more significant situation arose in 1897 in Sacred Heart parish. The parishioners, who had built the church, wanted to retain control of the property under lay trusteeship, but their bishop could not accept this arrangement and directed that the deed be turned over to the diocese. Under Rev. Francis Hodur, a group of 250 families built another church, St. Stanislaus, which the bishop refused to bless. When Hodur continued as rector after an unsuccessful appeal to Rome for support, he was subsequently excommunicated. Other dissatisfied Polish groups followed Hodur's example and in 1904 formed a synod, electing Hodur its bishop. His consecration by the Old Catholics was postponed until after the death of Koslowski; Hodur then united his church with the Chicago churches to form the Polish National Catholic Church (PNCC). This was externally distinguished from the Roman Catholic Church only by its use of Polish (later, English) in the liturgy and lay control of property and the appointment of pastors.

The sect grew quickly, from 16,000 in 1904 to 62,000 in 1926. It gained many adherents among Polish Catholics who felt at home in its parishes. By the 1950s and 1960s, membership had exceeded 280,000 members.

Hodur remained prime bishop of the church until his death in 1953; however, he did not hold complete authority. This is centered in the general Synod, which meets every four years. The function of the bishop primate is to preside at the Synods and consecrate bishops elected by it, to direct the church's sole seminary in Scranton, and to oversee the church's publications. Hodur himself rejected certain theological truths such as original sin and the existence of hell, but his opinions were not normative for his church. Over the years, decisions of the Synod accepted the teachings of the first four Ecumenical Councils as necessary, thereby deepening their separation from Roman Catholicism. The Synod also declared that there are seven Sacraments. The other five are identical with those of the Catholic Church. Synodal action likewise permitted a married clergy since 1921 and introduced new liturgical feasts expressive of Polish nationalism, such as the Commemoration of the Polish Fatherland. The PNCC catechism justifies its national character in these words: "Christ called all men from all nations and races to serve God, each to contribute its particular spiritual and cultural gifts toward the building of the Kingdom of God on earth."

Under the terms of an agreement made in 1946 between the PNCC and the episcopal church, U.S.A., each church admits members of the other to its sacraments; both remain independent and do not necessarily accept the other's doctrinal viewpoint, acknowledging only that the other holds essential Christian faith. However, this sacramental intercommunion was ended in 1978 over the issue of women's ordination in the Episcopal Church.

In 1921 the PNCC established a mission in Poland and in time set up 55 parishes for its 55,000 native Polish communicants. However, in 1951 the Communist regime suppressed all contact between the Polish and American branches. Since that date, a separate national church, the Polish Catholic Church, has been established in Poland.

Ecumenical endeavors have been especially encouraged by Hodur's successor, Leon Grochowski. The church holds membership in the national council of the churches of christ in the u.s.a. and the world council of churches. It also maintains a close relationship with the Old Catholics of the Declaration of Utrecht.

Bibliography: t. andrews, The Polish National Catholic Church (Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge; London 1953). c. j. wozniak, Hyphenated Catholicism: A Study of the Role of the Polish-American Model of Church, 18901908 (San Francisco 1998).

[t. horgan]

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