Poles celebrate 1,050 years of ‘Polish-ness’ anchored in ancient faith

Polish Catholics across U.S. gather at Orchard Lake to dedicate shrine to St. John Paul II

Girls in traditional Polish dress participate in a Mass to mark the 1,050th anniversary of Polish Christianity on June 22 at the Shrine Chapel of Our Lady of Orchard Lake. The Mass also included the dedication of a new archdiocesan shrine to St. John Paul II, which was blessed by Cardinal Adam J. Maida, below, the son of a Polish immigrant and who was elevated to the College of Cardinals by the sainted pope.

Girls in traditional Polish dress participate in a Mass to mark the 1,050th anniversary of Polish Christianity on June 22 at the Shrine Chapel of Our Lady of Orchard Lake. The Mass also included the dedication of a new archdiocesan shrine to St. John Paul II, which was blessed by Cardinal Adam J. Maida, below, the son of a Polish immigrant and who was elevated to the College of Cardinals by the sainted pope.

Orchard Lake — “Wherever you are, you’ll still be Polish.”

The iconic statement from St. John Paul the Great as portrayed in the film “Karol: A Man Who Became Pope” was reiterated by Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski, archbishop of Miami, during a Mass celebrating all things Polish.

Polish priests, bishops and even Cardinal Adam J. Maida were on hand June 22 at the Chapel of Our Lady of Orchard Lake to celebrate 1,050 years of Polish Christianity, bringing a proud nation into the Church, and arguably, the start of “Polish-ness” itself.

Clergy from across the country and Polish-American Catholics gathered in Orchard Lake, the epicenter of Polonia — or the Polish diaspora — in the United States. Archbishop Wenski said “Polish-ness” and Catholicism can’t be separated, but rather, complement each other.

“In this chapel, built by Polish-American Catholics, today we celebrate our ‘Polish-ness,’ the form in which we celebrate our Catholic faith,” Archbishop Wenski said. “Polish roots run deep, roots of faith and culture, anchors for the Polish people.”

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Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami, himself of Polish descent, receives a bouquet of flowers and a loaf of traditional Polish bread during the Mass.

Archbishop Wenski delivered the English homily, while Bishop Witold Mroziewski, auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Brooklyn, N.Y.,delivered the Polish version.

In 966 A.D., Mieszko I, the duke of Poland, accepted Christianity on behalf of his nation, uniting the country under a common faith. In 2016, the National Polish Apostolate, the Polish American Priests’ Association and the Catholic League for Religious Assistance to Poland and Polonia celebrated that moment 1,050 years later.

“In 1979, during the Pentecost Mass, John Paul II during the vigil Mass said through Jesus, God reveals not only who He is, but who we are,” Archbishop Wenski said. “We can’t understand us, Poland, without Christ. You can’t understand Polonia without Christ, because without Christ it doesn’t make any sense. Only Christ can explain our attachment to our ‘Polish-ness’ throughout years of poverty, hunger and oppression.”

The Mass featured a procession of people in traditional Polish dress and Polish-Catholic traditions, with Jaroslaw Golembiowski playing a musical program before Mass. As the bishop of the diocese, though not himself Polish, Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron read an official archdiocesan decree making the chapel’s shrine to St. John Paul the Great the official archdiocesan Shrine of St. John Paul II in the Archdiocese of Detroit. The decree was written by Bishop Francis R. Reiss, who is of Polish descent.

Cardinal Maida, the son of a Polish immigrant and a St. Mary’s Preparatory alum, blessed the marble shrine from Italy, which cost $75,000 and contains a first-class relic of blood from the sainted pope. The shrine was made possible largely through anonymous donations and is intended as a site for pilgrimage, with its care entrusted to the rector of SS. Cyril and Methodius Seminary.

“On behalf of all the faithful who aren’t blessed with Polish heritage, thank you for your welcome and may you have a blessed anniversary,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “It’s right that this shrine is established here. This, on the Feast of St. John Paul the Great (Oct. 22), can be a shrine of pilgrimage.”

After Mass, concelebrants and the congregation moved to the St. Mary’s athletic complex for dinner. The facility features a quote from St. John Paul the Great from when he visited in 1969: “If the Orchard Lake Schools did not exist, it would be necessary to establish them.”

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The Mass also included the dedication of a new archdiocesan shrine to St. John Paul II, which was blessed by Cardinal Adam J. Maida, below, the son of a Polish immigrant and who was elevated to the College of Cardinals by the sainted pope

Msgr. Thomas C. Machalski, Jr., chancellor-rector of Orchard Lake Schools and rector of SS. Cyril and Methodius Seminary, told The Michigan Catholic it was an honor for the Orchard Lake campus to house the archdiocesan shrine.

“When St. John Paul the Great visited here in 1976, I was a student at the college, and I was the cross bearer for Mass,” Msgr. Machalski said. “It’s so hard to comprehend, this man who is a saint, I talked to, he sailed in our lake, visited our school, walked the same sidewalk and halls we do.”

Echoing Archbishop Vigneron, Msgr. Machalski said the shrine to the man who embodied Polish Catholicism can be nowhere else but Orchard Lake.

“It fulfills our humility in these schools, and it’s an honor to care for the shrine,” Msgr. Machalski said. “He (St. John Paul the Great) wouldn’t like the fanfare, he was so humble, but he’d be so happy to see us continuing the mission.”

Already regarded as the capital of Polish-American culture in the United States, the presence of the shrine to one of the most beloved leaders in this generation will only add to the Polish presence at Orchard Lake, he said.