One of the first problems which concerned Bishop Peter J. Muldoon when he became the first bishop of the Rockford Diocese was that of caring for foreign-born Catholics, many of whom did not yet understand or speak the language of their new land. As with other nationalities, so it was with the Polish.
Father Julius Grzezinski, ordained for the diocese, came to Rockford late in 1909 to work with the Polish Catholics as a distinct group. For three months, he worked here, gathering them together to attend a regular Sunday Mass of their own, in their native language, at St. James Pro-Cathedral.
The Polish population gradually increased and by 1911, it became evident that soon they would need a church of their own. In September of that year, Bishop Peter J. Muldoon purchased two lots on the corner of Buckbee and Magnolia Street. The following year – on January 12, 1912 – he called a meeting of the Polish Catholics in the hall of St. James School, at which he told them of his plans for their parish. Another meeting was held on January 21, to plan for the raising of the necessary funds. On February 4, he issued a letter advising that Joseph Bondick, Joseph Wisniewski, and John Wilgiert had been appointed as members of a committee to collect funds for the new parish church. So enthusiastic was the fundraising effort that ground was broken for the church on April 6, 1912, and completed early in August that year.
On the Feast of the Assumption, Bishop Peter J. Muldoon dedicated the new church. St. Patrick’s Parish in Amboy donated three altars, the Catholic Women’s League donated the linens, and St. Mary’s Parish of Durand presented the organ. A house located on Magnolia Street, diagonally across from the church, was purchased in the spring of 1913 for use as a rectory. A parochial school was built in 1923, and classes began in 1924.
Father Julian Burzynski of Chicago became the first pastor of the parish on June 6, 1912, largely through the efforts of Bishop Peter J. Muldoon. Father completed the organization of the parish and served as chaplain of St. Anthony Hospital. He served St. Stanislaus faithfully for over 15 years and died on November 15, 1927, after a short illness. Father Ladizlaus Jasinski was the next pastor and was assisted for two years by Father Joseph Rzeszotko, a newly ordained son of the parish. In 1931, failing health caused Father Jasinski to retire. Because of the scarcity of Polish Clergy, Bishop Edward F. Hoban invited the Conventual Franciscan Fathers of Buffalo to administer the parish and Father Clemens Kacprzynski, O.F.M. Conv., was appointed pastor on May 24, 1931, to begin a long unbroken line of Franciscan priests to serve as pastors.
When the parish was established in 1912, the membership consisted of some 30 families. By the 1950s, it had grown to 380 families. With this substantial growth — and the old church seating only about 170 people – His Excellency Bishop Loras T. Lane gave permission for the construction of a new church and rectory on May 26, 1959. Permission to tear down the old church was granted in July, 1960, and on April 23, 1961, Bishop Loras T. Lane performed the blessing and laying of the cornerstone of the new church to be erected on the site of the original church. The present church seats 500 people, and the Friary adjoins the church on the East. The first Mass in the new church was celebrated on Christmas Eve, 1961.
School children of St. Stanislaus continued to attend classes until June, 1973, at which time the students of St. Stanislaus, St. Peter and Paul, and St. Anthony were combined into one school system named St. Francis Consolidated School in honor of the teaching order of the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, whose members staffed all three schools. Unfortunately, declining enrollment and rising financial obligations led to closing of the three-parish school system in 1985, and students were free to enroll in any parochial school of their choice. In order to teach and preserve our beloved Polish heritage, language, and traditions, the Nicholaus Copernicus Polish Language School was founded on November 6, 1971. The Polish Language School continues its operation to this day. Classes are held on Saturdays in the St. Stanislaus school building.
Established by Father Denis Janicki, the first Polish Fest was held in August 1982. Under his leadership, the fest was such an enormous success that it became an annual event. At the beginning, this was not planned as a fundraiser; it was just a family event for the parish. The plan was to have music and entertainment throughout the whole day, including various games for adults and children like bingo, arts and crafts booths, a novelty booth selling a variety of Polish Fest items, and a Polish culture exhibit. A Polish sausage and sauerkraut dinner was served in the school hall, along with a variety of sandwiches, pop, beer, wine, ice cream. The festival was a huge success, and it was decided to make it an annual event for the city of Rockford.
After a couple of years of buying pierogi, under the direction of Celina Krysztopa, parishioners began to make their own pierogi for the Polish Fest. Every year we were making many improvements to the festival and adding other foods to the menu. Thanks to a small group of parishioners and the support of the entire parish and local community, the Polish Fest has become the biggest fundraiser for our parish. Dozens of dedicated parishioners have devoted untold hours over the years to make this occasion the social highlight of the year for our parish, as well as the Rockford community.
The spiritual life of our parish has remained vibrant for over one hundred years. Cherished traditions such as the Easter basket blessing (Święconka) and the Corpus Christi procession are reverently celebrated each year. As the tradition of devotion to the Divine Mercy of Jesus and Saint Faustina Kowalska continued to grow, Bishop Thomas J. Doran designated St. Stanislaus Kostka Church a shrine by the Diocese of Rockford in 1993. Many of the faithful join our parish family each year for Divine Mercy Sunday, declared by our beloved Pope, John Paul II, to be celebrated on the first Sunday after Easter. On Divine Mercy Sunday, 2011, Bishop Thomas G. Doran blessed the Relief of Saint Pope John Paul II. Through the generosity of our parishioners, this artistic rendition of the Holy Father is an endearing reminder of our Catholic Faith. His first-class relic was dedicated the following year.
After 74 years, in August 2005, the Conventual Franciscans of St. Anthony of Padua and Blessed James of Strepa Province from Krakow, Poland replaced the Conventual Franciscans of the St. Bonaventure Province. Father Peter Sarnicki was installed as the first pastor from this province. Currently, Fr. Mieczyslaw Wit is serving faithful at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church.
In 2012, St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish celebrated its Centennial year with a Solemn Mass and a banquet. It is our hope and prayer that the generations to come will continue the good work of our Polish ancestors. Cherishing what has gone before, may they go forth with courage to build the future in the love and service of God.
In 2015, a small fire in the school kitchen destroyed the oven. We were forced to look for alternatives in order to keep Polish Fest alive. Talks about a new kitchen and the dreams of Margaret Borowski and Fr. Edward Staniukiewicz became reality in 2016, when under the direction of Fr. Dariusz Barna, Marzena Steigerwald, and Margaret Borowski, a new commercial kitchen was built in the school building. The kitchen is currently used for Polish Fest and other fundraising events for the parish and the community throughout the year.
Now in 2023, after 92 years of the Conventual Friars’ presence at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church, our Parish will now be served by Diocesan priests.