100 and still going strong Family values help Washington church reach milestone

By Christie Campbell
For the Observer-Reporter
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Published Aug 21, 2014 at 10:39 pm (Updated Aug 21, 2014 at 10:39 pm)

When Holy Trinity National Catholic Church celebrates its 100th anniversary next month, it will mark the recognition of an independent group of people whose journey to America for freedom would not be denied.
The church will hold a Mass of Thanksgiving at 3 p.m. Sept. 7, followed by an hors d’oeuvres reception and program in the parish hall, 605 Hewitt Ave. A video history of the church also will be presented. Two of its oldest members, Joseph Biss and Stella Duskey, will be recognized, and Prime Bishop Anthony Mikovsky and two former pastors, Bishop John Mack, now at the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Diocese, and the Rev. Felix Pyzowski will attend.

Holy Trinity is part of the Polish National Catholic Church, a reformed denomination that formed in the United States following a dispute with the Roman Catholic Church over ownership of church property.

A movement to establish independent parishes began to flourish in Polish-American Catholic communities, such as Buffalo, Cleveland and Scranton, in the late 1890s. In 1898, the leader of the movement, the Rev. Francis Hodur, was excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church. Six years later, PNCC held its first General Synod in Scranton.

According to the Polish Genealogical Society of America, about 1 million Poles immigrated to the United States before World War I. In Washington, many settled near the Tyler Tube Works and Washington Tin Plate Mill, where they found employment.

The Rev. Mark Swoger of Holy Trinity said that for many immigrants, “faith was so integral to their identity because they were leaving their country.”

The first mention of the formation of the Holy Trinity parish was in 1907, with its first Mass held in 1914 at the Polish Club.

By then, construction of the original church building was under way. Property had been secured in an area of Canton Township known as Woodland Park. The frame structure – records show its foundation was dug by hand by men of the church – was built at 147 Griffith Ave. with an adjacent rectory and property for a church cemetery.

Hodur dedicated the building in 1915. Photographs from that day show the church decorated with banners, greenery and flowers, with worshipers dressed in their Sunday best lined up outside to welcome him.

Fifty years later, the church’s interior was renovated, and the exterior was bricked. Eventually, the congregation decided to build a new church. A portion of the former Malone Farm was purchased to construct the current building at the intersection of Malone Ridge Road and Hewitt Avenue.

That building was dedicated in 1989, with a social hall added in 1997.

Today, the congregation has more than 150 adult members and is growing. One sign of that growth is the sound of babies crying on Sunday morning, noted Elaine Micco, adding, “It’s wonderful.”

Around Christmas, the kitchen in the original church was used to make 2,700 pounds of hard tack candy to sell. Today, the church holds a nine-week Friday fish fry during Lent. The kitchen operates as a well-oiled machine during that time, said Tom Sikora, partly because the congregation has done it for so many years. The fundraiser enables the church to operate its vacation Bible school, send children to camp and perform outreach projects, such as providing meals to local firefighters and at Washington Christian Outreach.

Since its formation in the United States, the Polish National Catholic Church has sent missionaries to Poland and other parts of the world to establish parishes. Because they believe Masses should be celebrated in the language of the people, Spanish is spoken in churches in Florida and Texas.

The denomination retains the same sacraments as the Roman Catholic Church, but local parishes own their own property and select their own parish priests, and priests are permitted to marry.

Swoger is a former Roman Catholic priest who left that denomination to marry. He and his wife, Miriam, have three children.

Family, members of the parish committee said, is what led these new Americans to form the church, work so hard for it and pass on a desire to keep the family atmosphere alive today.

“It’s been an interesting journey,” Mary Ann Pyzowski said.