Polish gather for spiritual and cultural communion at Columbia Mass

By Kathy Schmugge

The Catholic Miscellany

COLUMBIA — An old Polish woman wiped a tear as she sang the recessional hymn, “Boze Cos Polske” (God, Who Held Poland) joining her voice with more than 200 of her countrymen and women who came to Our Lady of the Hills Church in Columbia to celebrate a Polish Mass Sept. 8.

This national hymn, which was once forbidden by conquering nations, was sung freely by all, but not without some sadness, especially for those missing their homeland and culture.

Father Adam Kasela, a Polish native who is serving the Diocese of Savannah, was the celebrant and plans to return for another Polish event at Our Lady of the Hills scheduled on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 27, 2003. It will follow a similar format as the September gathering with confession, a rosary with the Divine Mercy Chaplet, Mass and a Polish potluck dinner.

“Father Kasela gave such a beautiful homily,” said Teresa Chmura, who was born in Poland and is a secretary at St. Joseph Church in Columbia. “It was so wonderful not to have to translate and just sit back and enjoy the readings.”

Even though Chmura speaks English well, she said that sometimes the meaning gets lost in the translation.

Most of the congregation was fluent in Polish with English as their second language, but there were a few non-Polish-speaking people present. Barbara Kasper, parishioner at Corpus Christi Church in Lexington, who grew up in a Polish neighborhood in Pennsylvania was amazed to find so many Poles in South Carolina.

“The food was so good and one of Polish descent could appreciate the combination of food when placed on one table … cabbage, pierogi, real butter, kielbasa … and what great fellowship and happiness among these people who come from such great suffering, from a country torn apart by all sides,” remarked Kasper.

Poland, because of its geographic location, skilled labor force and resources, has been a target for centuries of attacks coming from the bordering nations. Since its birth as a Christian country in A.D. 996, Poles have endured many vicious attacks but have held steadfast to a faith that keeps them standing even when the odds are against them.

During the Communist occupation some people were forced to flee the country, such was the case with one of the event’s organizers, Teresa Greaney who came with her two daughter seeking political asylum in 1978.

Greaney, a retired geologist for South Carolina, will never forget the great hospitality she received when she arrived in Columbia, especially from the professors teaching at the University of South Carolina where her daughters graduated with distinction.

After two years, she began to seek out other Polish immigrants and help them acclimate to the United States. Soon local businesses who had Polish employees would call on her to translate for them. Even though she has lived here for many years, she still remembers how difficult it was to adjust and continues to lend a helping hand. For this reason, she started organizing events like the Polish Mass to provide an opportunity for Poles and anyone else to gather, pray and break bread together the Polish way.

Others have joined the effort such as Elizabeth Byra who oversaw the potluck and Teresa Puchala, soloist at Mass, coordinated the music with the organist. It seems as though the numbers of participants keep growing as well as the number of crockpots.

This year, several Polish students who were working on internships came to the event and are looking forward to the next gathering. One young student, who led a decade of the rosary while waiting for confession, commented on how wonderful it was to be able to confess her sins in her native tongue.

This hunger to communicate spiritually explained the very long line for confession that day.

Poland has been a Catholic nation for more than a millennium and Catholicism is deeply ingrained in the culture; it is the faith of 99 percent of its population. Participants shared the stories passed down from generation to generation about God’s protection of their people, especially through the intercession of Our Lady of Czestochowa, the patroness of Poland.

After Christmas and Easter, Aug. 15, the Feast of the Assumption, is the most celebrated day in Poland.

Near the altar, Greaney placed a picture of the ancient image of Mary, and Father Kasela also wore a vestment with the image. The original painting is famous for its beauty and the dark pigment of the “Black Madonna” (caused by the aging of the original wood used for the painting). Although it had to be restored several times after failed attempts to destroy it by fire and sword, artists have been unable to repair the two slashes on her cheek.

“The monastery of Our Lady of Czestochowa is the heart of Poland,” said Greaney who shared a piece of Polish history that helped explain their devotion. In 1655 the Swedish Army of 12,000 conquered all the Polish land but could not overtake this monastery with 300 monks. Through prayer the monks protected the treasured picture of Our Lady of Czestochowa, and the tide of the war was changed, and the Poles regained their land.

Such incredible odds were overcome by incredible faith something that shined through during this Polish celebration. They provide a model for all Catholics as a light that prevailed through the darkness of oppression.