Saint Josephs of Stratford - National Catholic Church

1300 Stratford Road

With the new wave of immigration from Europe to the United States in the late 1800s, the Roman Catholic Church of America found itself having to quickly rethink the ways in which it could meet the spiritual needs of so many newcomers from many different countries.  Each ethnic group sought to preserve their respective customs and traditions.  Each also looked to settle in their own ethnic groups in neighborhoods where they could continue using their native language and retain basically the same culture with which they were accustomed.  This also meant that the churches would reflect the same makeup of these neighborhoods.  Very late in the 19th century the neighborhoods in Bridgeport, Connecticut, began looking and sounding more and more like Poland, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Hungary, Denmark and to a lesser extent Syria and Lebanon. (Herbert F. Geller, Ethnic History Series, THE SUNDAY POST; Dolores Liptak, European Immigrants and the Catholic Church of Connecticut

The East Side of Bridgeport was in particular emerging as a multi-ethnic neighborhood.  A Hungarian immigrant priest, Father Joseph Formanek, was assigned in 1889 to St. Mary Roman Catholic Church in the East Side to minister to the Hungarians as well as the Czechs, Slovaks and Poles.  Then in 1891 the multi-ethnic St. John Nepomucene Roman Catholic Church was established.  For a very short time after Father Formanek the newly ordained Father Lucyan Bojnowski served the needs of St. John's Parish.  (He is the eventual monsignor of New Britain infamous among Yankee Polonia.)

By 1899 there were about 1,000 Polish immigrants who organized a Roman Catholic parish in their neighborhood.  The parish church provided a place where they could pray together with their neighbors, hear sermons and receive religious instruction all in the Polish language.  It also became an important center of social and political life for them.  The church also served as headquarters for mutual aid societies.

Thus it was extremely important that the pastors of such ethnic parishes be fluent in the language of those congregations.  They also needed to share the desire and committment of their parishioners for maintaining the respective customs and traditions in those parishes.  Pastors also needed to be sympathetic toward the difficulties their church members experienced as newcomers adjusting to a foreign land that was now their new home.

As history shows, the need for such pastors was especially important among the Poles.  More often than not, it was essential that the Polish congregations be served by Polish priests.  If a bishop did not assign a Polish priest to the liking of a Polish parish, rarely did the matter settle itself without vocal protests.  From the turn of the century to the 1930s Polish Catholics would stage public demonstrations at their churches if the hierarchy was unsympathetic or unresponsive to their protests.