Feature Story

Do-It-Yourself Parish

St. Adalbert's people have lovingly pitched in for 100 years

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Carmine and Connie Malandro became parishioners of St. Adalbert's on Staten Island in 1954 because their own parish had no school. They enrolled their first-born in St. Adalbert's School despite a friend's caution, "Do you know they teach Polish there?" Malandro responded, "How wonderful."

Malandro, chatting after the parish's 100th anniversary Mass June 10, explained, "I'm of Italian descent. My mother-in-law spoke Italian to our children. They learned Polish, one of their godmothers was Polish and they used to perform for her. They're wonderful people."

Connie Malandro added that their five children got "a wonderful education at St. Adalbert's," including excellent marks in English, too.

By the 1960s the teaching of Polish was phased out, but, St. Adalbert's has retained its original designation as a Polish national parish without boundaries. Today, the ethnic heritage is about 40 percent Polish, 40 percent Italian and 20 percent others, including Filipino.

Malandro said, "We all love each other like one big family. We love to do things for our parish because we're so proud of it."

St. Adalbert's has always been a do-it-yourself parish--even when the church was but a dream in the minds of those who came to Staten Island from Polska a century ago.

One of them, John Mojecki, was the first to give--he donated four lots from his holdings on John Street in the community of Elm Park. At a meeting in 1896, the parishioners chose the name of their future parish--St. Adalbert--honoring the missionary to Poland and martyr.

The parishioners raised the money to build their church, and the cornerstone was laid in December 1901.

The church was dedicated in 1903, and two years later, the founding pastor, Msgr. Joseph Brzoziewski, established a parish school in the basement of the church. A major factor in the school's success was the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Felix, founded in Poland in 1855.

In 1921, the school's bursting enrollment prompted a move to the new church-school building on Morningstar Road. The growth continued, and in 1962, Cardinal Francis Spellman dedicated a separate new school building on Morningstar Road.

During the ceremony, Msgr. Brzoziewski remarked that the cardinal didn't need to pray that the necessary money be raised to build the school--the parishioners already had taken care of it.

Some time later, the parishioners surprised the pastor when he returned from a trip to Poland. While he was away, they had built a new youth center.

In 1978, a fire virtually destroyed the youth center, and once again the parishioners came through.

Despite the funds from an insurance settlement, additional money was needed, and a building committee began the campaign. The parishioners rallied, and soon a new parish center arose for St. Adalbert's sports program.

Msgr. Brzoziewski, who served the parish for 62 years until his death in 1965, left a good portion of his large estate to St. Adalbert's. By the 1970s, the church had badly deteriorated, and his generosity, plus a successful fund-raising campaign, provided the funds for a new church.

Parishioners celebrated the millennium of Christianity in Poland in 1966 by planning for a new church on St. Adalbert's Place, under the direction of Msgr. John Felczak, pastor from 1965 to 1974.

The church was built as an asymmetrical A-frame structure to capitalize on a triangular plot of land. With great wooden beams resting on massive concrete buttresses, the church was designed to have one side of a roof with a steeply ascending slope, the other falling in a straight line.

Msgr. Felczak was succeeded by Msgr. Alexander J. Horembala, the last Polish-speaking pastor. He died in 1992.

His successor, Father John J. Hynes, was faced with a major problem involving the great roof of the church. The seepage of rain water beneath the asymmetrical tiles caused large puddles on the church floor.

A dismaying estimate of $100,000 was needed for the roof repairs, but within several weeks, parishioners and friends came through to save the roof.

In 1997, the Felician Sisters, after 92 years of service, reluctantly left the parish because of a decline in vocations.

Under the first lay principal, Diane Hesterhagen, the school has grown to 345 students in prekindergarten through eighth grade. In 2000, the school received Middle States Accreditation.

The parish school has produced a priest, Father Michael D. Cichon, who was ordained in 1983, and eight nuns. Father Cichon is pastor of St. Joseph-St. Thomas parish on Staten Island.

Deacon Joseph J. Rentkowski, who has served St. Adalbert's since 1983, conducts the religious education program for about 100 children, including a program for children with special needs.

Other activities include the St. Vincent de Paul Society, the Home School Association and the CYO sports program. In 1999, St. Adalbert's was named CYO Parish of the Year on Staten Island.

The parish, whose census is 570 families, continues many of the Polish traditions. The 9:30 a.m. Sunday Mass incorporates Polish in the first reading and two hymns.

St. Adalbert's also honors other ethnic religious customs, for example, the annual feast day Mass of St. Joseph, followed by serving St. Joseph's bread and Italian pastries.

Some 750 people attend the four weekend Masses. Father Eugene J. Carrella, pastor, is assisted by Msgr. John D. Burke, parochial vicar, Father Lazar Sundararaj, a summer resident, and Deacon Rentkowski. Director of music is Herbert Carpiniello.

"It's a wonderful parish," said Father Carrella, pastor since 1998. "The people are very warm and welcoming. They are very committed to their spiritual home."

Stanley J. Drozd Jr., who compiled the parish history for the centennial celebration, is a fourth-generation parishioner. He said St. Adalbert's history demonstrates that the people connected with the parish have always been enthusiastic, yet practical, about getting things done.

Drozd said that throughout the century, "love of the parish and even affection toward its physical facilities have paved the way for the completing of daunting tasks in record time."

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