St. Anthony of Padua parish in the Travis section of Staten Island presents an interesting, and somewhat puzzling, mix of cultures.
Founded 100 years ago to serve a Polish population, it was named for a saint who was born in Portugal and ministered in Italy. Why? No one seems to know for sure, but it really doesn't matter.
"The people are the best part of this parish," said the pastor, Father John J. Wroblewski. "They're very supportive and cooperative, and they have a lot of good ideas for the parish," he said. "I'm very appreciative of that."
Few Polish people are left in Travis, a relatively unspoiled outpost on Staten Island's West Shore.
"We have Irish, Italians and some Hispanics," the pastor said. "Some people still look on St. Anthony as the Polish parish, but that's mainly the elderly."
Indeed, in 1954, even though the parish was still considered ethnically Polish, it was given boundaries by the archdiocese to become a territorial parish.
Reflecting its current makeup, the parish's four weekend Masses and its other services are offered in English.
To celebrate the parish centennial, Cardinal Egan offered Mass at the church at 24 Shelley Ave. on Sept. 21.
When St. Anthony's was established in 1908, with Father John W. Suchy as it first pastor, Travis was popularly known as "Linoleumville" because the nation's first linoleum factory had opened there in 1873.
It employed some 700 people of various European immigrant backgrounds, with many of the Polish, Slovak and Irish. At first, a priest from Port Richmond came to offer Mass for the Irish workers; he was joined later by a Polish—speaking priest who celebrated Mass in a social hall.
The congregation soon raised $1,500 to build a church, and St. Anthony of Padua parish was formed. A parish hall was built in 1929.
Masses and services were held in Polish and in English for many years and, although it is not a Polish national parish, all of its pastors have been of Polish heritage.
The longest—serving of them, Father Andrew W. Gryguc, led the parish for 37 years, from 1920 to 1957. Father Raphael Pakulniewicz was another long—timer, serving from 1967 to 1999.
"He was my predecessor," said Father Wroblewski, a Polish—born priest who was ordained for the archdiocese in 1992. He was appointed to St. Anthony of Padua in 1999.
"A good thing about these long terms is that you really get to know the people," he added. "You get to establish a relationship with them that's very positive."
St. Anthony of Padua today has 400 families registered. Parish organizations include the Ladies Auxiliary, Holy Name Society, Legion of Mary, a youth group, altar servers and a fund—raising committee.
A religious education program under Maria Facciolli, director of religious education, serves 119 children.
The comfortable, red—brick church building, which suffered two major fires—one in 1915 and another in 1965—and the parish hall, was in need of major renovation and repair when Father Wroblewski came on board.
With the help of parish fund—raising efforts, the pastor oversaw repairs to the roof, installation of air conditioning; had walls repaired and painted, put in a new boiler and parking lot, refurbished the parish hall and much more.
Even the church belfry was repaired, cleaned and refurbished—allowing for the church bells, which had been silent for nearly 20 years, to ring out for the cardinal's visit.
And the work isn't done. "There's still a lot of work that remains," Father Wroblewski said.
Then, joking about the long terms that pastors have served in the parish, he added, "I guess I'll do it in the next 19 years."