St. Joseph's Parish - Webster, Massachusetts // Our History
St. Joseph Polish-American Parish, although an ethnic community, is integral part of the Catholic Church in the United States and participates in its mission. It is the oldest Polish-American parish in New England established in 1887. Immigrants from Poland arrived to this part of the United States after the country failed to win its independence in the January Insurrection of 1863. The new immigrants initially attended masses at St. Louis Church assisted by the Polish clergy from the state of New York. As the number of immigrants grew they desired to pray and participate in divine worship in their native language and with the permission of the bishop of Springfield, MA, a new parish was organized in 1887.
The first pastor was an alumnus of the Orchard Lake Seminary, Father Chalupka. Through the generosity and hard work of these first immigrants Father Chalupka was not only able to pay off the parish debt but also purchased land to build the parish school which opened in September 1892 staffed by the Felician Sisters. Recognizing the need for a final resting-place, land on Worcester Road was purchased for the parish cemetery in 1903. Father Chalupka remained Pastor of St. Joseph Parish until 1908.
Some of the successive pastors in these early years were Fathers Stanislaus Laczynski, Wenceslaus Lenz, and the Franciscan Fathers: Tarnowski, Czelusniak, Bok and Jaskulski.
The Highlights of the New Century
In 1910 Monsignor Anthony Cyran was appointed pastor of St. Joseph Parish. During his tenure a new convent for the Felician Sisters was built; a new church was completed and a new school was finished. In the final years of his pastoral leadership he built a new rectory.
In July 1935, Bishop O'Leary appointed Msgr. Dr. Andrew Lekarczyk as pastor, who completed repairs on the parish facilities and reduced the debt by several thousand dollars. During his time the parish grew in pastoral, social and cultural activities. He expanded St. Joseph Cemetery by acquiring an additional 25 acres on Worcester Road.
In 1965 Monsignor Stanislaus Kubik was appointed pastor of St. Joseph Church. It was under his leadership that the first parish festival for the benefit of the school was held on June 7-9, 1974. He continued with physical improvements of the church, school, convent and the rectory. He also established the St. Joseph School endowment fund.
In 1983 Rev. Thaddeus Stachura succeeded Monsignor Kubik. Shortly after his arrival, Father Ted initiated a special fund drive for the school windows and completed many necessary repairs at the convent and rectory. During his tenure the 100th Anniversaries of the parish (1987) and the school (1992) were celebrated.
The Close of the Century ushers in a Parish Renaissance
In 1993 Monsignor Anthony Czarnecki replaced Father Stachura who was transferred to Our Lady of Czestochowa parish in Worcester, MA. Almost immediately after his arrival, Monsignor Tony initiated a monumental campaign to renovate St. Joseph Church. Following the renovation the church was rededicated on October 5th, 1997 by Bishop Daniel P. Reilly. With Monsignor Czarnecki's energies focused between the renovation work and advancing the academic programs at Saint Joseph School, another area in the parish needed to be addressed: the spiritual renewal. In the words of Monsignor Czarnecki the parish involvement in the restoration project was "a tremendous uniting component in the development of the parish ... the spirit of the parish has been rejuvenated."
From Polish Church to Papal Basilica
On October 11, 1998, the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, conferred the title of basilica on Saint Joseph Church. This special honor recognized the unique role Saint Joseph Church assumed in the history of the Polish-American community of New England. This distinct title of basilica is bestowed upon churches because of their antiquity, dignity, historical importance or significance as a center of worship and devotion.
St. Joseph Basilica has the privilege to grant indulgences, i.e., the remission of temporal punishment for sins, which have been previously confessed. These days of indulgence are: Feast of the Chair of St. Peter (February 22), the solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul (June 29), the anniversary of the election of the Pope, the date of the elevation of the church (October 11) and on the Feast of Saint Joseph (March 19).
The designation of St. Joseph Basilica as the 35th basilica in the United States imparts a uniquely close relationship to the Holy See. Papal symbols are displayed both on the stained glass windows inside the church and on the facade of the main entrance indicating our strong allegiance and obedience to the teachings of the Catholic Church embodied in the Vicar of Christ, the Holy Father.
St. Joseph Basilica is afforded the privilege to display its artistic distinctions in the sanctuary. The umbracullum or in Italian ombrellino, which has the shape of a canopy, was formally carried over the Pope when the papal entourage was made using horse and carriage. It is made of red and yellow material with decorative ornaments and the papal insignia. Also displayed are bells affixed to a staff symbolizing the bells, which were formerly used to alert the townspeople of the Pope's arrival.