Biography of Father Joseph Dabrowski
First Pastor 1871-1875
The life of Fr. Dabrowski, reprinted below, is taken from The History of Sacred Heart Parish, Polonia, Wis., Town of Sharon, Portage County. Published April 25, 1956. Compiled by: Mrs. Anton Bembenek.
Father Joseph Dabrowski was born in Zoltance, Poland, on January 27, 1842, the oldest of a family of four. His father died when he was a young boy of 12, thus much of the father’s responsibility fell on him. Brilliance and industriousness marked his student days, first under private tutorship, then at Lublin secondary school where he showed special aptitude in mathematics and natural sciences.
Enrolled at the University of Warsaw in 1862 on a scholarship, he soon abandoned his books to join the ranks of the Polish insurgents in the revolt of January 1863.
The defeat of the uprising forced Joseph to seek safety for a short time across the border, most probably in Saxony. Inevitably, he undertook odd jobs to earn money for a living and for resuming studies in mathematics and technology to which he was strongly attracted.
But a more brilliant path than that of science lay in the destiny of the young refugee. Led by an inner call to the higher life, Joseph went to Galicia and entered the Lwow archdiocesan seminary in the fall of 1863. Three years later he left for Rome to continue his theological studies there. ‘America attracted me from the very first,’ wrote the 28-year-old missionary. ‘The church has a great future in this country.’
On previous agreement, in Rome, with Bishop Melcher to be accepted into the Diocese of Green Bay, he arrived at St. Francis Seminary in Milwaukee in January 1870. Appointed pastor of a badly neglected parish at Poland Corners, Wisconsin, Father Dabrowski exhorted his parishioners by word and example to lead Godly and useful lives. The church at Poland Corners was surrounded by saloons influenced by bigotry, drunkenness and ill feeling. The new pastor was a man of convictions upon the subject of intemperance. He found it impossible to do God’s work under such circumstances, determined to move the church to a new location. The greater portion of the congregation petitioned Bishop Melcher of Green Bay for permission to remove St. Joseph’s church to a more suitable location. After receiving permission from the Bishop of Green Bay to go ahead, he dismantled the buildings and moved to the present location, which he called Polonia.
A man of broad vision, Father Dabrowski understood that more than individual efforts were necessary to meet the needs of growing generations. His long nurtured plan finally came to realization in 1874 when, in answer to his urgent appeals, five Felician Sisters arrived from Poland to initiate their educational and charitable apostolate in America.
The pioneer sisters found a true friend and father in the thirty-two year old missionary.
He directed their work in the school orphanage and school for aspirants. He built and rebuilt the convent school and church undaunted by fires that destroyed the buildings. He also opened a little print shop to publish school text-books written by the sisters and himself
In 1882 the sisters transferred their mother-house to Detroit. Father Dabrowski accompanied them, becoming their chaplain, confessor, spiritual director and teacher at the Feliclan Seminary and advisor to the provincial administration. At the same time he undertook the building of the Polish Seminary there to provide priests for the Polish immigrants in America"
(Father Dabrowski’s role in establishing St. Casimir’s Parish in 1871 is described in the history which follows.)
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