Waclaw Soroka's Catholic Schools

Soroka Pages 59-60

Catholic Schools

Efforts of the Polish immigrants were remarkable in building parish schools with Polish as the language of instruction, or later with Polish as a subject among other subjects.

Schools were built almost concomitantly with churches and rectories, and in some cases, preceded them. The first Polish parish school was opened in Panna Maria in 1858. A school was opened in Polonia in 1871 and soon an orphanage was founded and successfully maintained. The first school in Polonia was arranged in the rectory itself. Religion in that school was taught by Father Dabrowski. Polish was taught by Stanislaus Kiedrowski who also taught other subjects. English was taught by Miss Patricia McGreer, daughter of an Irishman who donated 20 acres of land for the church and parish in Polonia.

In 1872 the enrollment in the Sacred Heart School in Polonia, including the Indians, increased to such an extent that Father Dabrowski requested the help of the sisters. A new period in the life of the school developed after the Felician Sisters came to Polonia in 1874. They had scarcely unpacked their bundles when they started to gather the children and teach them. Children from the Chippewa, Sioux and Fox tribes also came.

The Polonia school was probably the first school open to Indians in this region, already in 1871, and particularly after 1876. Therefore, it is worthwhile to remember this point when we consider the history of such programs like "PRIDE", etc.

By 1932, from among 600,000 Polish American children, little more than half were in public schools; fever than half in Polish parish schools; mostly Roman Catholic (90%), in over 600 schools.

A full curriculum for those schools was worked out by Father Dabrowski in an 1894 publication, Kurs Hauk v Szkolach Parafial nych Polskich (A Curriculum in the Polish Parish Schools). Father Dabrowski was rector of the Polish seminary (later called Orchard Lake Seminary).

Adult education also developed and in 1932 evening and Saturday courses in Polish were offered. The adult education schools numbered 184 in 1932 with 15,000 participants.

By that time, in addition to the 600 grade schools, Polish immigrants had about 48 Polish high schools; an Academy of Nazareth Sisters for girls; one college of St. Stanislaus Kostka for boys, chiefly to prepare them for the priesthood; a number of pre-schools or kindergartens; Catechism centers; the Orchard Lake Seminary and College near Detroit; and Polish Alliance College in Cambridge Springs, Pennsylvania.

The effort was great and the achievements were remarkable. Yet, as a constructive criticism of the Polish schools in the United States, some important points should be raised, i.e., Polish immigrants in this country did not develop any significant drive for higher education. In 1932 a student of Polish immigration (Stryjewski) noticed that less than 2 percent of Polish American children who finished grade school or American public schools went on to high school (when not required). Still fewer enrolled in universities, perhaps no more than 1,000 in all universities in 1932.’ This is a failure not only of Americans of Polish origin but also of the American system, which appears not to have stimulated that group sufficiently.

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