Saint Mary of Czestochowa Church, located at 857 Kenneth Avenue in New Kensington, Pennsylvania, is the second church building in the life of this parish. As the parish was founded to meet the needs of Polish immigrants to the town in the 1890s, much of the history is reflective of that culture.
A HISTORY OF OUR PARISH
The year was 1892, and the spiritual needs of the newly arrived immigrants to America from partitioned Poland to the town later to be known as New Kensington, Pa., had to be met. The 40-45 pioneer families, including Dudkiewicz, Baron, Golas, Bedarek, Gamratowski, Lukaszewicz and Wisniewski supplied a major work force for the growing companies and industries in the area, about 18 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. At first, they fulfilled their religious obligations at the only Catholic Church in town, St. Joseph’s, but these Polish speaking families desired more. This request brought the early services of Rev. Ladislanus Miskiewicz from Pittsburgh. He or his assistant, Rev. Anthony Plucinski, ministered to the spiritual needs of the people, but only twice a month. A repeated request saw the formation on November 20, 1892, of a Society to provide sick and death benefits and to raise money for an eventual church. At the advice of Father Miskiewicz, the members placed themselves under the protection of the Crowned Queen of Poland, Our Lady of Czestochowa.
A first collection for the building netted $115.00. After much work and determination, a frame structure measuring 35 feet in length and 25 feet in width, costing $500.00, was erected on two lots donated to the Society by the Burrell Improvement Company. In the spring of 1893, men of the Society constructed the building facing the rear of Kenneth Avenue and looking toward the town.
The 1893 records listed 56 families and 13 single people but no priest. In November 1893, the Bishop of Pittsburgh appointed a newly arrived Polish-speaking priest as the first resident pastor of the parish. He was Rev. Henry Cichocki, a former Resurrection missionary in Panna Maria, Texas.
The parish grew, and the church was enlarged to seat 300 people. Father Cichocki was pastor until 1898, when he was transferred. Interim priests served the spiritual needs of the people until 1902, when a missionary from Michigan, Rev. Anselm Mlynarczyk was appointed pastor. Before his replacement in 1906 by Rev. Francis Pikulski, many improvements were made, and the parish grew in number. Rev. Pikulski initiated the building of the second parish church (the present one), but was transferred in 1912, before its completion. Rev. Francis Poszukanis came and completed the structure which was to seat 1,000 and include a four-room school. Lay teachers and the priests taught in those early school days, but in 1913, the Felician Sisters were given charge of the growing number of students in the parish.
Three nuns from Detroit came to teach the 300 students who were enrolled. Further growth necessitated the erection of a new eight-room school in 1922, at the cost of $57,000.00, and the construction was done by some parishioners working for the contractor, while being laid off from the coal mines in the area. The student enrollment rose to 600 in 1927 and the parish grew to 900 families. Rev. Poszukanis was succeeded by Rev. Anthony Baron in 1925. He remained Pastor until 1937, when he died and was buried in the new parish cemetery, which he had purchased, prepared, and consecrated on Leechburg Road in Lower Burrell.
As the parish continued to grow, and the request of the pioneers was realized again in the persons of Rev. Stanley Dembinski, Rev. Julius Lachendro, and Rev. Francis Lizik, who served the parish until 1942, when Rev. Casimir Orlemanski was appointed pastor. During his tenure, the parish debt of $60,000.00, was liquidated and a new convent was built. Sermons, missions, and services were conducted in both Polish and English with Masses celebrated in the then language of the Church – Latin. Upon the death of Rev. Orlemanski in 1953, Rev. Edward P, Sierocki was appointed pastor of the parish that numbered 1600 families, 433 school children, 2 assistant priests and 9 Felician Sisters. Father Sierocki’s pastorate saw numerous physical repairs, and the completion of a new $100,000.00 rectory.
The year was 1968, with a parish of 14OO families, a notable increase from the original 42 families. Now there was a thriving parish with three full-time priests, a parish school, various organizations and God’s Word in their own language. In addition to Sunday and weekday Masses, Gorzskie Zale (a Catholic devotion that is primarily a sung reflection and meditation of the Passion of Christ and the sorrows of His Blessed Mother), May Crownings, Droga Krzyowa (The Stations of the Cross or the Way of the Cross), October devotions, and Feast Day celebrations, all supported the spiritual growth of the congregation.
In 1972, Rev. Anthony A. Wozniak succeeded Rev. Sierocki. In the midst of social, economic and ecclesiastical changes, Father Wozniak continued to be a shepherd to 1256 families in the parish. In the late 1970’s, he undertook the church renovation that included interior transformations of the ceilings and the murals to what they are today. In 1986, Father Thaddeus J. Kaczmarek was named pastor and was pastor for the church’s centennial in 1993. Sadly, the parish school closed in 1994 due to insufficient enrollment. During Fr. Kaczmarek’s pastorate, the organ was expanded, a new sound system purchased, and the interior renovated with new carpeting, pew padding, and paint, while the exterior brick work of the entire campus was repointed. It was around the time of the parish’s 100th year celebration that trees were removed (whose root systems had caused cracking and buckling of the sidewalks) and the concrete sidewalks replaced.
Father Richard P. Karenbauer next served as pastor of St. Mary from 1997 until 2008, and as administrator of St. Mary and St. Joseph Churches from 2008 – 2010 (in 2008, diocesan restructuring partnered St. Mary Church with St. Joseph Church). Under Father Karenbauer’s pastorate, the church interior was again repainted and re-carpeted, the statues refurbished, the organ facade pipes repainted, and the altars professionally cleaned and re-gilded. In 2010, a parish son, Father John S. Szczesny, was named administrator for the two parishes. He was unique in his preaching, as his stories of growing up in the area and his personal experiences in the parish were relatable for many of the parishioners. Family, faith, and prayer were common themes in his sermons. For a few years, he helped to bring back the pre-Lenten dinner dance (Paczyki Dance), complete with a Canadian polka band who played at the dance and then at Mass at St. Mary Church the next morning. In July, 2019, Msgr. Michael J. Begolly, became pastor of both St. Joseph and St. Mary Churches, in addition to remaining pastor of Mt. St. Peter Church. During his time as pastor, the New Kensington Catholic Community (NKCC) and Parish Advisory Committee (PAC) were formed as a way to unify and represent all three parishes.
In March 2020, the world was facing a global pandemic and, as a way to help slow the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), in-person Mass and other liturgies were suspended. It was during this time of church closures that an EF-1 tornado touched down in the New Kensington area shortly after 1:00AM on April 8, 2020, causing heavy damage to the roof and steeple of St. Mary Church. Msgr. Begolly took the necessary steps to protect the church from further damage, as assessments of the damages and decisions of how to proceed were made. With the installation of a new Bishop for the Diocese of Greensburg, Bishop Larry J. Kulick announced on March 30, 2021 that St. Mary of Czestochowa Church would re-open and restoration of the church would begin with Fr. Kenneth G. Zaccagnini assuming the role of Bishop’s Liaison for the restoration. Bishop Kulick also announced some of the clergy appointments for 2021, which included Fr. Zaccagnini being appointed as pastor of St. Mary of Czestochowa Parish, St. Joseph Parish and Mount St. Peter Parish, while remaining pastor of St. Margaret Mary Parish in Lower Burrell.
LIST OF PASTORS/ADMINISTRATORS
1893-1898——–Rev. Henryk Cichocki
1898-1902——–Period of Administrators:
Rev. Francis Baczewski
Rev. John Kopera
Rev. Andrew Dziadkowicz
Rev. Anthony Plucinski
Rev. Joseph Galewski
1902-1906——–Rev. Anselm Mlynarczyk
1906-1911——–Rev. Francis Pikulski
1911-1925——–Rev. Francis Poezukanis
1925-1938——–Rev. Anthony Baron
1937-1938——–Administrator-Rev. Stanley Dembinski
1938-(3 months)–Rev. Julius Lachendro
1938-19142——-Administrator-Rev. Francis Lizik
1942-1953——–Rev. Casimir Orlemanski
1953-1972——–Rev. Edward Sierocki
1972-1986——–Rev. Anthony Wozniak
1986-1997——–Rev. Thaddeus Kaczmarek
1997-2008————————Rev. Richard Karenbauer
2008-2010———————-Rev. Richard Karenbauer – Administrator
2010-2019———————-Rev. John S. Szczesny – Administrator
2019-2021——–Monsignor Michael J. Begolly
2021-Present————-Very Rev. Kenneth G. Zaccagnini
Over the years, many assistant priests also served the spiritual needs of the parish. The parish is of the Latin Rite under the jurisdiction of the local Ordinary, the Bishop of the Diocese of Greensburg, Pennsylvania.