Father Jozef Dabrowski   – Park 76    

Here’s one from the gone file. It’s a bit long so here’s a summary.. This corner playground disappeared in 2015. It received little public use and was sold to the business next door.  It is the former site of Detroit’s Polish Seminary founded by Father Dabrowski.  The seminary moved out of Detroit in the early years of the 1900’s. Father Dabrowski finished this school to help educate the immigrants of this once heavily populated Polish neighborhood.  

In 2015, Mayor Duggan announced a new development of an urban agricultural area named Recovery Park and a reuse of the Chene-Ferry outdoor market just north of St. Aubin and Forest.  The aim is to create job opportunities for those Detroiters working to recoup their lives after addiction and other personal struggles.  In a way, the spirit of Jozef [Joseph] Dabrowski is resurrected offering opportunity to those most in need.  No eye rolling, good to be hopeful. 🙂  Thanks for reading. ag

Former location: St. Aubin and Forest

POLISH PATRIOT, DETERMINED PRIEST

Jozef (Joseph) Dabrowski [1842-1903] was born in Zoltance, Poland into a wealthy family.  As a 12 year old, he assumed much of the familial responsibility when his father passed away.

Interested in math and science, he enrolled in Warsaw University on scholarships only to be sidelined by joining the failed Polish Revolt of 1863, an uprising against Russian rule over Poland.  Afterward, he heard the call of piety and Dabrowski headed for religious life in Rome.  He was ordained as a Catholic priest in 1869.

Father Dawbrowski Source: Portage County Historical Society of WI
“America attracted me from the very first.. the church has a great future in this country.” – Dabrowski, 1870. Photo: Portage County Historical Society of WI

Dabrowski was placed in the archdiocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin in 1870. His first job was tending to a Catholic Polish parish located in the rough and tumble saloon filled town of Poland Corners.  With a heavy temptation of alcohol, women and gambling present, Dabrowski had great difficulty stabilizing church attendance and attracting more parishioners.  His answer was to seek approval from the Green Bay Archdiocese and move the parish to another location.  Tavern owners used the court system to accuse Dabrowski of trying to ruin their livelihood. When permission was finally granted, Dabrowski and his flock physically dismantled the wooden parish buildings, loaded them onto wagons, and moved to new land which he named Polonia.

HAVE NUNS WILL TRAVEL

In 1874, Dabrowski brought over a five Polish Felician nuns from the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Felix to Polonia to run a school and orphanage.  This is reported to be the first group of Polish nuns in the United States and the order would grow to staff more than 40% of all Polish Catholic schools in the US by the mid-20th century.  Dabrowski authored the first textbook on arithmetic for those Polish schools as well as texts on geography and gardening.

 

In 1882, the Felicians transferred their mother-house to Detroit and Dabrowski accompanied them as their spiritual director.  He was appointed temporary Pastor of St. Albertus where controversy ensued.  St. Albertus is still open for mass on a limited schedule.

St. Al's Rectory next to the former playground.
St. Al’s Rectory next to the former playground.  I just noticed those powerlines in the photo.. and the shot is a little crooked..shucks.

 

FINISHING THE J-O-B

Two factors fueled Dabrowski’s drive to build a Polish Seminary in Detroit.  He inherited the project started by pastor Father Leopold Moczygemba who was in declining health.  Secondly, Dabrowski understood the power and privilege of his university education and wanted to bring the same opportunities to the Polish immigrants he was serving.  The Polish of Detroit were poor and typically performed the hardest manual labor and had large families. Every penny earned was used to feed and support the family with little or nothing left for betterment.

Father Moczygemba kicked in a personal loan and Dabrowski finished raising the funds bringing the seminary dream to fruition. With the support of Bishop Caspar Borgess, then head of the Detroit Archdiocese, Dabrowski bought land for the Felician Order to build a new mother house and Guardian Angels Orphanage at Canfield and St. Aubin.  He also purchased land at Forest and St. Aubin for the site of the Polish Seminary School of Saints Cyril and Methodius.  Construction began in 1884; the school opened in 1885.

The SS. Cyril and Methodius Polish Seminary 1885. Photo: ourtesy of www.sscms.edu
The SS. Cyril and Methodius Polish Seminary 1885. Photo: courtesy of www.sscms.edu

It is written, in his later years, Dabrowski had an unmistakable street presence. He walked everywhere always wearing his cassock and had flowing, shoulder length white hair. The Poles of Hamtramck and Detroit had high reverence for him, often stopping him and asking for a blessing. Dabrowski died from a stroke in February 1903.

Located right in the corner when you pull in..
Located right on the corner when you pull into the cemetery..

IMG_6838

 

WHERE IS THE SEMINARY NOW?

By 1909, the seminary moved to its new home in the village of Orchard Lake, MI.  Through the decades a preparatory high school named for Father Dabrowski ,  St. Mary’s College and Cardinal Adam Maida Library were added onto the beautiful campus called the Orchard Lake Schools and Polish Mission.

In 1951, The Alumni association of St. Mary’s High School and the St Cyril and Methodius Seminary petitioned of the city to have the playground named in Dabrowski’s honor.  It was positioned on former site of the seminary at the corner of Forest and St. Aubin.  Sold off to a neighboring business, the plaque and flagpole base are still located on the corner reminding all who pass of the once proud Polish neighborhood presence and Dabrowski’s determination to uplift the lives of others.

Love this rusty flagpole base and plaque.. still on the corner of Forest and St. Aubin
Love this rusty flagpole base and plaque..
A snap of the unmowed playground.. baseball backstop and St. Al's rectory in the background. This park used to have a Miller Melburg dolphin. Still looking for my photo of it. It's long gone.
A snap of the unmowed playground.. baseball backstop and St. Al’s rectory in the background. This park used to have a Miller Melburg dolphin. Still looking for my photo of it. It’s long gone now.
A small portion of a blue print of Dabrowski in it's former glory. Offering shuffleboard, basketball, softball and trees! This bp is a reverse of reality. Sorry it's blurry won't fit on the scanner and lots of folds.
A small portion of a blue print of Dabrowski pg in its former glory. Offering shuffleboard, basketball, softball and trees! This print is a reverse of reality – Forest is really at the bottom and St. Aubin runs on the left.  It’s a bit blurry and lots of folds.  Lucky to find it though. 

SEE ALSO [Library speak]

Note:  I’ve run through only a tiny bit of the history in this once strong, heavily populated Polish [now highly vacant neighborhood] in Detroit.  Plus I skipped mentioning all the who-ha news reports regarding the scrapping and vandalism that occurred just a few short years after the seminary was vacated. Scrapping and vandalism have been happening here for 100+ years. Yikes.  There are so many stories/conversations both published and un-sourced surrounding the parishes and history located in this area.  Some of them conflict.  But if you’re looking for reading about Polish Detroiters and their churches.. just put ‘Polish Detroit’ into google – years worth of authoritative reading, conversations and articles.

Another note.. A few years back I went to a lecture by Marian Krzyzowski regarding his U of M LSA/IRLEE project to create a virtual history of Chene Street.   using mapping tied to vintage photos, oral histories and memories provided by former residents, business owners and their relatives.  It’s a great project which began a while ago and is still underway.  If Polish neighborhood history is your thing check out his Humans of Chene Street FB page and this link that uses the ‘then and now’ web technology which can be tied into mapping.  It will be great way to see Chene street back in the day when it’s up and running.

And another side note, if you are into Polish military history consider visiting the Polish Mission Museum located on the grounds of the St. Mary’s of Orchard Lake.  The contents inside this museum will surprise you as they are numerous and rival military artifacts which are found in Poland today.  Yes, right here in our own backyard of metro Detroit.  Again, thanks for reading. ag

Copyright, 2015 Andrea Gallucci.