Polish American (Dickson City, PA)

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The drive home the other week took me through Dickson City, just north of Scranton. It used to be a big coal mining town. It was called Priceburg. A very strange experience, I got off rt 81, I kept driving and driving down Main Street looking for a gas station. The place looks like hard work. Built in 1911, Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church is massive and Romanesque. It looks like it cost blood, sweat, and tears.

The things we drive past and overlook on a weekly basis. An interesting place, what my late father would have called “a slice of life,” about its history  and the immigration to it, I found this at the Church website,  more of which you can see here. Reflecting a proud Polish ethnic sensibility, the website has a strong social sense.


In the late 1800’s, tens of thousands of immigrants flocked to the shores of the United States. Misled and enticed by over-optimistic newspaper advertisements distributed throughout Europe by unscrupulous factory and mine owners, many people crossed the Atlantic, hoping to find fame and fortune. Political unrest and religious intolerance were among the motives that prompted them to seek refuge in a new land. Some of these immigrants came from Poland, a country that at that time only existed in their hearts (it had been wiped off the map after a series of partitions among Russia, Prussia, and Austria back in the 1700’s). A large number of them found their way to the small village of Priceburg in Northeastern Pennsylvania. The lure of the Scranton area was in the work that was readily available in the anthracite coal fields.

Handicapped by the inability to speak and understand English, the Polish immigrants were often exploited and given menial tasks to perform in the mines. Yet, they sustained themselves by their ethnic pride and their deep faith in God and His Blessed Mother. For these Poles, fulfillment of their religious obligations was very important. In 1890, when the need for a house of worship became pressing, the future parishioners of St. Mary’s Church purchased three parcels of land for $400.00 (lot #’s 19, 20, and 21) from Eli K. Price, Jr. These parcels were conveyed in trust to Right Reverend William O’Hara, Bishop of Scranton, for what was originally called St. Joseph’s Polish Congregation of Priceburg. The name of the parish was not changed to the Polish Roman Catholic Congregation of the Blessed Virgin Mary until 1922.

The parishioners literally built their house of worship with their bare hands. This was done in their “spare time,” often after a long shift in the mines. The result of their sweat, tears, hard work, and sacrifice was a church that seated 200 people and cost $4,000. This first church stood at the site of the present rectory garage on Carmalt Street. The basement housed the parish’s first school. On July 4, 1890, Bishop O’Hara consecrated the building. Father Bronislaus Iwanowski became the first resident pastor of St. Mary’s on July 4, 1892, and resided with the Thomas Krajnik family on the Carbondale Plank Road & Turnpike – today’s Main Street. His brother, Constanty, a professional sculptor and carpenter, sculpted the altars in the church.


About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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