History of Holy Rosary Church
The early 1870´s brought groups of Polish immigrants to Baltimore. They arrived at the Broadway Pier in Fells Point. By 1877, a large community of Poles had formed in the Fells Point section of the city. In that year they organized the St. Stanislaus Kostka Society, whose goal was to secure funds in order to build a church. By 1880, the first Polish parish in Baltimore City was organized and the first Polish church was built under the patronage of St. Stanislaus Kostka.
By the late 1880´s the population of Polish immigrants was growing rapidly and conflict arose between the St. Stanislaus Society and the pastor of St. Stanislaus Church. Both of these factors led to the establishment of the second Polish parish, Our Lady of the Rosary (Matka Boska Rożańcowa) in 1887, which was originally a protestant church building located on Bethel Street and Eastern Avenue. It was purchased and renovated for Catholic liturgical use. Fr. Piotr (Peter) Chowaniec, a priest from Poland, became the first pastor. On December 8, 1887, Fr. Peter celebrated the parish´s first Mass. In 1889, acreage was purchased outside the city in Dundalk for a parish cemetery. Not long after that, a four storey parish elementary school and a three storey convent were built across from the church on Eastern Avenue. The Felician Sisters were invited to staff the school and lived in the convent. In 1892 Father Peter died under suspicious causes while still young in years.
Fr. Mieczyslaw Barabasz was assigned as the second pastor. He was a highly educated man and was editor of the clerical newspaper "Przyjaciel Domu" (Friend of the Home). He expanded the church in order to accommodate its rapidly growing congregation. Unfortunately, he had many problems with factions in the parish and with the St. Stanislaus Kostka Society. The Society, which had been instrumental in founding the two Polish parishes, also led a revolt leading several hundred families into schism. Subsequently, they established the independent parish of Our Lady of Unceasing Help which is located on Broadway Street. This church would later join the Polish National Catholic Church movement. Fr. Barabasz passed away before his time in 1914.
The third pastor was Fr. Stanislaus Wachowiak who was from the parish and the first American born pastor. He was appointed just one year after his ordination. Fr. Wachowiak, later Monsignor, spent the rest of his priestly life as pastor until his retirement in 1968. Fr. Wachowiak recognized the need to relocate the parish site several blocks east in order to accommodate its continuing growth. In 1927, the cornerstone was laid for the largest Catholic Church in the Baltimore Archdiocese. The present Romanesque-style church seats 2,000. The church is uniquely wide without any support columns or pillars.
Holy Rosary parish peaked at about 2,500 families, approximately 8,000 souls, in the 1920s and 1930s. Enrollment in the school was over 1,500 children. As many as six priests and 50 nuns were assigned to the parish. For a time, Holy Rosary was not only the largest Polish parish (among six) in Baltimore, but also the largest parish in the Archdiocese.
After Monsignor Wachowiak´s well-deserved retirement in 1968, Fr. Chester Mieczkowski was appointed the fourth pastor. Fr. Mieczkowski had been an assistant to Monsignor Wachowiak for many years. Later on, Fr. Mieczkowski was also designated a domestic prelate, or Monsignor.
After World War II, a gradual decline became evident in the parish. In the 1960s and 1970s, the older generation began to pass on and many younger families sought homes in newer sections of the city and in the suburbs. As there were fewer families with children living in the neighborhood, the school enrollment began to decline. The school finally closed its doors in 1996. In 2005 the school and convent building were adapted to the needs of the Cristo Rey High School run by the Jesuits. The high school serves the noble purpose of educating young people from the poorer neighborhoods of Baltimore in preparation for college.
Post World War II saw an influx of Polish immigrants (displaced persons) which created an immediate need for the Mass and the Sacraments to be in the Polish language. After the imposition of martial law in Poland, another influx of Poles came in the early 1980s. Until this day, a small number of Poles continues to arrive in Baltimore as a result of relocating from other cities for employment reasons.
In 1991, Monsignor Mieczkowski retired and Fr. Ronald Pytel, a native son of the parish, was appointed the fifth pastor.
In 1993, Holy Rosary Church was designated as the Archdiocesan Shrine of Divine Mercy. It became more famous when the Vatican recognized the healing of Fr. Ronald Pytel as a miracle through the intercession of Blessed Faustina Kowalska--the miracle which led to her canonization on April 30, 2000.
After the death of Fr. Ronald Pytel in 2003, the Society of Christ (a Polish religious congregation) was invited to assume pastoral charge of the parish. Priests of this order had been working at Holy Rosary as assistants since the early 1970s. Fr. Richard Philiposki SChr, the first American born priest in the society, was appointed the sixth pastor. In 2005, the parish was blessed when the Sisters of Merciful Jesus arrived from Poland to open their first house on American soil. In October, 2007, Fr. Jan Michalski SChr was appointed seventh pastor. In October, 2009, Fr. Zdzislaw Nawrocki SChr was appointed parish administrator. In August, 2011, Fr. Andrzej Totzke SChr was appointed pastor. Together he and Fr. Leszek Wedziuk SChr served the Holy Rosary parishioners. In 2012, Fr. Wedziuk, in the prime of his priestly vocation, became ill and died.
Holy Rosary Church is a magnet for Polish-speaking people, as the parish continues to promote itself as the spiritual and cultural center of Baltimore´s Polonia. At present, Holy Rosary is the only parish to continue using the Polish language at Sunday Mass, and on weekdays as well. Many Polish Catholic customs and traditions are practiced, such as the "Boże Ciało" (Corpus Christi) procession, the Easter Resurrection procession, the Holy Saturday Easter food basket blessing and many other para-liturgical devotions. The Cardinal Hlond Polish School instructs the parish children in the Polish language and has religion classes in Polish as well in order to keep the Polish language and culture alive for the next generation.
Currently much of the Fells Point, Upper Fells Point, and adjacent Canton neighborhoods are undergoing what is called gentrification. Young, often single, professional people who work downtown are moving into these neighborhoods and renovating old row houses. There is also a boom of new apartment and condominium housing, which is changing the face of the area. With this growth, the church has the challenge of re-evangelization of young adult baptized Catholics who are not practicing their faith.
Presently, most Holy Rosary parishioners live outside of the vicinity, in other parts of the city, and suburbs. A recent study has indicated that Holy Rosary´s registered parishioners live in 50 different cities and towns outside of Baltimore. Some even live in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Virginia.
Holy Rosary Parish, which is one of the most beautiful churches (if not the most beautiful) in the Archdiocese, is looking eagerly to meet its future challenges. We have the relics of St. Faustina, Pope St. John Paul II, and Bl. Michael Sopocko, Saint Faustina’s confessor, on the left of the church, at the front side altar. A new image of the Divine Mercy was just blessed by Archbishop Razinsky on Divine Mercy Sunday 2015 and will be displayed in the new Divine Mercy Chapel at the left entrance of the church. Plans are well underway for this great endeavor. The Our Lady of Fatima statue now has a new golden crown which is befitting of Our Lady and we have only begun.
Under the special care and protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of the Holy Rosary, St. Faustina, Pope St. John Paul II, and Bl. Michael Sopocko, our special patrons, and assisted by intercessory prayers of our deceased priests and parishioners now with God in heaven, we move forward in time, trusting Jesus-"Jezu Ufam Tobie!” We trust that our mission will continue well into this 21st century.
Come join our Shrine, where miracles happen!