POLISH AMERICAN PARISHES IN THE UNITED STATES: REFLECTIONS ON THEIR FUTURE, ON THE BASIS OF NEW JERSEY'S EXPERIENCE
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Polish-American parishes are among the greatest, most extensive, and threatened achievements of American Polonia: from a zenith of over 900 churches, only about 400 survive today, many located in dioceses where local bishops are bent on parish 'consolidation' or closing. Part I of this paper sketches a brief history of Polonian parishes in the United States, focusing on their period of greatest growth (the second half of the 19th century through the first quarter of the twentieth). Part II examines factors for the decline of the Polonian parish, a process that began accelerating in the 1970s, although some causative factors were laid decades earlier. Those factors discusses include: trends towards individualization and isolation in American culture; increased physical mobility in the United States and the decline/destruction of physically-located Polonian communities; attitudes of Catholic bishops in the United States towards ethnic parishes (including general lack of appreciation of cultural diversity and the role of parishes in sustaining it); and the role of priests in maintaining or subverting ethnic parishes. Part III examines a phenomenon observed in New Jersey: the assumption of responsibility for particular parishes (St. Stephen's, Perth Amboy; Sacred Heart, Manville) by Polish male religious orders. The author argues that facilitating the transition of Polonian parishes to the care of Polish male religious orders may be a beneficial middle-term solution for maintaining existing Polish parishes, because such orders provide clergy, generally reinforce the parish's ethnic identity, often revitalize the general ministry of the parish, and effectively provide a buffer that provides some degree of 'insulation' from the local Ordinary and extant parochial 'consolidation'/closing schemes.
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