Faraway Poland has always affected life in this parish. Immigrants built it. Their descendants loved it and saw it flourish, but many eventually left it for mainstream American life.
In the past few decades, Poland has again undergone a drastic change. The late 1970s saw a loosening of Communist power, and in 1981, the Solidarity movement was officially recognized by the government. During that period, Monsignor Bucia conferred with the mayor of Camden and other city officials, discussing a plan in which expected Polish immigrants could be housed in nearby vacant buildings. Unfortunately, just as the plan was to go into effect in 1981, martial law was declared in Poland.
With Poland now free of Communism, there is again hope that another generation of Poles will provide St. Joseph’s with new families and youth. Immigration quotas make this difficult, but Polish people are determined.
The strong character of this parish is perhaps best illustrated by a story involving Monsignor Strenski, who was responsible for so much of its success. The events in the story occurred at Sacred Heart Parish in South Amboy. Again, the words are Mr. Zachary’s:
…several parishioners accompanied the Monsignor to a number of suggested sites with plans for the rebuilding of the badly damaged rectory. (It had been damaged in an explosion.)
Monsignor’s proposal to remove the hill directly in front of the rectory was turned down as “impossible.” They agreed amongst themselves that it was foolish to think anyone could move a mountain with a pick and a shovel. Furthermore, the contractor’s bid of $6,000 for removing 6,000 cubic yards of dirt with a steam shovel was also ridiculous. “Let’s forget it,” they said, and they parted.
One day the Monsignor hired a dump truck and together, with the driver, he began to dig. Before long they were joined by a parishioner. Another followed, and then another, until in a day or so they numbered 45 strong. Digging in shifts they were timed removing 800 shovels of dirt every two and a half minutes. Within three and a half months the one acre of land was completely leveled.
St. Joseph’s Church was built not with ease or with a few enormous donations but bit by painful bit, just as that hill was removed one shovelful at a time. Throughout its history, the parish has benefited from the same Polish spirit of faith, which for centuries kept a captive nation alive. This faith, and God’s continued blessing, will bring it into its next hundred years.
Leading St. Joseph’s into the new millennium is Father Edward Lipinski. With the help of parishioners, St. Joseph’s alumni and friends of the World Wide Web he will be able to preserve the church as a symbol of Americas’ rich Ethnic Heritage.