By Rev. Mark A. Borkowski
Today, Monday, April 23rd, is the feast of St. Wojciech/Adalbert, who is revered as one of Poland’s oldest saints and in fact one of the great patron saints of the Polish nation. He is a saint also of great importance to us, Polish-Americans of the Archdiocese of Detroit, because the very first Polish parish in the city of Detroit was placed from its very beginning under the protections and patronage of St. Wojciech. Wojciech was born of a noble family in Bohemia in 956, ten ears before Poland became a Christian nation with the baptism of King Mieszko the first bishop of Magdeburg. It should also be noted that Adalbert and Wojciech are two different names, not the Latin and Polish equivalents of the same name! The name Wojciech in Slavonic means “Help of the army.” The English name of Detroit’s first Polish parish “Albertus” was the name mistakenly given to the church at the time of its dedication. Albertus is the Latin form of Abert. This mistake was never corrected in the 117 year history of the parish, which closed in 1989.
As a child, Wojciech was consecrated to the Blessed Virgin by his parents who feared losing him to sickness. They promised the Virgin that Wojciech would live under her patronage with the clergy. Wojciech received an excellent education at the cathedral school of Magdeburg. In 982 he was ordained a subdeacon by the bishop of Prague. Though only 27 years of age, he was elected bishop of Prague in 983, after the sudden death of the previous bishop. Wojciech entered the city of Prague barefoot as a symbol of his humility. He was received with enthusiasm by Boleslaus II, prince of Bohemia, and all the people of that city. He proceeded to reorganize the diocese but was saddened to learn of the religious state of his flock. Most were Christian in name only. He withdrew to Rome in 990 but returned to Prague in 994 at the insistence of Pope John XV. Again he encountered difficulties and a refusal to accept the true gospel in Prague, which caused him to withdraw from Prague to Rome. Once again the Pope, Gregory V at this time, ordered him back to Prague.
The people of Prague, however, refused to admit Wojciech to the diocese and so he turned his attention to the conversion of Poland (Pomerania) to Christianity as a missionary. He made converts at Gdansk but later met with scorn as he and his companions were accused of being spies.
On April 23rd, 997, he and his companions were martyred near Krolewiec by being beaten to death with oars. After severing his head and fixing it on a pole which was carried throughout the village, his body was thrown into the Nogat River, a tributary of the Wistula, and washed up on the Polish coast. The body was held for ransom by heathens who received a small fortune, the weight of the body in gold, from Boleslaus, Duke of Poland, for its return. Later in 998 his body was enshrined in Gniezno; some of his relics, however, were returned by force to Prague in 1039. Adalbert was canonized a saint in the year 1000.
When St. Albertus parish was organized by the St. Stanislaus Kostka Society (a group of Polish immigrants attending the nearby German St. Joseph Church) they chose the Bohemian born St. Adalbert/Wojciech as their patron. The date of the meeting of organization of the new parish was April 23rd, 1870, the feast of St. Wojciech. He was a fitting choice for patron as many of the early parishioners of the Church had come from that area of Poland known as Pomerania and Poznania where St. Wojciech had ministered. They were known as Kaszubs and spoke a dialect of Polish heavily influenced by the German language.
Wojciech was the first great adopted patron of the Christian Polish nation. He had been venerated for over eight centuries as Protector of the Poles when he was selected to be the patron of Detroit’s first Polish parish which was primarily composed of Kaszubs.
When the first St. Albertus Church was dedicated on Sunday, July14th, 1872, the name of the patron was inadequately translated from the Latin Adalbertus to the English Albertus, thus forever identifying Detroit’s first Polish parish by the misnomer Albertus. Such is life! For better or worse, the Mother Church of the Detroit Polonia is known, at least in English, as St. Albertus.
[Many thanks to Rev. Mark A. Borkowski, Associate Pastor, Ss Peter & Paul Catholic Church, Detroit, Michigan, who was kind enough to allow me to share his article with you.]
I have several family ties to St Wojciech and his feast day.
- I am Polish and he was the first patron saint of Poland.
- My great grandparents, Szymon and Ludwika Lipa were members of St. Albertus parish in Detroit when they first immigrated to the U.S. Some of my grandaunts and uncles were baptized and buried from that parish as well.
- Although I was never a member of that parish myself, I created a website for the parish and served as webmaster for several years.
- I have numerous Granduncles and a couple grandfathers named for St Wojciech.
- My mother, who always held her Polish heritage near and dear to her heart, died on this day in 2007.
I had intended to write about St. Wojciech in honor of his feast day today but when I read the very nice article Fr. Borkowski had written I knew I could do no better.