At the end of the Nineteenth Century, many immigrants came to the shores of the United States looking for the opportunity to improve their lives. Some came because of religious or political persecution.
The majority of the immigrants were people departing from their native land because of the economic reasons. Some of them were preceded by friends or their families. Immigrants from Polish lands left their families in rural areas to live in the industrialized locations, hoping that they would live better and help their families back in Poland.
Those immigrants, entering United States through New York and intending to live in the East, settled in the region of the coal and steel mills of Pennsylvania and Appalachia, or worked in the New England in the woolen mills.
Polish immigrants in Rockville found work and lodging, but desired to retain their ethnic culture and religious identity where they could worship God in the Polish language. It is significant that, before the first St. Joseph Church was built, there existed already religious organizations, e.g., the Rosary Society.
The needs of Polish Catholics in Rockville were served by the priests who traveled to Rockville from New Britain or Hartford. To that end they desired to build their own church under direction of the Bishop of Hartford.
The first meeting to construct the church was held on October 21, 1901 in the Links Hall on Village Street. Mr. Joseph Grous was elected president of the new organization. This was also the meeting at which the first draft of the Constitution was proposed and the decision was made to begin collection of the money for a new church under patronage of Saint Joseph. There were monthly meetings of this organization. On October 27, 1903, a parcel of the land was purchased from the Hockanum Mills for $1,000.00. After the purchase of the land, the organization had a balance of only $64.97.
In 1903 the monthly meetings continued. At the first meeting of that year, the constitution was approved and Mr. Stanislaus Ciechowski was elected the president. He led the organization for one year. Adam Kozlowski served until the new parish was established in 1905.
As the donations were collected, a petition to establish a new Polish parish under patronage of Saint Joseph was sent to Rt. Rev. Michael Tierney, the Bishop of Hartford because the Diocese of Norwich was not established until 1953. Bishop Tierney was sympathetic, but, at that time there was no Polish priest who could be assigned as the pastor of Saint Joseph Parish, Rockville. In the meantime, Father Lozowski would travel every Sunday from Hartford to celebrate the Mass for the faithful at Saint Joseph. People had to wait until the priest would be available. Many of the Polish immigrants were unable to speak English, and although they could attend and understand the Mass which was still in Latin, they needed a Polish-speaking priest for confession and for pastoral visits in homes and hospitals. People were patient and hopeful. Collection of funds continued for the new purchase of the new parcel of land at the corner of West and Union Streets from Clarence Bradfish.
On April 26, 1905, Bishop Michael Tierney created a new parish in Rockville, the ninth Polish Catholic Parish in the Diocese of Hartford. Father Charles Wotypka, former assistant at Sacred Heart Parish in New Britain, became the first pastor of the parish.
Father Charles Wotypka was born in Prague of a Czech father and a Polish mother. He was ordained to priesthood in Grand Rapids, Michigan on August 25, 1889. After a priestly ministry in his diocese, he came to New Britain in 1905 to work with Monsignor Lucjan Bojnowski.
Father Wotypka's first priority in Rockville was to build a church. In the meantime, the old Sacred Heart Church, a mission of Saint Bernard Church, located on Church St. across from the old Vernon Depot railroad stop, was used for the Mass and services. The railway is now the "Rails to Trails" walking / biking path. The first Mass at St. Joseph Church was celebrated on April 30, 1905, the Sunday after Easter. In the afternoon during the meeting of the parish, Father Wotypka announced his nomination as the first pastor of Saint Joseph parish.
The Parish Committee was dissolved and the finances of the parish ($95.94 and debt of $4,400.00 after purchase of the land and home) were transferred to the new pastor as he now assumed financial responsibility to pay off the debt. Father Wotypka went to work beginning a membership drive for the parish. In the first year 132 families and 129 single persons (678 people) joined the parish. Catholics living in Vernon, Ellington, Broad Brook, South Manchester and Tolland chose to be members of Saint Joseph Parish.
After purchase of the land, it was time to begin construction of the church. Parishioners decided to take a bank loan of $14,700.00 with 4.5% interest. Through the dedication and generosity of the parishioners, social events and fund drives helped to defray the cost of the construction. More affluent parishioners responded with additional personal loans. In May 1905, Father Wotypka signed the contract with McIntyre Construction Company to build the church. The church was blessed on October 29, 1905 by Bishop Michael Tierney. This church would serve the parish for more than fifty years.
In 1906 the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Third Order of St. Francis were brought in to teach in the school that was organized the previous year. Father Wotypka purchased two buildings, one to house the school and the other to serve as a convent. In addition, a purchase was made to acquire the rectory. Due to parishioners' outstanding generosity and foresight, all these investments were made to organize parish life.
The new pastor did not have good health and had to be away from the parish. Other priests substituted for him. On April 30, 1908, Father Charles Wotypka was admitted to the Springfield Hospital where he died on August 28, 1908 and was buried at Saint Mary Cemetery in New Britain, CT.
The second pastor of Saint Joseph Parish was Father Joseph Culkowski. He was born in Poland and emigrated with his parents to the United States. The family settled in Buffalo, New York. Father Culkowski was educated by Felician Sisters at Saint Stanislaus School and received his philosophical and theological studies at Saints Cyril and Methodius College and Seminary in Orchard Lake, Michigan. He was ordained for the Hartford Diocese on July 2, 1899.
After serving in a few parishes as an assistant, he was made a pastor of Saint Stanislaus Church in Meriden. On May 1, 1908, he was made a pastor of Saint Joseph in Rockville. Unfortunately, poor health did not allow him to be in the parish long. He died in Buffalo, N.Y. on August 29, 1909 and was buried at the Polish cemetery. In February of 1909 Father Soltysek was made an administrator of the parish during the illness of Father Sulkowski.
Father Maximilian Soltysek, the third pastor of the parish, was born in Naklo, Poland. He was ordained a priest in 1901. There he successfully ministered until 1904 when he came to the United States and served at Saint Stanislaus Church in New Haven and Saint Michael the Archangel Church in Derby. On March 1, 1908, Father Soltysek was appointed third pastor of our parish. He was famous for his excellent preaching.
As a pastor he emphasized catechetical work, and also the life and activities of the parish societies. During his tenure, he built a new parish school and a convent for Sisters. In November 1917, he was transferred to a larger Polish parish in Middletown, CT. Father Soltysek was an outstanding priest, remembered for his religious and patriotic zeal. He died in Enfield in 1960.
Father Leon Wierzynski was appointed the fourth pastor of Saint Joseph Parish on November 5, 1917. He was born in Boguszewice, Belorussia in 1860. He studies for the priesthood in Plock Seminary in Poland. He was ordained priest on December 17, 1887. Until 1905, the year of his arrival in the United States, he worked in the Wloclawek Diocese. After eight years in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, he moved to the Hartford Diocese. On November 5, 1917, he was appointed by Bishop John J. Nilan as Pastor of Saint Joseph Church. He remained only one year.
Most of the people in the parish came from Galicia and Pomerania and had a difficult time understanding their pastor from Belorussia. Parishioners wanted to have a pastor who spoke their language. Father Wierzynski resigned the parish and taught at Saint John Cantius in Erie, Pennsylvania, a Vincentian school. In 1921 he returned to Poland.
The vacancy was filled by Father Franciszek Wladasz. He was born in Upper Silesia. He studied in Munich, Bavaria and Freiburg in Switzerland. He was accepted into the Hartford Diocese and ordained by Bishop John Nilan on October 10, 1911. He was appointed Pastor of Saint Joseph Church on August 22, 1918.
During his time in Rockville, he paid a substantial part of parish debt and bought a new parcel of land with the intention of building a new parish church. That year the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Third Order of St. Francis left the parish. Father Wladasz, at the advice of Bishop Nilan, invited the Felician Sisters to teach in the parish school. The Felician Sisters have continued their teaching ministry to this day. As of this writing, they still have a large convent in Enfield, CT. In 1922, Father was transferred to be the pastor of the Holy Name of Jesus in Stanford. He was a great patriot and loved deeply the Catholic Church. Pope John XXIII elevated him to the dignity of Papal Prelate in spring of 1959.
Father Franciszek Wladasz died in June 26, 1959. He was succeeded by Father Stefan Bartkowski. Father Bartkowski was born September 2, 1882 in Chelmce near Inowroclaw in the Archdiocese of Gniezno. He grew up during Kulturkampf, the time of forced Germanization of the Polish people in the region of Prussia.
He studied at St. Froud College and at American College of Louvain University in Belgium. After his ordination, he worked in Jamaica, Long Island, and Brooklyn, New York before transferring into the Hartford Diocese. Appointed Pastor of Saint Joseph, Rockville, he was here only four years (1922-1927).
During this time, he remodeled the rectory and paid the parish debt. He worked closely with parish societies. Bishop Nilan entrusted him with the task of organizing Holy Cross Parish in New Britain. During his 34 years as a pastor of that newly formed Holy Cross parish he built a new church, rectory, school and convent for the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Third Order of St. Francis. Father Bartkowski died On May 8, 1961 and is buried at Sacred Heart Cemetery next to his brother and sister. He was loved and esteemed among faithful and the clergy.
After the transfer of Father Bartkowski to New Britain, Father Zygmunt Woroniecki became the seventh Pastor of Saint Joseph Parish. He was born June 28, 1884 in Ciechocin, Diocese of Plock. At the age of 16, he emigrated to the United States and lived with his brother, an organist, at Sacred Heart Church in New Britain. When he finished his education for the priesthood at Saint Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Orchard Lake, Michigan, he was ordained a priest on June 24, 1913 by Bishop John J. Nilan.
He served in a few parishes as an assistant pastor and in 1915 he received the appointment to be the founding pastor of the Immaculate Conception Parish in Southington. He remained at that post until 1927 when he was transferred to Saint Joseph Parish, Rockville on November 9, 1927. He remained the pastor of the parish for twenty-two years, until 1949.
During his tenure as a pastor, he renovated the church and the other church buildings. He modernized the Saint Joseph Convent for the Felician Sisters. In the parish he celebrated his 25th and 30th anniversary of his priestly ordination. During the Second World War, under leadership of Father Woroniecki, Saint Joseph Parish was involved in helping people in occupied Polish territories.
In May 1943, Father Woroniecki became sick and was hospitalized hospital in Hartford. During his illness, Fathers Jan Sobolewski and Eugeniusz Solga took the administration the parish. On October 10, 1949, Father Zygmunt Woroniecki died in Saint Francis Hospital. Three days later, Bishop Henry J. O'Brien presided at his funeral. He was buried according to his wishes at Polish Cemetery in Southington.
Rev. Hyacinth Lepak - 1949
The parish observed a month of mourning after losing their pastor. Parishioners, with support of Father Hyacinth Lepak, financed the monument on the grave of Father Woroniecki. Father Hyacinth Lepak, on occasion of dedication of the monument, celebrated Mass with parishioners and church societies and said "He exhausted himself for the Polish causes and his parish."
Father Hyacinth Lepak, eighth pastor of Saint Joseph Parish, was born December 23, 1905 in Buffalo, New York, as the third of nine children of Andrew and Mary (Patla) Lepak. In 1906, his family moved from Buffalo NY to Hartford CT.
Father Lepak attended grammar and high school in Hartford until 1923, when he began studies at Saint Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield. He went on to study Philosophy at Saint Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Orchard Lake, Michigan (1925-1927) and Theology at the Catholic University in Freiburg, Switzerland. He said that he used to love to bicycle around Switzerland on his days off from studying. He received priestly ordination from Bishop Mariusz Besson.
For the next 18 years, he served as the chaplain to Felician Sisters in Enfield and as an assistant pastor in seven parishes in the diocese. At his post of Our Lady of Czestochowa Parish in Middletown, he received the appointment to be the pastor of Saint Joseph Parish in Rockville. He began his pastoral duties on November 6, 1949.
He was a talented pastoral leader gifted with foresight, and while dedicated to the Catholic and Polish national traditions but was first pastor to welcome people of diverse ethnic back rounds to the parish. During his pastorate, he saw the future need of a new church, and with help of the parishioners, he built the new church (1958), a new convent (1968), and garage / pre-k building while paying off the parish debt.
At Saint Joseph Church, he celebrated the 25th anniversary of his ordination and the Golden Jubilee of the parish. Bishop Bernard J. Flanagan, Bishop of Norwich, presided on October 23, 1955, at the 50th Church Anniversary Mass celebrated by Father Franciszek Wladasz, the fifth pastor of Saint Joseph.
As Father Hyacinth Lepak's health was declining he made the decision to retire from active administration of the parish. He was recovering from painful surgery at Rockville Nursing Home ( now Fox-Hill) and later, Monsignor Bojnowski Manor in New Britain where he passed away in early September of 1978. In memory of their beloved pastor, parishioners formed Father Lepak Memorial Fund for the students of the parish school.
Father Aloysius Kisluk, assistant of the parish, became the ninth Pastor of Saint Joseph Church. Born in Bristol, Connecticut to an immigrant family on October 28, 1928 his parents moved to New Britain, where he finished his education and went to study philosophy at Saint Mary College and theology at Sts. Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Orchard Lake, Michigan. Father Kisluk was ordained a priest on May 30, 1957, at Saint Patrick Cathedral in Norwich.
After serving as an assistant in a few parishes, and as a teacher in Saint Bernard High School in Uncasville, Father Kisluk was appointed a pastor of Saint Joseph Parish on December 18, 1975. He was installed as a pastor January 4, 1976 by Bishop Daniel P. Reilly. He renovated the church and organized Diamond Jubilees of the parish and was elected the President of the Polish Priests Association in Connecticut. In 1988, Father Aloysius Kisluk was transferred to Middletown to be a pastor of Our Lady of Czestochowa Parish.
Father Joseph Hanks became tenth pastor on May 26, 1988. Father was born on February 24, 1950 in Norwich, Connecticut as a member of Saint Joseph Parish, in Norwich. There he finished his grammar and high school education. After studying Theology at Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora, N.Y., he was ordained a priest on May 30, 1981 by Bishop Daniel P. Reilly at St. Patrick Cathedral in Norwich.
Before coming to Rockville, he served as an assistant in Saint Mary of Czestochowa in Middletown. During his time as a pastor, he made many improvements in the parish. He successfully launched the parish Youth Program which included a variety of activities including retreats and ski trips . His interest in the parish school brought an increase in student enrollment to almost 200 in Saint Joseph School. In his last year, he organized the Kindergarten and Pre-Kindergarten Program. Due to his energetic pastoral approach, organizational skills and love of Catholic education, Bishop Daniel Reilly on April 18, 1994, transferred Father Joseph Hanks to Saint John Parish in Old Saybrook, with the assignment to re-open the school there which had been closed for several years.
After Father Hanks, Bishop Daniel Reilly appointed Father Joseph M. Olczak an administrator of the parish on September 8, 1994. Father Joseph M. Olczak was born in Poland March 19, 1940. After joining the Pauline Fathers, he studied at the Pauline Fathers Major Seminary in Cracow. He was ordained to priesthood at Jasna Góra in Czestochowa on June 29, 1965 by the Bishop of Czestochowa, Stefan Barela. After ordination, Father Olczak continued theological studies at Catholic University of Lublin. In June 1970, he came to the United States. He served as administrator of Saint Lawrence Church in Cadogan, Pennsylvania, and in 1985 he became a Professor of Theology at Holy Apostles Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut.
When Bishop Daniel Hart invited the Pauline Fathers into the Diocese of Norwich, he installed Father Olczak as a pastor of Saint Joseph on December 1, 1996. During this time, with the initiative of the parishioners, many projects were accomplished in both the church and school buildings. Spiritual times of prayer, retreats and devotions were initiated and continued during 2004 as a preparation for the 100th Anniversary of St. Joseph Parish.
Today St. Joseph parish continues to be a place of spiritual renewal and support and mission for many with Sunday Masses and daily Masses convenient for working communters, opportunites for community and devitional prayer, Bible study, retreats, youth ministry, and outreach support to area social service organizations.
Parish History Photos, - 1920's - 1960's
St. Joseph parish was established in 1905 in response to the requests of the Polish immigrants to the Bishop of Hartford. The primary aim of these 300 parish families was to purchase the property, have the request for a pastor fulfilled, construct a church, and, eventually a school, all being completed between 1903 and 1907.
Having celebrated our centenary in 2005, today St. Joseph's is an ethnically diverse parish yet still serves the spiritual needs of modern Polish immigrants while retaining that deep fervent faith of the founding immigrant families.
Whether you are new to the area, just returning the Faith, or are inquiring about the Catholic Church, we hope you will take advantage of the opportunities for fellowship, faith study, service and worship that are offered here at St. Joseph's.
For more details please read on below and explore the rest of the website.