The aforementioned Fr. Barzynski was one of the co-founders of the Polish Roman Catholic Union of America (PRCUA) in 1873. The PRCUA, now located at 984 North Milwaukee Avenue, is the oldest Polish-American fraternal benefit society. It sells whole and term life insurance policies and annuities; performs religious, charitable, and educational services; and sponsors The Polish Museum of America (PMA).
The PMA also located at 984 North Milwaukee Avenue, began in 1935 as the Museum and Archives of the PRCUA. In January of 2014, the PRCUA will celebrate the 140th anniversary of its foundation and the PMA will celebrate the 77th anniversary of its foundation.
Founded in 1880, the Polish National Alliance of the United States of North America (PNA), located at 6100 North Cicero Avenue, is also a Polish-American fraternal benefit society. The PRCUA is older, but the PNA is bigger. In fact, the PNA is the largest ethnically-based fraternal insurance benefit society in the U.S.
While the PNA also has a religious dimension, broadly speaking, the PRCUA is more religious in outlook and the PNA is more political in outlook. The founders of the PNA believed Polish people everywhere in the world should work toward the goal of regaining Polish independence. Both of these organizations, as well as the Polish Falcons, founded in 1887, and the Polish Women’s Alliance, founded in 1898, were part of the worldwide movement to regain Polish independence, an aim achieved at the end of World War I.
Resentment on the part of Polish priests and laymen of the way Irish and German prelates dominated the Catholic hierarchy in the U.S. was a factor in the establishment of the Polish National Catholic Church in the 1890s. [Surely it is not a coincidence Chicago’s own Paul Rhode, the first Polish bishop in the U.S., was consecrated in 1908.] The Polish National Catholic Church has tens of thousands of members in the U.S., Canada, Poland, Italy, and Norway, and is in a state of “limited inter-communion” with the Roman Catholic Church.
Władysław Dyniewicz published the first Polish newspaper in Chicago, Gazeta Polska (Polish Gazette) in 1872. Two years later, Fr. Barzynski’s brother, John Barzynski, began publication of Gazeta Polska Katolicka (Polish Catholic Gazette).
In The Encyclopedia of Chicago, D.A. Pacyga noted, “The main concern of the schools was the preservation of PolskoŜć or Polishness among immigrant children. Another concern was to prepare the children for life in the United States. In addition to parochial grammar schools, Polish Chicago developed Catholic high schools run both as independent institutions and as part of parish structures. In 1890 the Resurrectionists opened St. Stanislaus College, the first secondary school opened by the congregation in the United States. In 1930 the school was renamed Weber High School. In 1952 the Resurrectionists established Gordon Technical High School. Polish parishes, such as St. Joseph in the Back of the Yards, also opened high schools.”
The Catholic Church and the fraternals provided a layer of ethnically based social service institutions. Polonia debuted its own hospital, St. Mary of Nazareth, in 1894 and established St. Joseph's Home for the Aged in 1898. St. Hedwig's Orphanage opened in 1910. The Polish Catholic sisterhoods played a central function in these organizations. Polish Chicagoans created the Polish Welfare Association (1922) to help Polish communities deal with juvenile delinquency and other social problems. Polish women, such as Stella Napieralska, performed important roles in social service institutions, such as Guardian Angel Day Nursery and Home for Working Women in Back of the Yards (1914). Polish Americans, in cooperation with Czech Catholics, opened St. Adalbert Cemetery in Niles in 1872 and Resurrection Cemetery in Justice, Illinois, in 1904. Thus Polish institutions provided for Polish Chicagoans from birth through death.
Chicago has been good to Polish entrepreneurs who opened businesses, mostly along Milwaukee Avenue, Division Street, Archer Avenue, Ashland Avenue, Commercial Avenue, and West 47th Street, in the 19th and 20th centuries. Further, Jewish businessmen with roots in Poland and other Eastern European countries opened businesses in Polish neighborhoods, including retailers who opened the Goldblatt Bros. department store (Goldblatt’s), Polk Brothers home appliance store, and Meyer Bros. Department Store. Polish professionals, such as doctors and lawyers, served Polonia, too.
Pacyga described the movement of the Chicago’s Polish residents from the first neighborhoods the inhabited to other neighborhoods of the city and its suburbs, the influx of Black and Hispanic residents into historically Polish neighborhoods, and steps Polish parishes have made to accommodate Hispanic parishioners. “By World War I, the original core Polish neighborhoods had established a foundation for the expansion of the Polish community across the Northwest, Southwest, and Southeast Sides of the city. Polish Americans spread along Milwaukee Avenue northwest to Humboldt Park, Logan Square, Avondale, Jefferson Park, and eventually into the northwest suburbs. Poles moved out of Bridgeport and Back of the Yards into Brighton Park, Gage Park, West Elsdon, Garfield Ridge, and the southwest suburbs. Poles in South Chicago moved south and east. By 1980 Hispanics and African Americans had largely replaced Poles in the older inner-city core neighborhoods. Many Polish Catholic parishes offered mass in Polish and Spanish, as well as in English. Icons of Our Lady of Guadalupe joined the Black Madonna of Częstochowa in churches across the city. Polish Chicagoans left old neighborhoods such as the Bush in South Chicago for newer settlements like Fair Elms on the East Side. They also moved beyond the city boundaries to Niles, Park Ridge, Palatine, and Northbrook. Lansing had the greatest percentage of Polish Americans in the area in 1980. In 1990, 65 percent of all Polish Americans in the Chicago area resided in the suburbs.”
Polonia's move to the suburbs was not simply an example of upward mobility. Many suburbs were and are home to heavy industry and had long-established Polish American working-class communities. This movement does, however, reflect… Americanization. In the face of suburbanization, various organizations… tried to maintain the older city neighborhoods and organized cultural institutions as community anchors. The Copernicus Center opened in the early 1980s near Milwaukee and Lawrence Avenues; and while the Polish Women's Alliance moved to Park Ridge and the Polish National Alliance moved its headquarters to the far North Side of the city, the Polish Roman Catholic Union and the Polish Museum remained in the original Polish settlement, and the Polish Highlanders Alliance built a new headquarters on Archer Avenue...
Polish laborers played an important role in organizing unions at the Union Stockyards, meat packinghouses, and steel mills. Reverend Louis Grudzinski was one of several Polish priests to support the formation of labor unions.