History of Holy Trinity Parish
Immigrants from Poland began settling in Erie as early as the mid 1800’s. At the turn of the century their numbers had swelled to over eight hundred families, more than could adequately be served by St. Stanislaus Church, Erie’s first Polish parish.
One of the local prominent Polish organizations at that time, the ThaddeusKosciuszko Society, raised the question of establishing a new parish at its monthly meeting held on August 12, 1902. The idea met with overwhelming support from its members. Subsequently, a meeting was arranged with the newly appointed bishop of Erie, The Most Reverend John Fitzmaurice. Those members of the Thaddeus Kosciuszko Society who had been appointed to present the request to the bishop for a new Polish parish read like a “who’s who list.” They included Adalbert Skibinski, Anthony Donikowski, John Czarnecki, Francis Nowak, John Nowak and John Kubeja.
Bishop Fitzmaurice reacted favorably to their request and gave his approval. The group then proceeded to select a site for the new church. On November 16, 1902. six lots were purchased on the corner of 22nd and Reed. This area was chosen since it was centrally located within the neighborhood of a large concentration of Polish families.
Realizing that their financial resources were meager, the group searched for an alternative to building a brand new church. That alternative was found in the form of a used, wooded church that was no longer needed now that our neighboring parish of St. John the Baptist had completed the construction of its new church, which is still in use today. A deal was struck to purchase the used church for $500. It was then moved from East 25th and Wallace Streets to East 22nd Street, and placed on a stone foundation that had been newly laid.
On December 6, 1903, Bishop formally dedicated Holy Trinity Church. It would become what is known as a “national parish,” that is, one without geographic boundaries as is the case of nearly every other parish. To this day, Holy Trinity remains a national parish. We draw parishioners from every quarter of the city and beyond.
As a most visible sign of the group’s forward thinking, the church was placed on a lot, once removed from the corner lot of East 22nd and Reed Street. That corner lot was being preserved for the eventual construction of a new church. That new church would finally be built in 1941, some thirty-eight years later. Talk about planning ahead!
The first pastor was Rev. Vincent Matysiak. Sadly his pastorate was brief owing to his untimely death by carbon monoxide from a gas heater in the bathroom where he was taking his bath. He died on October 11, 1904. He would live, however, to see the construction of a small school and rectory on September 10, 1904. Providing a Catholic education was, and remains, a strong part of the Polish faith tradition.
There followed the appointment on October 14, 1904 of Rt. Rev. Msgr. Severin Niedbalski who would become one of the longest serving priests of Holy Trinity Parish. He, too, would die, but of a heart attack, on February 14, 1948, bringing his forty-four years of faithful service to a close.
As the parish grew, the need for a larger school became apparent. An architect was retained, plans were drawn up, and construction soon completed. With the opening of the new and much larger school in September, 1910, the Felician sisters from the Immaculate Heart of Mary Province in Buffalo, New York were invited to staff the school as administrators and teachers. It would be a relationship that would endure for eighty-five years until the school was forced to close in 1995 by virtue of changing demographics. It performed its role well of providing a solid education to parishioners’ children. There are countless people today who fondly recall their quality education that they have received from our school.
Attesting to the continuing priority given to providing a Catholic education, parishioners banded together after the school’s closing to form a Parish Catholic Education Program. It is unique in several respects. First, it pays a substantial portion of the tuition. Secondly, the family is free to choose the Catholic school of its choice. Thirdly, tuition assistance is given to attend not only elementary school, but also high school and Catholic college as well. Perhaps most unique is that the PCEP program is entirely funded by the efforts of the families involved in the program. As the parish grew, so did its life. Various organizations were formed, several of which are still active today, some 105 years later. They include the Rosary Society, the Ushers Society, the Polish Women’s Alliance of America, Saint Catherine’s Group number 469, and the Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Auxiliary. Beyond these organizations, however, Holy Trinity Parish has an active and rich life. There is literally something occurring throughout each and every week.
Additionally, the parish has reached out to build alliances with other organizations dedicated to preserving and promoting the Polish heritage. The Wiwaty Dancers practice in our Social Center and routinely perform at Zabawa and other parish functions. Several parishioner sons and daughters are members of this unique dance group which features dances and costumes that are native to the various regions throughout Poland from which our ancestors emigrated.
We even have a “resident” polka band known as the Mar Vels. It was started by a parishioner and has several parishioners as its band members.
Perhaps the activity for which we are best known, however, is our annual summer fest. It is called Zabawa, which is Polish for “fun time.” Held each year on the fourth weekend in August, it features nationally known polka bands, home made food and baked good along with other activity that speaks to our proud Polish heritage. People literally are drawn to this annual event from the tri-state region and beyond.
A proud moment in our ever evolving history took place on October 27, 1940 as Archbishop John Mark Gannon, then bishop of the Erie Diocese, laid the cornerstone for our new church. Designed by the notable George W. Stickle, the Romanesque style church was unique in that it was the first church to be constructed in the United States that used laminated wood arches that grace the nave.
The church was extensively renovated during the period from 2002 to 2006. Renovations included restoring the stained glass windows and organ, installation of new, state of the art, computer operated sanctuary lighting, restoration of all statues, the addition of new sanctuary furniture to name but a few items. It is the most visible sign of our pride in our parish as well as a reflection of our deep faith in our Trinitarian God.
In February, 1948, following Msgr. Niedbalski’s death, the Very Rev. Msgr. John Mieczkowski assumed the role of pastor. He would serve until his death on September 4, 1959. Under his leadership, additional land along the south side of East 23rd Street was purchased on which was built our current Social Center. He also expanded the convent, built the outside Fatima shrine and added marble wall panels to enhance the beauty of the church. He paid for many of these items with his own money.
Following his death – the third pastor to die while serving as pastor – Rev. Msgr. Joseph Cebelinski took over as pastor on October 26, 1959. He would die, however, on December 28, 1973, shortly after his retirement on June 2, 1973.
It would fall to Rev. Msgr. John Daniszewski, who was appointed pastor on June 3, 1973, to lead the parish through the changes fostered by Vatican II. He provided reassuring stability during what would later be looked back upon as tumultuous changes to the Roman Catholic Church that had largely remained unchanged for four centuries. He would serve until August 17, 1992. He was followed in short order by Rev. John Santor (August 17, 1992 to June 30, 1994) and then by Rev. David Maciukiewicz (June 30, 1994 to September 3, 2003).
A gifted homilist and liturgist, Fr. David worked tirelessly to keep the school open by changing it into a School of the Arts. An innovative move, it sadly was not enough to turn the tides of change that eventually would prevail.
Holy Trinity parish now operates under a new approach for the Erie Diocese, the first of its kind. The role of pastor has been replaced by a two-man team involving Deacon Martin Eisert as Parish Administrator and Msgr. Thomas McSweeney as Parochial Administrator. Now in their sixth year of working together as a tight-knit team, the parish has witnessed a remarkable resurgence. Holy Trinity is experiencing a re-birth as newer and younger families are joining. While it may never become a large parish, its smaller size is one of the assets that draw newcomers. People find the parish intimate and caring.
Holy Trinity has also become a very active parish as well. The diverse number of ministries, activities and organizations assures that there is something for everyone.
Recently the parishioners completed an extensive five-year business plan that included the complete renovation of the church, social center, rectory, parking lots, and campus. Today, Holy Trinity stands out as an oasis in the very center of the City of Erie.
As an anchor in the neighborhood, Holy Trinity banded together with neighbors and neighborhood businesses to form the Trinity Square Project. Dedicated to reclaiming the neighborhood, one block at a time, remarkable progress has been made during the past two years, with special focus on East 22nd Street between Reed and Ash Streets.
Holy Trinity parishioners have long been noted for their deep loyalty to the parish along with a quiet, assuming, but committed faith to their God. It remains a truly unique parish.