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MOST REV. FRANCIS HODUR
Organizer of the Polish National Catholic Church


Born: April 1, 1866, in the village of Zarsk, six miles from Cracow, Poland. Ordained to the priesthood August 19, 1893, in St. Peter's Cathedral, Scranton, PA. Took charge of Saint Stanislaus Parish, March 14, 1897. Elected Bishop of the Polish National Catholic Church, Sept. 29, 1907, at Utrecht, Holland, by Archbishop Gerard Gull and bishops John Van Thiel and Peter Spit of the Old Catholic Church of Holland. Died: February 16, 1953, at Scranton, PA. Buried in the St. Stanislaus Cathedral Cemetery at Scranton, PA, February 21, 1953. His religious work will always live in the hears of men.
"Through Truth, Work, and Struggle ...

The ties between Poland and the New World date back as far as the voyages of Skolnus the Pole (Jan of Kolno), which took place in 14761 and explored the coasts of the New World.

Poles first settled in the Jamestown Colony in 1608. The first Polish settlers in the New World were master craftsmen and artisans and were responsible for the first strike in America. According to the Court Book of the Virginia Company of London on July 31, 1619, it was decided that "Upon some dispute of the Polonian residents in Virginia it was now agreed that they shall be enfranchised and made as free as any inhabitant there whatsoever."2

Poland's long history of freedom led many of its citizens to come to the New World where they stood shoulder to shoulder with their friends and neighbors in the Revolutionary War. Among the most well known are Thaddeus Kosciuszko, Casimir Pulaski, Hayam Solomon, John Zielinski, Matthew Rogowski, Charles Litomski, and Michael Kowacz.3

The success of persons of Polish heritage and ancestry in the United States is well known. From Dr. Alexander Charles Kurcyusz who founded the first institution of higher learning in New York City in 1659. to General Vladimir Krzyzanowski, who distinguished himself in the battle of Bull Run during the Civil War to current day heroes such as space shuttle astronaut Jim Pawelczyk and Olympic Gold Medalist Tara Lipinski.

At the end of the 19th Century and into the early 20th Century the United States welcomed scores of Polish immigrants. These immigrants contributed toward the building of the Great Nation. These immigrants held a natural love of and longing for freedom. They sought to build a society that provided equal opportunity, recognized personal achievement, and provided the freedom to worship God, educate their children, raise their families, and be free from oppression and tyranny.

Along with their hopes and dreams these immigrants brought with them dearly held traditions and the fruits of a nearly one-thousand year old culture.

Unfortunately, these immigrants were confronted by a revival of American Nativism, a form of nationalism often identified with xenophobia and anti-Catholic sentiment. Nativism first arose as a reaction to the dislocations in labor supply and work opportunities occasioned by the surges in immigration after the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, and after the failed European revolutions of 1848, when about 3 million Europeans immigrated into the United States. Nativist sentiment experienced a revival in the 1880s, in response to new waves of immigration. It produced several anti-Catholic riots in the late 19th century, including the Philadelphia Nativist Riots. Between 1920 and 1940 nativist "scientists" performed experiments on the corpses of Eastern and Southern European immigrants. They classified the brains of these immigrants as smaller than the those of other Americans. Nativists also co-opted the term Slavs - people of Slavic ancestry - and identified those persons as slaves. Modern day "ethic jokes" have their roots in the nativist movement.

Negative reactions to new immigrants and their spiritual and pastoral needs was pervasive within the Roman Catholic Church in the United States. The Roman Catholic Church treated the spiritual and temporal needs of immigrant groups with a distinct lack of charity. In the New York Times of August 24, 1901, James Cardinal Gibbons, prelate of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States was quoted as having said: "The country, it seems to me, is overrun with immigrants, and a word of caution should be spoken to them."4

Between 1873 and 1895 various communities of Polish immigrants formed independent churches throughout the United States. The churches followed the Roman rite and claimed loyalty to the Pope albeit not to the Bishops appointed to various diocese.

In 1897, a Roman Catholic priest, Father Francis Hodur, emerged as leader for the disaffected and persecuted Polish immigrants of Scranton, Pennsylvania. Father Hodur was turned out of the seminary at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland after advocating for better living conditions for students. He brought that same zeal, energy, commitment to God and His people to the coal miners of Scranton. After repeated attempts to intervene on behalf of his people, up to and including attempts to meet with the Pope, fell on deaf ears, Father Hodur moved to a final break with the Roman Catholic Church. The ban of excommunication, with its attendant horrors, had no effect on Father Hodur who dared to stand up and denounce the gross discrimination present in the Roman Catholic Church in the United States.

The PNC Church still followed the Roman rite but adopted the vernacular as the language of worship. The church also adopted a charter that provided for the sharing in its management by the laity together with the clergy. Other major reforms included early advocacy of a married clergy, equality and the rights of women within the church. Soon other independent congregations joined the Scranton movement. By September 1904, twenty-four parishes claiming 20,000 adherents in five states formally united to form a new denomination. At the first synod, Father Hodur was elected Bishop. Bishop Hodur was consecrated Bishop by the Bishops of the Old Catholic Church in Holland assuring Apostolic Succession. Under Bishop Hodur's leadership, the Polish National Catholic Church became a sanctuary for all those spiritually injured and harmed.

This period was a time of great trial for the members of this new church. Roman Catholics treated the members as traitors. The members of the church were often the targets of physical violence and verbal abuse. Often times member's children were forced to walk on the "other side of the street" while they were mocked. These insults were borne with Christian charity and in keeping with the Words of Christ:

Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Luke 6:28-30 (NIV)

In 1925, the people of Polish Roman Catholic descent here in the Lehigh Valley found themselves facing the same problems as the people in Scranton had faced 40 years earlier. Both in Allentown and Bethlehem, they decided they were not going to stand for oppression either. So, two parishes were organized through their hard work. Resurrection of Our Lord in Allentown in 1926 and Our Lord's Ascension in Bethlehem in 1927. Resurrection faced other problems and did not last much past 1941 so they joined with the folks in Bethlehem to form a stronger parish.

Our Lord's Ascension purchased a small Church building on the corner of 5th and William Sts. on Bethlehem's Southside and a parish community grew. They decided to place themselves under the jurisdiction of the Polish National Catholic Church inviting Prime Bishop Francis Hodur to come to Bethlehem. So, on May 22, 1927, it came to pass.

Our Lord's Ascension Parish remained on the Southside of Bethlehem until 1975 when it came time to build a new building. Land was purchased on Jennings Street along with a house on Linden Street to serve as the rectory. In May of 1976, the Congregation of Our Lord's Ascension moved into our present Church building.
...We Shall Be Victorious."
1Wytfield, Kornelius. The Chronicle of Kornelius Wytfield, 1599

2Dziob, Francis W., Karol Burke, and Joseph Wiewiora. Jamestown Pioneers From Poland. Chicago, IL: Polish American Congress, 1958. F234.J3J35 1958 POC

3Haiman, Mieczyslaw. Poland and the American Revolutionary War. Chicago, IL: Polish Roman Catholic Union of America, 1932. E184.P7H136 1932 SPE

4Wytrwal, Joseph A. Poles In American History and Tradition
 
THE PRIESTS WHO SERVED IN THE PARISH:
Rev. R. Zabek 1927 - 1929
Very Rev. Edward Abramski 1929
Rev. Joseph Rekas 1930 - 1932
Very Rev. Edward Abramski 1932 - 1938
Rev. Jan Zieba 1938
Rev. Joseph Janik 1939 - 1941
Rev. Stanley Molon 1941 - 1942
Rev. Jan Piotrowski 1942 - 1953
Rev. Karol W. Debowski 1953 - 1954
Rev. E. Louis Czehowski 1954 - 1967
Rev. Walter F. Thomas 1967 - 1970
Rev. Bruno Danis 1970 - 1971
Rev. Walter C. Poposki 1972 - 1992
Rev. Paul Zomerfeld 1992 - 1996
Rev. Carmen G. Bolock 1996 - 2009
Rev. Bogdan T. Jurczyszyn 2009 - Present.