Poles in San Diego
History as well as social and religious life of the community
by Pawel Pia

Polish Catholic Church
The religious life of the Southern California Polonia reflects a tolerant diversity. St. Mary's Polish National Catholic Church's Rev. Kalata has been succeeded by the Rev. Bjorn Marcussen. His is the oldest of the organized Polish religious groups in San Diego. The services are in English, the hymns sung in Polish. Ms. Alice Engel, Mr. and Mrs. Walter Grunenberg and Mr. and Mrs. Henry Rozanski are the most active pillars of this congregation.
The Byzantine Rite Holy Angeles Church reminds us of the historic struggle of the Greek rite Catholics after the partitions of Poland. Through hard work and admirable cohesion this group of Carpathian mountaineers achieved their goal: their own church. Its airy onion shaped domes dominate the northern rim of the San Diego River valley. The saints inhabiting the sanctuary's walls seem to move the viewer from the busy Interstate 805 to distant Byzantium with its mysteries.
In June 1971 Mr. Tomasz Ostrowski - a knight of Malta - went with Mr. Krzysztof Kwiecinski and L. Kulikowski to the Roman Catholic diocese to plead for a Polish Mass. Bishop Leo Maher granted their request and assigned a Franciscan priest, the American-born Father Justynian Pawelek as interim chaplain of the newly created Blessed Maximillian Kolbe Polish Mission.
Soon after, a former Polish military chaplain, a native of the Krakow province, Rev. Frederick Gorka arrived to take over the double duties as confessor and chaplain of the Carmelite nuns and as chaplain of the Polish group.
The nuns' beautiful sanctuary of the Holy Trinity, with Diego Rivera's picture over the main altar, became the spiritual home of the Roman Catholic Poles. The enchanting rose garden and the shady portico became the social center. Father Gorka knew how to create an oasis of peace for those who were seeking it. Here his flock celebrated the election of the first Polish Pope, here it prayed for his recovery after the assassination attempt.
The chaplain's own military experiences during World War II, his African adventures where Providence chose him to be the father to nearly 700 Polish orphans who survived Siberia, were different from his youthful dreams of becoming a flying Samaritan, serving the natives of the African bush. This quiet Franciscan who had studied philosophy in Lwow and Krakow worked patiently, with quiet compassion and subtle irony. The golden jubilee of his priesthood was an unforgettable event celebrated by his flock, two dozen priests from the diocese and his fellow Franciscans. The worst fire in San Diego's history interrupted the festivities.
A stroke removed him from his beloved Mission before the age of eighty. He died on February 14th 1992 in the Franciscan Friary in Arroyo Grande, CA. All his material goods were placed on the altar during his funeral Mass. They consisted of a steel watch, four $1.00 bills and his golden jubilee invitation and prayer. A truly Franciscan legacy. So ended eighteen years of blessed harmony at the Saint Maximillian Kolbe Polish Mission.
The following four years were just wanderings in the wilderness. But the will of the flock prevailed. Parents, under the direction of Dr. Jan Anzelm and Dr. Andrzey Szmidt organized a Polish school which received full support from Rev. Gerard Oblonczek. Professor Supernak enriched the Sunday liturgy with music, often of his own compositions. Such signs of vitality must have been noted by His Excellency Bishop Robert Brom, who also descends from Polish stock. He graciously assured the Mission's continuity by placing it in the care of the Polish Missionary Order of the Society of Christ. Father Stanislaw Kowalski, S.Ch. is the new chaplain of the church. The ark is safe.
The old Indian Mission San Antonio de Pala is in the care of the Franciscan Order. Father Szczepan R. Gross, OFM Conv. (Vice-Provincial), is the pastor. He is also empowered to administer according to the Byzantine rite in the Greek-Catholic churches of the San Diego diocese. This third generation Polish American, fluent in Spanish, also provides pastoral care to a large Chicano flock in North County.