History of St. Casimir Catholic Church
A Growing Polish Community in Leavenworth
The establishment of St. Casimir’s Polish Church dates back to the year 1888 when a small contingent of Poles from Westphalia, Germany, began to settle here. Familiar with the German language and customs, they affiliated themselves with St. Joseph’s German congregation. With the opening of the Home and Riverside mines in 1889 and 1890, respectively, other groups of Poles came from Pennsylvania and Illinois, some finding employment in the mine and factories, others settling on nearby farms, and some establishing themselves in business.
In 1889, the Poles of the city organized a society and dedicated it to St. Casimir, the Polish saint. John Orzechowski was chosen president; Severin Kowalewski secretary; and John Marcyan, treasurer. Forty-two were enrolled as members of this organization. The Rev. Francis Kulisek was requested to serve as their chaplain and advisor. He frequently came from Frankfort, where he was pastor at the time, to attend the meetings. He also preached to the men in their native tongue and heard their Confessions. It was through Father Kulisek’s efforts that the services of other Polish priests were procured to serve the Poles of Leavenworth. These priests would serve the Polish people for a short while, and then go on to larger Polish communities, as their services were in great demand because of the huge influx of Poles in the late ’80s and ’90s. The scarcity of Polish priests at that time was appalling.
Father Smietana Calls for a Polish Congregation
In 1893 Father Alexander Smietana was ordained by His Excellency, Bishop Louis Maria Fink, and appointed Pastor of St. Casimir’s. On Easter Sunday of that year, Father Smietana celebrated Mass in St. Joseph’s church. He announced that there would be a meeting of all Polish-speaking people immediately after the service. At the meeting, Father Smietana heartily exhorted the Polish people to band together and to unite as one large family in order to form a congregation of their own. The following attended the meeting: John Orzechowski, Martin Loboda, Joseph Jurewicz, Jan Babski, Herman Klasinski, Jan Zielinski, John Bredacz, Kasper Wojtylak, Joseph Malinowski, Michael Zawacki, Val Ruczkowski, G. Derezinski, John Szczygiel, Vincent Bietka, S. Kowalewski, F. Bodneszas, M. Wylus, A. Wypychowski, M. Tomaszewski, J. Suwalski, Michael Matuszak, Thomas Goliwas, Louis Szudrowica, Wojciech Johnar, Adam Suchowski, Anthony Titolski, Frank Frenikowski, M. Winicki, Frank Gajewski, Jan Szrejder, Math. Drezinski, Jan Lozinski, Adam Szalkowski, Mich. Wittek, Barth Szymznowicz, John Wisniewski, Jos. Waksmunski, Max Cichocki, Jan Marcyan, Joseph Kuzewski, and Theodore Kowalski.
According to the best information available, there were then about 54 Polish families, numbering about 180 souls. At this meeting Father Smietana asked the people to make voluntary contributions for the purchase of a Church site. St. Casimir society donated $500. And those present at the meeting subscribed $1600. A committee of four, Mssrs. Marcyan, Szudrowica, Kowleski, and Zawacki, were appointed at the meeting to select a site for the new church, and after viewing several places, it was finally decided with the Bishop’s approval, to purchase a tract of land on Pennsylvania Avenue at Cleveland Terrace, 240 feet x 200 feet, for $1450.
In the summer of 1893, work on the present church building was begun, and it was interesting to listen to some of the old-timers tell about the hardships and difficulties they experienced in building their church. There was a 6-month strike at the mines, and the money subscribed was not forthcoming. The men did most of the work themselves, after a hard day’s work in the factory or mine, by the light of the moon or a lantern. In May 1894, the handsome new St. Casimir church was dedicated with impressive and appropriate services. It was completed at a cost of about $7000, exclusive of furnishings.
Parish Continued to Grow Under Rev. John Grudzinski
Father Alexander Smietana resigned from his office as pastor in October 1897, after 4 years of truly strenuous, but fruitful work. He was succeeded by the Rev. John Grudzinski, under whose guidance the parish underwent many improvements. When Grudzinski took charge, the parish comprised about 75 families. The church was the only building on the present site, and a portion of it was used as a parish house. About 50 children were taught by lay teachers in the basement. Through the efforts of Father Grudzinski, teaching Sisters of the Felician community from Chicago were secured. Ever since then, the school has been under their careful and zealous care and guidance. The enrollment of the school varied during Father Grudzinski’s pastorate, which lasted 16 years, from 75 to 125. The advent of three Sisters made the need of larger quarters urgent, so Father Grudzinski gave up his own rooms in the rear of the church and set about building the present rectory, built at the cost of $5000.
Father Grudzinski pastorate at St. Casimir was marked by exemplary harmony between pastor and parishioners. This was but the natural result of the faith peculiar to the Polish people and the zeal and success with which the pastor worked for his flock. His memory will live in the minds of the parishioners of St. Casimir. In April 1913, Father Grudzinski, because of ill health, resigned as pastor of St. Casimir church. He was succeeded by the Rev. Francis Kozlowski, of pious memory, who as pastor of St. Casimir for 2 years and seven months, rendered inestimable service to the people of this parish. On December 29, 1915, the Rev. Joseph F. Laczniak was appointed pastor of St. Casimir church. Zeal for the people and energy in undertaking marked the work of the new pastor.
Transcription of plaque located on west side of St. Casimir Church building: In 1889, a group of Polish emigrants from Westphalia, Germany, settled in Leavenworth. As the Polish population grew they organized Saint Casimir Men's Society in 1889 to maintain their cultural-religious heritage. Bishop Louis Fink gave permission for the construction of a national Polish Catholic parish in 1893 and appointed Father Alexander Smietana the first pastor of Saint Casimir Church. Work on the present church building began that summer. Despite difficult economic times, the parishioners did most of the work themselves by the light of the moon and lanterns after a hard day's work in the factory or mine. The church was completed and dedicated in May, 1884, at a cost of $7,000. Its beginnings were humble, its trials were many, but through steadfast faith and perseverance, the people of Saint Casimir Parish contributed to the educational, religious, cultural, and economic growth of Leavenworth, Kansas. Dedicated to posterity by Leavenworth County Historical Society 1993.
At the bottom of windows in St. Casimir, family names can be found.
St. Casimir Catholic School
No sooner was the new residence finished than Father Grudzinski decided that a new school building was needed. He purchased an acre of ground adjoining the church property on the west. W.F. Feth, the architect, drew the plans for the building. The contractor, with the aid of parishioners, commenced work on the school. Through the efforts of Senator Stillings and Warden Haskell, brick was furnished from the state prison, practically at cost. The new school was built for about $10,000.
In 1916, there were 170 families and 160 children enrolled in the school. The new pastor’s delight was his school. He encouraged higher education. Graduates of St. Casimir School who continued their studies in higher institutions of learning occupied prominent positions in all walks of life. The parish is justly proud of its sons and daughters who have served in various capacities.
The rectory was remodeled in the 1970s, and the church was renovated. During this period, with the consolidation of the separate elementary schools in Leavenworth, St. Casimir School was closed, and the teaching mission of the Felician Sisters came to a close in Leavenworth.
In 1986, the school building was remodeled and reopened. It was dedicated as the Xavier Early Childhood Center for preschool, kindergarten students and a daycare center for children under the supervision of the Leavenworth Catholic School System.
In 1987, the old rectory was remodeled as a parish office and meeting place; it became the Parish Center for both St. Casimir and its sister parish, Sacred Heart of Jesus.
In 1995, the church was renovated extensively and dedicated on March 19. The Feast of St. Joseph The Carpenter Building by Archbishop James P. Keleher and Father Bill Hagelin.
Photo of St. Casimir Catholic School on October 22, 2019. The building is no longer utilized for school purposes.