The Schuylkill River corridor in Montgomery and Chester Counties in the suburbs of Philadelphia, PA has been home to a vibrant Polish population for more than 100 years. Four communities in particular had particularly strong Polish concentrations that were centered around the Catholic churches in their locality. These included- St. Mary’s Church in Conshohocken, Sacred Heart Church in Swedesburg and Bridgeport, Holy Trinity Church in Phoenixville, and Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Pottstown.
Sadly, in recent years, each of these communities have been impacted by changing neighborhood demographics, a diminishing supply of priests, and fewer people practicing their faith; which has resulted in a wave of parish mergers in recent years. Many of the original parishes which were founded on a basis of shared ethnicity have been consolidated and reorganized as territorial ethnic-neutral parishes. Out of all the Polish Churches within the Schuylkill River corridor, only Sacred Heart in Swedesburg remains open as a territorial parish for the Bridgeport/Swedesburg Catholic community. As a result, Polish Catholics throughout Montgomery County and the surrounding area no longer have a home to celebrate and observe the beautiful Polish customs and traditions which are so near and dear to so many people and have served to unite generations of families.
St. Mary’s Catholic Church served as a landmark for the Conshohocken community for more than 100 years, as the original Polish parish in Montgomery County. It was lovingly built and nurtured by Polish immigrants and their descendants for generations, serving the spiritual and cultural needs of parishioners and visitors alike. The architectural beauty of St. Mary’s Church building represents the tremendous love for and devotion to the Catholic faith of the Polish people.
In July 2014, after 109 years of service to Conshohocken’s Polish community, St. Mary’s was merged into a single consolidated St. Matthew’s Parish, along with Sts. Cosmos and Damien and St. Gertrude Parishes. With nowhere to formally celebrate our Polish heritage in Montgomery and since St. Mary’s Church was no longer used by St. Matthew's Parish, a group of Polish Americans from throughout Montgomery County and former parishioners of St. Mary’s Church have come together to form St. Mary Polish American Society, under the patronage of Mary, Our Lady of Częstochowa, Queen of the Polish Nation.
St. Mary Polish American Society is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and an official non-profit corporation in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania dedicated to the two-pronged mission of promoting awareness and appreciation of our Polish history and cultural heritage and raising money for the upkeep and maintenance of St. Mary’s Church so it can serve as the cultural and religious heritage site for Polish people throughout Montgomery County and the surrounding area.
As of May 2016, St. Mary Polish American Society successfully delayed an attempt by St. Matthew's Parish to take away St. Mary’s status as a Catholic church, which would have led to the eventual sale and demolition of St. Mary’s Church if no action was taken. Our group’s mission provides another path forward, one in which St. Mary’s can remain a Catholic church, while not being a financial burden to St. Matthew’s Parish. St. Mary Polish American Society continued to be responsible for the maintenance and upkeep costs of the church.
In 2018 the Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced that Archbishop Chaput has approved the establishment of a quasi-parish at the location of the former Saint Mary Parish in Conshohocken effective August 1, 2018. This announcement comes in response to an interest for additional pastoral care for those wishing to participate in Divine Worship in the Extraordinary Form. The Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter will be entrusted to the care of the new “quasi-parish.” The Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter is a Clerical Society of Apostolic Life of Pontifical right, that is, a community of Roman Catholic priests who do not take religious vows, but who work together for a common mission in the world. The Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter offers Masses in the Extraordinary Form (sometimes referred to as the Traditional or Tridentine Latin Mass) rather than the Ordinary Form. Father Carl Gismondi, F.S.S.P. was named Pastor of the new parish. The first Mass in the Extraordinary form (traditional Latin high Mass) was held at new quasi-parish of St. Mary in Conshohocken on Sunday, September 9th. It was a beautiful celebration. There were 545 people in attendance, filling pews, the choir loft and standing in the back. The new pastor, Fr. Carl Gismondi F.S.S.P. was the celebrant, Fr. Gregory Eichman F.S.S.P. was the Deacon, and Fr. Scott Allen F.S.S.P. was the Subdeacon. From that day onward, the Traditional Latin Mass(es) are being held daily.
Within the context of our mission, our goals include:
• To support saving St. Mary’s Church so it can still be used for worship services which incorporate Polish customs and traditions
• To promote the identity of St. Mary’s Church as a Polish historic and cultural site for the people of Montgomery County and the surrounding area, paying homage to its legacy as the original Polish parish in the county
• To carry out a calendar of events that will integrate programs of social, civic, and cultural enrichment of Polish customs and traditions which are deeply rooted in our Catholic faith
• To hold meetings and socials
• To sponsor activities that will recognize the contributions of Polish Americans and thereby enhance a sense of ethnic identity and pride
• To inspire the next generation of Polish Americans to be more mindful and respectful of their ethnic and Catholic heritage as having practical and real value in their lives
We humbly strive to protect St. Mary’s Church, out of love for our Catholic faith and Polish heritage, and respect for the sacrifices and achievements of our ancestors. All are welcome to come to our events and to volunteer their time, talents, or treasure in any way they can to help us achieve our mission and goals.
Through the intercession of the Blessed Mary under the title Our Lady of Częstochowa, Patroness and Queen of Poland, we pray that our efforts will be successful in celebrating the Catholic faith as a beautiful and integral part of our Polish heritage in Montgomery County and the surrounding area with St. Mary’s Church as our home.