[Disclaimer statement] The information in this post was taken from Polish Detroit and the Kolasinski Affair by Lawrence D. Orton. In some cases the text was copied from the book, but most of it was paraphrased by me. You should not assume any information you find here is true. These are my working notes for a novel (a work of fiction) that I am writing and nothing more. If you want good, solid, well researched information on the subjects mentioned here you should get a copy of Polish Detroit and the Kolasinski Affair by Lawrence D. Orton (ISBN 0814316719 Wayne State Univ Pr (1981)). [End of statement]
July 4, 1885 In spite of adverse economic conditions, the new St. Albertus Church opens on schedule. P. 36 PDKA.
October 1885 After 2 years of receiving complaints against Rev. Kolasinski including moral turpitude and charging excessive fees for performing funerals, marriages, etc., Bishop Borgess asks Kolasinski for a complete accounting. Kolasinski agrees but does not follow through.
November 1885 The Bishop orders Rev. Kolasinski to turn over all of the parish financial records.
November 29, 1885 During the sermon of the Mass, Rev. Kolasinski delivers a passionate denunciation to his accusers. After Mass he is confronted by the Bishop’s man but he refuses to hand over the parish books. P. 38 PDKA
November 30, 1885 Rev. Kolasinski meets personally with the Bishop and still refuses to turn over the parish financial books. So the Bishop suspends Kolasinski as a priest. P. 40 PDKA. Later the same day he appointed Rev. Jozef Dabrowski to be temporary pastor of St. Albertus.
From PDKA p. 41: “The overwhelming majority of the parishioners at St. Albertus Church were unaware of the gravity of the crisis developing between the priest and the parish elders on the one hand and the priest and his bishop on the other. The times were not good economically, and many of the most recent, unskilled immigrants had great difficulty obtaining even irregular unemployment as day laborers. But they were members of the “finest Polish Church in America” and their pastor’s elegant office and manner and his adherence to the ways of the old country provided them with a sense of familiarity and security in this strange new land. Understandably then, the news that the German Bishop (Borgess) had suspended “their” priest and directed him to leave the diocese brought anger to the Polish parishioners.”
December 1, 1885 [First Riot] Fr. Dabrowski attempted to say the 6am Mass at St. Albertus. When he ascended the altar to begin Mass he was seized and held by one man and bodily ejected from the church by a group of women. “Out with him! We want our own priest!” was their cry. Within a few minutes the church was emptied and the doors locked.
The excited parishioners, whose numbers quickly swelled as new of the incident spread, continued to mill about outside the church. Then the police were summoned and about 7am the scene got ugly. One woman rushed upon the police using an umbrella as a weapon and was taken off to the station. The confrontation continued for some time and then Fr. Dabrowski reappeared only to be charged once again by the women. By 9am Captain Mack of the Gratiot Ave police station decided to disperse the crowd. When the police charged a wild scene ensued. Woman fought like tigers using umbrellas and their fists against the police. After a 20 minute melee the fight was over and the police gained control. The crowd began to disperse but some small groups of Poles still lingered. Fr. Kolasinski then arrived and told the people, “Go home. I am here now and will remain your advisor while this trouble lasts.” Then he held out his hands and the women gathered around and eagerly kissed them and then left for home contented. P. 42 PDKA.
December 2, 1885 [Second Riot] When Dabrowski and his assistant Jaworski again made their way from the Felician convent to St. Albertus’s Church to celebrate early Mass, they were escorted by 6 policemen. The crowd was even larger than the day before and composed mostly of women who “hissed and tooted and liberally pelted the priests and police with chunks of mud and bits of gravel”. Twice the priests were forced back from the entrance by the enraged women who “bit and clawed and slapped like the very devils” before police were able to clear a path into the church. Within the church, the sacred walls resounded with cat-calls and shouts of anger” and the scene was bedlam. When a group of women made a rush toward the altar, the two priests and their escort were forced to escape into the vestry where they awaited the arrival of additional police. Finally with over 30 policemen in the aisles, Dabrowski and Jaworski went through the motions of celebrating mass, despite the intense shouting. But when the two priests left the church they were once again pelted with stones and other missiles. Though he would nominally remain pastor of St. Albertus for over a year and a half, this was the only time Fr. Dabrowski actually celebrated mass there.
As on the previous day, Kolasinski arrived a couple of hours later and stood before his flock at the entrance to the parsonage where he was still living. Again he advised his people to disperse to their homes. “The people crowded about thim and bestowed all manner of endearing treatment upon him, even to kissing his hand and the clothes that he wore.”
Just as the day before, a hostile crowd (estimated at a1000) milled around Z
oltowski’s home and store on Hastings Street. The grocer (who was among Kolasinski’s accusers) took the precaution of boarding up the building and remaining out of sight. P.44 PDKA
December 3, 1885 A crowd of predominantly women gathered for early Mass at St. Albertus once again but Fr. Dabrowski made no attempt to say mass and the crowd dispersed.
Kolasinski who still had the church keys in his possession made no attempt to defy the bishop and hold serviced himself. He continued to urge his supporters to remain peaceful.
Kolasinski retained attorney John B. Corliss.
On the same date, the Evening News carried a front-page report to the effect that, in addition to the charges of insubordination and mishandling parish funds, the bishop had in his possession two notarized affidavits containing accusation of sexual misconduct by Kolasinski. The newspaper had obtained the details of the charges, surprisingly, from Kolasinski himself who reportedly had been apprised of them by the chancery.
First affidavit made by Tomasz Z
oltowski alleged that the priest had had “illicit intercourse” with a certain Franciszka Danielska who had confessed the matter to Fr. Gutowski of St. Casimir’s Church.
The second affidavit was brought by Emil Niedomanski and alleged intimacy between the priest and the daughter of a Polish family on Dubois Street.
Kolasinski denied the charges and discovered that Zoltowski had bribed Danielska to sign the affidavit. She and Z
oltowski later retracted their charges. P. 47 PDKA
Bishop Borgess refused to give Kolasinski a hearing until he surrendered everything in connection with the church to him. He was immovable and unwilling to negotiate.
Kolasinski refused to surrender the parish financial books (but did show them to a reporter for a newspaper) until a formal ecclesiastical investigation of the charges against him was undertaken because the books were his only defense.
December 4, 1885 (Friday) Bishop Borgess made an official decree of interdiction on St. Albertus Church banning all further religious functions.
p.48 PDKA describes the tenacity of the Polish women to go to the church daily to keep other priests from saying Mass.
December 17, 1885 Kolasinski met with Bishop Borgess but no resolution to the conflict could be found. The priest insisted that the charges against him were unfounded and that he must be reinstated before a formal investigation was conducted. The bishop refused to alter his stance.
***A sharp polarization of attitudes was emerging within the Polish community. The Galicians became identified as “Kolachy” and the Prussians as “Dabrochy”.
From the Evening News…
The people who caused the exciting scenes… were all Galicians. There are about 500 families of these people in the parish. They have come principally during the past two years of Fr. Kolasinski’s pastorate. They represent the poorest class of the Polish people in Detroit, and in this respect they hold he same position as they did in their native province of Cracow. … Cracow is also the native place of Fr. Kolasinski. Hence the affiliations of the priest and this portion of his congregation are complete. Their condition in their native country was one of abject slavery. Without a master they would not feel content, and so they render to Kolasinski the same homage which formerly they gave t the nobleman who allowed them to till his land in Europe and in return provided for their existence. That they still retain many of their customs and habits is quite evident. The practice of kissing his hands and garments is a tribute they formerly paid to their masters. I signifies nothing in this free country except they most abject subjection of the people and a repulsive vanity in the priest who accepts it.
December 22, 1885 The Free Press reported that a gang of about 50 ruffians threatened to beat up Fr. Dabrowski and staged an ugly demonstration outside the home of Jan Lemke (who was outspokenly pro-Dabrowski). P. 50 PDKA.
December 24, 1885 Father Dabrowski said mass at the Felician Convent for about 50 people. About the same number of Kolachy were outside and made jeers. The police came and the people dispersed without a fight.
December 25, 1885 About 4am parishioners began to gather outside St. Albertus expecting the church to be opened for Christmas morning mass (even though it was advertised that it wouldn’t be). By 5am the crowd was estimated to be 800 men women & children. The crowed swelled to several thousand and when the doors didn’t open for the Christmas morning mass the crowd decided to march downtown to the Episcopal residence to demand that mass be allowed to be said in their church.
The group broke into sections for the march and all converged on the bishop’s residence about 9am.
The bishop ignored the crowd and left by the back way to say mass at St. Joseph German Church as he had planned. When the crowd heard of this they took it as a rejection and set out to confront the bishop at St. Joseph church, their number then about 3,000. When they arrived there they were rebuffed by church members and told to go to their own church. Rebuffed at every turn, many of the women began to cry, hurt and frustrated were they that they were barred from celebrating the day of Christ’s birth according to their religious training. The men consoled them and they walked back to St. Aubin and Fremont and dispersed.
By 2pm a crowd of about 400 reassembled at St. Aubin and Willis in front of the saloon and grocery owned by Jan Lemke and his sons. For several hours verbal abuse was directed at the house and from time to time objects were thrown at it. About 5pm a youth aged about fifteen ran up to the Lemke’s door and kicked it. It was immediately opened and one of Jan Lemke’s sons, Bazyli came out holding a revolver, while others were seen standing behind him. He fired 4 shots into the crowd. One hit Jan Lewicki striking him above the left eye and killing him instantly. Another shot grazed a woman standing nearby.
The police then forcibly entered the house and arrested everyone except the elder Lemke since no one would admit to the killing. The dead Pole was in his mid twenties and left a pregnant wife. Lived in a shanty on Garfield. He was not aligned with either Dabrowski or Kolasinski. He was an unskilled day laborer.
December 26, 1885 A crowd of about 2,000 gathered at the church and moved on to the nearby house and grocery of Tomasz Zoltowski throwing stones, bricks, and frozen mud breaking all the windows. After a time, Z
oltowski appeared at an upstairs window and fired 2 shots from a Winchester into the air. A police presence of upwards of 100 men couldn’t dissipate the crowd but was able to move it to another street.
Lay Catholics blamed the bishop for the mob scene on Christmas Day saying that if he had given an audience to the Poles who came to his residence the violence could have been avoided. He countered by having his representative reveal that Kolasinski had been tried for immorality charges previously in Poland.
Kolasinski kept a quiet profile not appearing in public during this time. He did grant interviews to the press who he charmed.
December 29/30, 1885 A cororner’s inquest could not determine who shot Jan Lewicki so but it was determined that Bazyli, his brother Aleksander, and August Steiber fired shots so all were charged. They were tried about 6 months later and all were acquitted.
The New Year came in relatively quietly in the Polish neighborhood and there were no more riots during the time Kolasinski remained in residence.
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