About Divine Mercy Parish
HISTORY OF OUR PARISH
Sts. Peter and Paul Church has a rich history of serving the needs of the Roman Catholic faithful in Three Rivers, MA for over 115 years.
Beginnings of the Sts. Peter and Paul Parish
Early records indicate that the first arrivals from Poland in the Palmer area came in 1886. Political persecution, religious persecution, and severe economic hardship had resulted from the partitioning of Poland by Russia, Austria, and Germany. The first baptism of a Pole took place at St. Mary's Church in Thorndike in 1888. As the number of Polish baptisms increased in Three Rivers, Thorndike, and Bondsville, so did the need for a Polish-speaking church.
At the time, Poles from Palmer were attending St. Stanislaus Church (now St. Stanislaus Basilica) in Chicopee, MA. Father Franciszek Chałupka, pastor of St. Stanislaus in Chicopee, saw the increasing need for a Polish parish in Palmer and urged the Polish community to organize a society to both unite them and serve as incentive to organizing a Polish parish. As a result, the St. Joseph Men's Society of Thorndike was formed in April of 1895.
Over a period of four years, the needs of the Poles were discussed at the monthly meetings of the St. Joseph's Society. It had become a real hardship for them to travel to Chicopee to attend Mass at St. Stanislaus Church, where Father Chałupka was pastor. Though visiting priests of Polish descent ministered periodically at St. Mary's Church in Thorndike and St. Anne's Church in Three Rivers, the need for a Polish parish had hit a breaking point.
In 1899, the St. Joseph's Society chose representatives to petition the Bishop of Springfield, Most Rev. Thomas D. Beaven, for a new church. With the approval of Bishop Beaven and the assistance of lawyer David Dillon, the Polish population was finally granted permission to establish a Polish parish in Three Rivers, Mass.
The new parish would bear the names of Saints Peter and Paul:
St. Peter - the first pope, who was called by Christ from his fishing nets to follow Him and become a fisher of men.
St. Paul - who had persecuted Christians and whose conversion on the way to Damascus resulted in his becoming the most prolific writer and influential evangelist of the Church. With such historic inspiration, the new parish embarked upon its own unique history.
With historic inspiration and heroic patronage, the new parish embarked upon its own unique history.
Building Sts. Peter and Paul Church
In July of 1902, the task of building the parish church was entrusted to Fr. Wacław (Wenceslaus) Lenz. At the first meeting of Polish Catholics, more than one thousand members were affiliated.
It was decided that the church would be built in the geographical center of the town of Palmer so as to accommodate the Polish people of the four villages; the present site, known as Four Corners, is equidistant from all four villages (Three Rivers, Thorndike, Bondsville, Depot Village). Fr. Lenz purchased this plot, a former farm of about eleven acres, for the sum of $1,000.
It took three years to erect the church and rectory. During this time, Father Lenz celebrated one Mass at St. Anne's Church in Three Rivers and a second Mass at the so‑called French Chapel in Bondsville. At the time of the blessing of the Sts. Peter and Paul Church in 1905, when the buildings were completed, the parish was indebted with a mortgage of $35,000.
When Fr. Lenz was assigned to the Sacred Heart Parish, Easthampton, MA in April of 1911, the mortgage was reduced to $28,050.
Fr. Lenz's successor, a newly arrived priest from Poland, Rev. Władysław Kielbasinski administrated the Sts. Peter and Paul Parish for only two years, reducing the debt to $21,250.00. The new pastor was in ill health; he resigned his pastorate and returned to Poland.
The Krzywda Era
On April 1, 1913 Rev. Andrzej Krzywda came to the Sts. Peter and Paul Parish to begin his long pastorate of thirty four years. He cleared the parish of debt, bought the convent and built the Sts. Peter and Paul School in 1921. When the school was dedicated, according to the parish records, the parish contracted a debt of $45,000.00. In 1946, Fr. Krzywda procured land for the new SS. Peter ard Paul Cemetery for the sum of $5,500.00. At the time of his death, the debt on the school was reduced to $8,000.00. Fr. Andrzej Krzywda died on December 18, 1947, after spending most of his priestly life in this part of God's vineyard - the SS. Peter and Paul Parish.
Born at Dębowiec, Poland, Fr. Krzywda came to this country at the age of seventeen to live for a time with a brother in Chicopee. He was educated at St. Mary's College in Detroit and the Grand Seminary in Montreal where he was ordained Dec. 18, 1909. Before coming to Three Rivers he had assignments at St. Mary's Clinton, St. Joseph's, Webster and St. Joseph's Gardner.
The Skoniecki Era
After two months of administration by Fr. Joseph Szczepaniak, a long time assistant of SS. Peter and Paul Parish, the Most Reverend Thomas M. O'Leary, Bishop of Springfield, appointed on February 22, 1948 the new pastor, Fr. Alfons A. Skoniecki. Fr. Skoniecki came from Turners Falls, where for more than twenty-three years he had pastored the Our Lady of Częstochowa Parish.
Fr. Skoniecki had been previously in our parish for a short time; he was assistant pastor of the SS. Peter and Paul Parish in 1917-1918, yet he spent most of his time taking care of the St. Adalbert's Parish in Bondsville. The St. Adalbert's Parish was legally separated from the SS. Peter and Paul Parish in 1910, though intermittently, it was administered by the pastor of the SS. Peter and Paul Parish. In 1917, when the St. Adalbert's Church was completed, a resident pastor, Rev. Valentine Pomykalo, was appointed.
During the pastorate of Fr. Skoniecki, not only was the parish cleared from all mortgage, the grounds were leveled and reseeded, parking place for cars made, new sidewalks constructed, all buildings thoroughly altered, repaired and renovated, but up to this time over one hundred thousands dollars were amassed for a new school building, so badly needed in the parish.
Through the initiative of Fr. Skoniecki the following organizations came to life: The Mother's Club which supervised the school cafeteria and served approximately 200 children with hot lunches daily during the school year; the Knights of St. Casimir; the Daughters of St. Hedwig; the Women's Club of Thorndike; the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine. An athletic program for the school children and younger elements is also projected.
During Fr. Skoniecki's pastorate, the following societies were in existence in the parish: St. Joseph's Men Society of Thorndike, St. Stanislaus B. M. Society of Three Rivers, Holy Rosary Society, Sacred Heart Society, St. Cecilia Society, SS. Peter and Paul Alumni, Polish National Alliance of Thorndike, Polish National Alliance ‑ Three Rivers, Polish Women's Alliance of SS. Peter and Paul, St. Joseph's Athletic Association, Children of Mary Sodality, Altar Boys Society, Knights of St. Casimir, Daughters of St. Hedwig and the 'Mothers Club.
Rev. Msgr. Skoniecki retired from his twenty-four year pastorate of SS. Peter and Paul Parish in 1972.
The Ceckowski Era
Following the retirement of Rev. Msgr Skoniecki, Fr. Robert Ceckowski was appointed pastor. Fr. Ceckowski came from Ludlow, where he had been assistant pastor of Christ the King Parish.
During Fr. Ceckowski's pastorate, some physical improvements were made to parish grounds: an enlarged sacristy; the St. Maximilian Kolbe Chapel (in the church basement); the Our Lady of Częstochowa altar; the Holy Family icon from the Shrine of St. Joseph in Kalisz, Poland; and the renovation of the parish school into a suitable parish hall.
The following priests served as assistant pastors at the SS. Peter and Paul Parish: Rev. Miecislaus Godlewski, Rev. Stanislaus Chlapowski, Rev. John Minkinski, Rev. John Panfield, Rev. John Morrissey, Rev. Andrew T. F. Nowak, Rev John Finneran, Rev. Alphonse A. Skoniecki, Rev. Stanislau's Feresz, Rev. John Oszajca, Rev. Joseph Szczepaniak, Rev. Andrew Tolcz, Rev. Joseph Sitkowski, Rev. Joseph L. Niedzwiecki, Rev. Ladislaus Swider, Rev. Casimir Switalski, Rev. Henry Krzeczko, Rev. John E. Aubertin, Fr. Zygmunt (Sigmund) Kwiatkowski, Fr. Eugeniusz Ozimek, and Fr. Józef Jancewicz.
The Niemczyk Era
In late 1997, Fr. Ceckowski passed away, and Fr. Stefan Niemczyk was appointed Pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Parish.
Fr. Niemczyk has led our parish into a new millennium, and continues to lead our parish today with joy for the gospel and love for souls.
A New Chapter
During November 2009, the neighboring Saint Anne Church in Three Rivers, MA was permanently closed by the Diocese of Springfield, one of the many churches closed during the Pastoral Planning process. Parishioners of St. Anne Parish merged with parishioners of Saints Peter and Paul Parish. In addition to the closing of St. Anne Church, the Pastoral Planning Committee also recommended that the name of the resultant parish be changed. On the first Sunday of Advent (November 29, 2009), Saints Peter and Paul Parish merged with Saint Anne Parish and the resultant parish was named Divine Mercy Parish. The selection of the new name was influenced by the presence of the Divine Mercy Grotto, located behind the Saints Peter and Paul Church.
Learn about the Divine Mercy devotion here.