History of Our Parish
Sts. Peter and Paul Church has served the needs of the Roman Catholic faithful in Three Rivers, MA for over 115 years.
Beginnings of the Sts. Peter and Paul Parish
Records indicate that on September 28, 1608 when a group of settlers arrived in the Jamestown Colony, Polish immigrants were among them. Four hundred and twelve years later, there now number approximately eleven million Poles in the United States. History books have recorded the heroic exploits and great contributions that individuals from Poland such as Thaddeus Kosciuszko and Casimir Pulaski made during the early part of this country's history; yet it was not until the turn of the 20th century that America felt the effects of mass migrations of men and women from Poland.
Political persecution, religious persecution, and severe economic hardship had resulted from the partitioning of Poland by Russia, Austria, and Germany.
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 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.
Therefore, in 1899, the St. Joseph's Society chose representatives to petition the Bishop of Springfield, the late Most Rev. Daniel T. Beaven, for a new church. With the approval of Bishop Beaven and the assistance of a young lawyer, David Dillon, the Polish population was finally granted permission to establish the Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Three Rivers, Mass.
The Four Corners site, the geographic center of the town, was chosen
The committee was granted permission by the Most Rev. Bishop Thomas D. Beaven to organize and establish the SS. Peter and Paul Parish. This task was entrusted to Rev. Waclaw (Wenceslaus) Lenz in July of 1905. At the start, this fledgling parish numbered one thousand persons in Palmer and the Villages.
SS. Peter and Paul Church‑the new parish to bear the names of the two outstanding apostles. Peter‑successor to Christ‑who was called from his fishing nets to follow Christ and become the Fisher of Men; and 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.
According to the record, the first Polish immigrant came to the town of Palmer in the year 1886. Through the efforts of Father Franciszek Chalupka of Chicopee, in 1891, the small but respected group of Polish settlers in Three Rivers, Thorndike, and Bondsville were urged to organize a Polish society which would unite them and serve as incentive to organizing a parish for the increasing numbers of Poles in the area. As a result, the St. Joseph Men's Society of Thorndike was organized 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 Chalupka was pastor. During this time, the Polish population was served by visiting priests of Polish descent at St. Mary's Church in Thorndike and St. Anne's Church in Three Rivers.
In 1899, the St. Joseph's Society chose representatives to petition the Bishop of Springfield, the late Most Rev. Daniel T. Beaven, for a new church. With the approval of Bishop Beaven and the assistance of a young lawyer, David Dillon, the Polish population was finally granted permission to establish the Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Three Rivers, Mass.
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 the four villages (Three Rivers, Thorndike, Bondsville, Depot Village). This plot of land, a former farm of about eleven acres, was purchased for the sum of $1,000.
In July 1902, Bishop Beaven appointed Father Venceslaus (Wacław) Lenz as the first pastor for the Catholics of Polish descent residing in the town of Palmer. At the first meeting of Polish Catholics more than one thousand members were affiliated.
Building Sts. Peter and Paul Church
They decided to build the Church in the center of the town of Palmer and chose the present site in the village of Three Rivers opposite the Town Hall.
Fr. Lenz purchased the current 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, when the buildings were completed, the parish was indebted with a mortgage of $35,000.
A farm comprising of about eleven acres was acquired for the sum of $1,000. It took three years to erect the Church and rectory and 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, when the buildings were completed, the parish was indebted with a mortgage of $35,000. When Father Venceslaus Lenz was assigned to the Sacred Heart Parish, Easthampton, MA in April of 1911, the mortgage was reduced to $28,050.
His 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. Andrew 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. Father Andrew 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 Dembowiec, Poland, Fr. Krzyda 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.
After two months of administration by Rev. Joseph Szczepaniak, a long time assistant of SS. Peter and Paul Parish, the Most Reverend Thomas M. O'Leary, Ordinary of the Springfield Diocese, appointed on the twenty second day of February, 1948 the present pastor, Rev. A. A. Skoniecki from Turners Falls, where for more than twenty three years he had administered the Our Lady of Czestochowa Parish.
Father Skoniecki was assistant pastor of the SS. Peter and Paul Parish in 1917, 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 administration of the present pastor, 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 have been amassed for a new school building, so badly needed in this parish.
Through the initiative of Father Skoniecki the following organizations came to life: The Mother's Club which supervises the School Cafeteria and serves 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.
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 and at present, Rev. John E. Aubertin.
The following societies are 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. May Almighty God through the intercession of SS. Peter and Paul, patrons of this parish, bless them all.
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.