Rev. Msgr. Alfons (Alphonse) A. Skoniecki
The Reverend Monsignor Colonel Alfons Aleksander Skoniecki was born on July 16, 1894 in Zieluń, Poland. He graduated from the gymnasium in Płock. He entered the Major Seminary in Płock on October 2, 1910 and began his preparation for the priesthood. The outbreak of World War I found him outside of Poland. He completed his theological studies at the Catholic University of Montreal in 1915. Due to the continuing hostilities in Europe, he decided to stay in the United States. Admitted to the Diocese of Springfield (Massachusetts, USA), however, he was too young to be ordained a priest. At the age of twenty-two, he was ordained to the Holy Priesthood on June 2, 1917, at the Cathedral of St. James in Montreal, Canada.
His first assignment began on June 6, 1917, as a curate at Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Three Rivers, MA, where he would later serve as pastor. On January 20, 1918, he became a curate at Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Easthampton, MA.
On January 20, 1925, Fr. Skoniecki became Pastor of Our Lady of Częstochowa Parish in Turners Falls. During his pastorate, he erected a beautiful gothic church to honor Our Lady of Częstochowa, which was completed in 1929. In 1948, the mortgage and all parish debts were cleared.
He observed the silver anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood in the church that he built in Turners Falls, in July 1947.
On February 18, 1948, Fr. Skoniecki was appointed Pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Parish by Bishop Thomas M. O'Leary.
Father Skoniecki had a deep devotion to Our Lady of Częstochowa. When he contracted a serious illness in the 1950s, he promised Our Lady that if he was healed, he would erect a shrine in her honor as a sign of his gratitude. He was healed and after obtaining the necessary permissions, Fr. Skoniecki, together with the Polish community from Three Rivers, funded the construction of the Chapel of Our Lady of Częstochowa in the Vatican Grottoes during the pontificate of Pope Pius XII in 1958. Cardinal Federico Tedeschini consecrated it on the Feast of the Holy Trinity on June 1, 1958, and the founder celebrated the first Mass after the blessing.
He retired in Turners Falls, Our Lady of Częstochowa Parish, which was his first rectory, and also there he built the church of Our Lady of Częstochowa. He came to Poland many times. He used to visit Płock, always visiting, among others a family living in the parish of St. Alexius.
Summarizing his life, it was written about him: "he was not only a brave and talented priest and builder, but also a social activist, philanthropist, editor, writer and speaker very well known among the Polish community in America". Among the various functions he held and the works he did, let us mention some: in 1918-23 he was editor of the weekly "Piast" in Chicopee. In 1934, he represented the Polish community in America as its delegate at the World Congress of Poles in Warsaw. For two years he was the president of the Polish Diaspora Council in New England, helping his compatriots in Poland. For 7 years he was the president of priests of Americans of Polish origin in the Springfield diocese, and one of the organizers of the Polish Diocese in Chicago. He was the first caretaker of the Polish Museum in America and the inspirer of building a new, a suitable building for this museum, so that it would be a monument to Polish emigrants on American soil. In 1954, he was awarded the title of Colonel in the Polish Army for his services to gain freedom, which he appreciated in particular.
He died on July 26, 1975 and, as requested, was buried in the Turners Falls cemetery, next to a statue of Our Lady, in the uniform of the Polish Army. On the tombstone there are, among others the words: "Rev. Msgr. Alfons A. Skoniecki, Roman Catholic priest for 58 years, founder of the Chapel of Our Lady of Częstochowa in the Vatican, Colonel of the Polish Army."
In 1986, a book, Last of the Titans: Monsignor-Colonel Alphonse A. Skoniecki of Massachusetts, was written by Daniel S. Buczek about Msgr. Skoniecki's life. This is a telling title of an accomplished priest, who ministered to his flock for 58+ years.
Fr. Skoniecki during the "Ecce Agnus Dei", at his 40th Anniversary Mass in 1957.
Fr. Skoniecki with Ven. Pope Pius XII
The Chapel of Our Lady of Częstochowa at the Vatican
Msgr. Skoniecki celebrates a Low Mass at the Chapel of Our Lady of Częstochowa in the Vatican Grottoes - the chapel which he endowed.
The plaque at the Chapel of Our Lady of Częstochowa with the names of Msgr. Skoniecki and Sts. Peter and Paul Parish
Msgr. Skoniecki founded the Polish Chapel in honor of Our Lady of Częstochowa in the Vatican Grottoes in 1958. It is located beneath the High Altar in St. Peter's Basilica. The Chapel of Our Lady was consecrated on June 1, 1958.
In the main altar of the chapel there is a painting of Our Lady of Częstochowa. This painting was made in the mosaic technique at the Vatican Mosaic Study at the turn of 1957/58. The author of the work, prof. V. Cassio, for the reproduction of the Face of the Mother of God and the Child, Jesus used precious polychrome glaze, and the figure garments were made of special glaze covered with hammered silver. All the pebbles were produced in 1720. The golden background of the image of prof. Cassio made 13th-century mosaic cubes, the same as used to line the apse of St. John Lateran - the cathedral of the Pope. In total, the picture has over 45 thousand. items. The crowns artistically made of gilded silver were made by the Roman woodcarver Bortolotti.
In front of the painting that for 24 years adorned the Polish chapel in the basement of St. Peter, the last popes prayed at the Vatican. Paul VI, unable to come to Poland for the millennium celebrations, thanked God before this painting for the 1000th anniversary of the Baptism of Poland.
On the walls of the chapel, there are bas-reliefs depicting the saints: Wojciech, Stanisław Bishop, Jadwiga, Kazimierz, Andrzej Bobola, Jacek, Jan Kanty and Stanisław Kostka. Their author is Michał Paszyna. The artist gave St. Wojciech has the features of Cardinal. Stefan Wyszyński, and St. Stanisław the bishop features Archbishop. Józef Gawlina, the priest of the Polish community after World War II.
The chapel was small - it was approx. 30 m², but it was an extremely important place for Poles. It is a place where Polish bishops celebrated daily Masses during the Second Vatican Council.
Today the chapel looks different. On the occasion of the 600th anniversary of Mary's presence at Jasna Góra, John Paul II in 1982 ordered the chapel to be renovated and enlarged. After a thorough restoration involving, among others with the addition of the apse, its area increased to approx. 80 m².
It was then that a new painting of the Madonna of Częstochowa was placed, funded by John Paul II and painted by Anna Torwirdowa. In 1992, the current painting of Our Lady of Częstochowa, made in a mosaic by Vatican artists, was placed. The painting was blessed by John Paul II on September 28, 1992.
What happened to the previous images? The first painting, also made in a mosaic, at the request of the Bishop of Łódź, Józef Rozwadowski, donated to the Church of Our Lady of Victory in Łódź, and the painting of Anna Torwirdowa was placed in the museum collections of St. Peter.
After the expansion, new elements appeared in the chapel, including a freestanding altar and marble medallions of the four Evangelists in the wall of the apse from the times of Innocent VIII (1484-92).
What happened to the previous images? The first painting, also made in a mosaic, at the request of the Bishop of Łódź, Józef Rozwadowski, donated to the Church of Our Lady of Victory in Łódź, and the painting of Anna Torwirdowa was placed in the museum collections of St. Peter. After the expansion, new elements appeared in the chapel, including a freestanding altar and marble medallions of the four Evangelists in the wall of the apse from the times of Innocent VIII (1484-92).
The work started by Msgr. Alfons Skoniecki, has become a permanent part of the history of Our Lady of Częstochowa Church, Sts. Peter and Paul Church, St. Peter's Basilica, and in the history of both Poland and the United States. Therefore, this is a special reason for us to be proud of a person who grew out of our Masovian soil. After the death of Father Prelate, his friend, editor Zygmunt Stefanowicz, in the journal Nation Polski wrote, inter alia: "The activity of priest Skoniecki should be described and presented in detail to the new generation in full extent, because he has many examples, of which the Polish youth will be able to use."