Rev. Msgr. Alfons (Alphonse) A. Skoniecki
The Reverend 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.
He is first assignment began on June 6, 1917, as a curate at Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Three Rivers, MA. 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 1942.
On February 18, 1948, Fr. Skoniecki became the Pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Church, Three Rivers, MA.
During the pontificate of Pope Pius XII in 1958, Fr. Skoniecki, together with the Polish community from Three Rivers, founded the Polish Chapel in honor of Our Lady of Częstochowa in the Vatican Grottoes. 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 Turners Falls. He was associated with this parish the most: it 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 Tourners 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". Last of the Titans - this is a telling title of a long, more than two-page long book published in 1986, written about it by Daniel S. Buczek.
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. In it they celebrated Mass. bishops who participated in the deliberations of 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 appropriately 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, incl. in the wall of the apse there are marble medallions of the four Evangelists from the times of Innocent VIII (1484-92).
The work started by Fr. Alfons Skoniecki, has become a permanent part of the history of St. Peter and in the history of our nation. 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 could use ". I am sure that it is not only Polish.