St. Valentine Polish National Catholic Church

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St. Valentine and other Polish National Catholic Church parishes grew out of the need for an ethnically Polish church. In 1897 at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Parish in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Polish parishioners asked their German priest for representation in parochial affairs because they felt that they were not represented in the church hierarchy of priests and bishops. When the request for Polish representation in parochial affairs was denied, a group of parishioners broke off and founded their own parish, St. Stanislaus, to be led by Polish-born Reverend Francis Hodur. Hodur attempted a final reconciliation between Polish-American Catholics and the Roman Catholic Church by visiting the Vatican in 1898.  As a response, the Roman Catholic Church excommunicated Hodur. The acts of the Church were seen as a direct attack on the Polish-American identity and in 1900, St. Stanislaus left the Roman Catholic Church to form the Polish National Catholic Church. The American spirit of democracy, religious freedom, and self-determinism are a large part of what made the split possible. The Polish National Catholic Church established its identity as Polish, democratic, and Catholic at the First Synod in 1904 in Scranton. At the First Synod, several crucial decisions regarding the church were made: Reverend Hodur was chosen as the bishop, a seminary was established in Scranton, and it was decided that all Latin texts were to be translated into Polish. The church structure was democratic in terms of religious, economic, and social matters. Each parish is governed by a board of trustees. People are given the power to elect their own pastor and the congregation owns the property title instead of the archdiocese. At the time of its schism, the Polish National Catholic Church drew many members for its revolutionary democratic structure, ethnic identity, beliefs, and practices.

In addition to the democratic structure, the Polish National Catholic Church was revolutionary compared to the early 20th century Roman Catholic Church because of its worship practices and beliefs. On Christmas Day of 1901, the Polish-language mass was introduced, more than 60 years before the Roman Catholic Church stopped performing Mass in Latin. The Polish National Catholic Church also introduced three different liturgies: the Traditional Rite, the Contemporary Rite, and the Rite of the Prime Bishop Hodur. The use of liturgies of varying lengths was also uncommon at the time. The Mass includes some aspects similar to a Roman Catholic Mass. The Sunday Holy Mass at St. Valentine is very similar to a Roman Catholic Mass, except for certain portions in Polish and evidently different beliefs. The beliefs of the Polish National Catholic Church changed after separation from the Roman Catholic Church. Distinct beliefs include that the Polish Catholic Church no longer believes in the concept of original sin and rejects the doctrine of Hell and eternal damnation. Like the Roman Catholic Church women cannot be ordained; however priests are given the choice of whether or not to remain celibate. Following the American ideal of choice and acceptance for all, the Polish National Church allows divorce as long as there is a formal church annulment. The Church believes in universal religious truth, the belief that some religious ideas are true and applicable for everyone, regardless of religious identity. Most importantly, the Polish National Catholic Church rejects the Pope as the leader of Catholicism.  

In the 1950s the Polish National Catholic Church boasted a membership of over 250,000 but now numbers less than 25,000 communicants. There are a few possible explanations for the drop in membership. First, the idea of a democratic congregation is no longer revolutionary or unique. Second, the Polish presence has diminished, making the church less appealing to those looking for an ethnic community instead of a place of worship. Like many Polish National Catholic Churches, St. Valentine has few members. In the 1930s it had a membership of 600 but now the membership has shrunk to around 30. In addition to resembling the greater Polish National Catholic Church because of its membership struggles, the liturgy and Polish-American influence of St. Valentine are similar to that of the Church.