In Commemoration of Blessing Our Lady of Victory Church;

In the "dirty thirties" Polish families made their way to Chatham in search of work after emigrating from Poland to western and other parts of Canada in the 1920's,. Some walked, some rode the rail but they came here, determined to find a better way of life. Several came to establish farms on the rich soils of Kent County. Many of the surnames can still be found in the parish register. Names such as Peszat, Wilkosz, Solski, Habas, Nalewayek, Wisniewski, Zych, Srokosz, Giera, Szymanski, Ptaszynski, Gruszka to name a few.

After the Second World War, a wave of Polish Veterans and Displaced Persons arrived in Chatham-Kent and solidified the Polish numbers . These were men, women and young families that could not or would not return to their native Poland because of the known oppression of the Communist government that took over their homeland. Many emerged from the front lines, prison camps, concentration camps and work camps suffering from memories of beatings, injuries and watching relatives and friends die at the hands of Nazism and communism. Injured and wounded but not dead - they refused to die and were determined to live.

In their new found home many celebrated mass in various English-speaking parishes throughout Chatham-Kent. The mass was celebrated in Latin in those days but the Liturgy of the Word was in English. But still there were gaps in the liturgical celebrations and traditions in those parishes compared to what the Polish people were accustomed to in their native language celebrations.

In the 1950's these handful of immigrants hungered for and their appetites grew to establish a Polish parish; to build a church; to have Polish priests provide the pastoral care and celebrate the religious traditions rooted in their homeland. This was not only for them but for their children and their children's children.

With the help of Fr. Jan Achtobowski and Fr. Pluta and the co-operation of His Excellency Bishop JE Cody the wheels were put into motion. Did the document Exsul Familia provide His Excellency a basis to make His decision - it probably did.

In the time-frame April 2, 1957 to April 27, 1958 the Bishop appointed Fr. L.A. Wnuk as the founder and first pastor who with the faithful picked a name for the Church; purchased a building site; constructed the Church and had it blessed - all in one year.

The cornerstone was blessed by a delegate of the Primate of Poland which strengthened the connection between the community of faithful here with their homeland. At the time of the blessing of the Church His Excellency Bishop Cody stated in his homily "This Church will not only be a House of God but also an environment around which you concentrate your whole life. This is where you will seek God's care and ask for His graces... I am happy that our Church has increased by a parish which will not only bring glory to Him but will also strengthen the Polish spirit in this new homeland.... You are a people that did not surrender..."

The name "Our Lady of Victory" also has significant history behind it. Poland's devotion to Our Blessed Mother dates back to 1656 when the King of Poland entrusted the destiny of the nation to Her after the battle of Jasna Gora where, against all odds, a handful of Poles defeated the Swedish Army. Our Blessed Mother was the guardian of that site at the time of the battle. Likewise, during the second world war Polish soldiers taken prisoner by the Russians found themselves being massacred in the Russian Katyn Forest. Prisoners in the midst of disaster and the reality of massacre carved and painted a likeness of Our Lady. In these camps many of Poland's academics, military and elite perished, others were tortured. Those that survived, some of whom are registered parishioners in this parish, smuggled the bas-relief out of Russia and Our Lady accompanied the soldiers of the Polish Army on their combat trail and helped them attain Victory over their oppressors. It is through Her intercession that many survived and lived to tell the rest of the world the truth about what happened at Katyn. Other senior parishioners experienced similar horror in Siberia and in German prisons, concentration and work camps.

With this brief sketch I want to demonstrate to you the zeal with which the parishioners of that day met the challenge - not with a lot of their own money but with their courage, not with huge pieces of equipment but with their personal skills and the sweat of their brow; not afraid to pick-up a shovel, a trowel or paint brush and volunteer in the name of Christian community. They built this small church not only to meet their needs but also for future generations.

And that it did. In the 1980's another wave of Polish immigrants came to Canada. Some settled in Chatham-Kent and are attending services in their native language at Our Lady of Victory. And they, like the generation before them, volunteer their expertise and muscular power to help in repairs and maintenance of the church and grounds at this property. They are a blessing from God to replace the dead and ageing founders. And now they are charged with taking over the stewardship of this small church.

List of priests at Our Lady Victory Church:

1957-1961 Fr Wawrzyniec Wnuk
1961-1963 Fr Jan Achtabowski
1963-1973 Fr Piotr Sanczenko
1973-1983 Fr Mieczyslaw Kaminski
1983-1991 Fr Eugeniusz Bugala
1991-1993 Fr Ryszard Philiposki
1993-1997 Fr Adam Barcz
1997-2001 Fr Stanislaw Rakiej
2001-2004 Fr Stanislaw Michalek
2004-2014 Fr Stanislaw Kuczaik
2014-2015 Fr Wojciech Barycki
2015-present Fr Bogdan Molenda