Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-544b6db54f-dkqnh Total loading time: 0.216 Render date: 2021-10-21T12:46:18.566Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "metricsAbstractViews": false, "figures": true, "newCiteModal": false, "newCitedByModal": true, "newEcommerce": true, "newUsageEvents": true }

What Should Janek Learn? Staffing and Curriculum in Polish-American Parochial Schools, 1870–1940

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 February 2017

William J. Galush*
Loyola University Chicago


Setting the parameters of education for the prototypical Janek (Johnny) required a series of important decisions. Definition of the teaching corps, curriculum, and authority structure were negotiated among priests, teachers, ethnic leaders, and parents. The Polish-American press took a lively and continual interest, with editors publicizing the discussion while vigorously offering their opinions. Outsiders, such as diocesan superintendents of education and the public education establishment, also influenced school development. Finally, the formation of Polish-American Roman Catholic elementary education occurred in the context of an evolving ethnic identity which conditioned continuity and innovation.

Copyright © 2000 by the History of Education Society 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


1 “Polonia” refers to a national or ethnic community outside Poland.

2 The largest community, the Felicians (Congregation of St. Felix), have been the most prolific writers. Unusually objective and well researched is Sr. Mary Janice Ziolkowski CSSF, The Felician Sisters of Livonia, Michigan: First Province in America (Detroit: Harlo Press, 1984). Other community studies include Sr. Ellen Marie Kuznicki CSSF, Journey in Faith: The History of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Province of the Felician Sisters Buffalo, New York 1900–1976 (Grand Island, NY: Relsco Printing, 1996); Sr. Josephine Marie Peplinski SSJ-TOSF, A Fitting Response: The History of the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Third Order of St. Francis (South Bend, IN: n.p., 1982, 1992), 2 vols.; Sr. Ann Marie Knawa OSF, As God Shall Ordain: A History of the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago 1894–1987 (Stevens Point, WI: Worzalla Publishing Company, 1989); Sr. Mary Dunstan Klewicki OSF, Ventures for the Lord: A History of the Sylvania Franciscans (Sylvania, OH: n.p., 1990); Sr. M. DeChantal CHFN, Out of Nazareth: A Centenary of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth in the Service of the Church (Jericho, NY: Exposition Press, 1974). Polish nuns appear in similar histories of mixed communities such as Sr. M. Caedmon Homan “Years of Vision, 1903–1928,“ (M.A. thesis, Catholic University of America, 1956); Sr. Mary Richard Boo OSB, The House of Stone: The Duluth Benedictines (Duluth, MN: St. Scholastica Priory Books, 1991).

3 A dated but balanced study is Antoni Karbowiak, Dzieje edukacyjne Polaków na obczyznie (Lwów: n. p., 1910). Statistically useful is Bolek, Rev. Francis The Polish American School System (New York: Columbia Press Corporation, 1948). An important overview informed by a Marxist perspective is Miąso, Józef The History of the Education of Polish Immigrants in the United States (Warsaw: Polish Scientific Publishers, 1977). Critical of Miąso is Regina Kościelska and Piotr Taras, SAC, “Szkoła polonijna jako czynnik kulturowej tożsamości w systemie działania społeczności polonijnej w Stanach Zjednoczonych,” Studia polonijne 7 (1983): 51–125. A survey of one city is Dorota Praszolowicz, “The Cultural Changes of Polish American Parochial Schools in Milwaukee, 1866–1988,” Journal of American Ethnic History 13 (Summer 1994): 23–45.

4 Pula, James S. Polish Americans: An Ethnic Community (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1995), 1819.

5 Kaestle, Carl F. Pillars of the Republic: Common Schools and American Society, 1790–1860 (New York: Hill and Wang, 1983); Tyack, David B. The One Best System: A History of American Urban Education (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1974); Cremin, Lawrence American Education: The Metropolitan Experience, 1876–1980 (New York: Harper and Row, 1988).

6 Elson, Ruth Miller Guardians of Tradition: American Schoolbooks of the Nineteenth Century (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1964); Mosier, Richard D. Making the American Mind: Social and Moral Ideas in McGuffey Readers (New York: Russell and Russell, 1965).

7 Elson, Guardians of Tradition, 6062, 166–168; on ethics in general, 41–43, 212.

8 Walch, Timothy Parish School: American Catholic Parochial Education from Colonial Times to the Present (New York: Crossroad, 1996), 2336, 53–66; Dolan, Jay P. The American Catholic Experience: A History from Colonial Times to the Present (Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1985), 263, 268–273.

9 Kulczycki, John F. School Strikes in Prussian Poland, 1901–1907: The Struggle over Bilingual Education (Boulder, CO: East European Monographs, 1981) includes background to this period.

10 Staszyński, Edmund Polityka ośświatowa caratu w Królestwie Polski (od powstania styczyniowego do I wojny światowej (Warsaw: Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, 1968).

11 Dybiec, Jan Mecenat naukowy i oświatowy w Galicji 1860–1918 (Wrocław:Ossolineum, 1981), 10, 16; Wroczynski, Ryszard Dzieje Oświaty Polskiej 1795–1945 (Warsaw: Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, 1980), 209–216.

12 Glos Narodu, January 27, 1894.

13 “Stand der Klerus 1880,” Statistisches Jahrbuch für das Jahr 1881 (Vienna: n.p., 1884); “Kirchliche Verhältnisse 1910,” Österreichisches Statistisches Handbuch (Vienna: A. Hölder, 1912); Kumor, Boleslaw Historia Kościoła Czasy najnowsze 1915–1914 (Lublin: Redakcja Wydawnictwa KUL, 1991) 7: 370, 383; 385–387.

14 Kumor, Historia Kościoła, 7: 372373, 385, 404–405; Dobrzanowski, StanisławRestauracja diecezji krakowskiej w latach osiemdziesiątych XIX wieku,Studia z historii Kościoła w Polsce 3: 236.

15 Kuznicki, Journey in Faith, 19; DeChantal, Out of Nazareth, 20–43.

16 A suggestive approach not yet directed at Polish communities is Magray, Mary Peckham The Transforming Power of the Nuns: Women, Religion, and Cultural Change in Ireland, 1750–1900 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), esp. 10–12, 46–73; dated but still useful is Ewens, Mary The Role of the Nun in Nineteenth Century America (New York: Arno Press, 1978).

17 I agree with the conceptualization of ethnicity as dynamic, developing through negotiation among elements in the ethnic community and also with reference to the larger society. Kathleen Neils Conzen et al., “The Invention of Ethnicity: A Perspective from the U.S.A.,” Journal of American Ethnic History 12 (Fall 1992): 3–41.

18 Greene, Victor For God and Country: The Rise of Polish and Lithuanian Ethnic Consciousness in America, 1860–1910 (Madison: The State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1975), 6668, 85–90; Pula, Polish Americans, 32–34.

19 Cygan, MaryPolitical and Cultural Leadership in an Immigrant Community: Polish American Socialism, 1880–1950“ (Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Northwestern University, 1989) notes much attention to adult enlightenment but little to children. On the leading fraternal federation see Pienkos, Donald E. PNA: A Centennial History of the Polish National Alliance of the United States of North America (Boulder: East European Monographs, 1984), 24–25; 91–92.

20 E.g., Ameryka-Echo, December 12, 1903; March 8, 1913; Kuryer Polski, April 9, 1912.

21 Sanders, James W. Education of an Urban Minority: Catholics in Chicago, 1833–1965 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977).

22 Wiarus, June 10, 1886; October 14, 1886.

23 Dolan, American Catholic Experience, 280; Linkh, Richard M. American Catholicism and European Immigrants (New York: Center for Migration Studies, 1975), 111; O'Brien, David Faith and Friendship: Catholicism in the Diocese of Syracuse, 1886–1986 (Chelsea, MI: Bookcrafters, 1987), 13.

24 Jaglewski, Jean (ed.), “A People 100 Years” (Cambridge, MD: Western Publishing Company, 1973), 195; “Pamętnik Św. Trójcy 1896–1946” (n.p., n.d.), no pagination. Lay pedagog efforts to form organizations failed repeatedly. Przegląd Emigracyjny, February 1, 1893; Kuryer Polski, February 25, 1899.

25 Miąso, Education of Polish Immigrants, 115; Ziolkowski, Felician Sisters of Livonia, 50–51; 59–66; Peplinski, A Fitting Response, 1: 80.

26 Peplinski, A Fitting Response 2: 42; Ziolkowski, Felician Sisters of Livonia, 160–161; Klewicki, Ventures for the Lord, 6.

27 Słowo Polskie, October 5, 1911.

38 Vinyard, JoEllen McNergney For Faith and Fortune: The Education of Catholic Immigrants in Detroit, 1805–1925 (Urbana: University of Illinois, 1998), 112116; Ziolkowski, Felician Sisters of Livonia, 52–58.

29 The Livonian Felicians were among the last to eliminate choirs in 1953; Father Dąbrowski and Mother Monica had criticized it earlier. Ziolkowski, Felician Sisters of Livonia, 34–35, 166–167; Kuznicki, Journey in Faith, 86–87. The Franciscans begun by Theresa Dudzik in Chicago never had them. Knawa, As God Shall Ordain, 259–260. The same process occurred in non-Polish communities. Margaret Susan Thompson, “Cultural Conundrum: Sisters, Ethnicity, and the Adaptation of American Catholicism,” Mid-America 74 (October 1992): 213215.

30 Quoted in Ziolkowski, Felician Sisters of Livonia, 51–52.

31 The quotation is from ibid., 51–52. The use of American textbooks appeared in the Kurs nauk (Course of Instruction) issued by the Felicians in 1894 and revised in 1913. The Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth likewise utilized many American publications. Kościelska and Taras, “Szkoła polonijna,” 109; Kuznicki, Journey in Faith, 24–25; Kurs nauk w szkolach parafialnych polskich (Detroit, 1913); “Prospectus of Holy Family Academy” (Chicago, 1903).

32 Polish and Polish-American schoolbooks are in held in the archives of Polonian sisterhoods and the Polish Museum of America in Chicago.

33 Nauka czytania i pisania (Manitowoc, WI: Dzwon Press, 1892), 33. A story praising an obedient, courteous boy (“Grzechny Franuś”) had similar generic ethical overtones. Ibid., 55.

34 Dąbrowski, Ks. Józef Geografia dla szkół polskich (Polonia, WI: n. p., 1879).

35 Ibid., 68.

36 Ibid., 149.

37 Ibid., 152–165. The 1887 edition essentially repeated the 1879 work. In the answer on culture, commerce and industry “In the United States culture stands very high; in inventions, commerce and industry it has grown to the highest level.” Ibid., 40.

38 Czytanka pierwsza dla szkół polskich w Stanach Zjednoczonych w Północnej Ameryki (Chicago: Polish American Publishing Company, 1899), story 2.

39 By 1914 of the 2,347 teachers only 167 (7 percent) were laypersons. Miąso, Education of Polish Immigrants, 117.

40 Elementarz obrazkowy czyli pierwsze zasady pisania i czytania zastósowany do szkółpolskich w Stanach Zjednoczonych (Chicago: W. Dyniewicz, 1907), 4950; Elson, Guardians of Tradition, 66–70.

41 Elementarz obrazkowy, 65–66.

42 Ibid., 67–68, 73–74.

43 Elson, Guardians of Tradition, 212213; 262–265.

44 Przyjaciel dzieci czyli trzecia ksiażka do czytania dla młodzieży polskiej w Ameryce (Manitowoc, WI: Dzwon Press, 1892), 196198, 204; Elson, Guardians of Tradition, 194–203.

45 Przyjaciel dzieci, 200; Elson, Guardians of Tradition, 167.

46 Kuznicki, Journey in Faith, 1819; DeChantal, Out of Nazareth, 61–62.

47 Bonaventure Grabowski, M. Sr. CSSF, Felician Sisters: History of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Felix of Cantilice (Newark: Johnston Letter Co., 1993), 429. A similar process occurred in the Congregation of the Holy Family of Nazareth (CHFN). From 1903 to 1938 77 percent of new CHFN houses opened in the United States, even though this community was international and recruited in many countries. Calculated from DeChantal, Out of Nazareth, 142–144, 157–160, 170–173, 185–187,203–204.

48 Ziolkowski, Felician Sisters of Livonia, 100103.

49 Ibid., 171; DeChantal, Out of Nazareth, 46.

50 Peplinski, A Fitting Response 1: 98101.

51 Homan, Years of Vision,36; see also Kuznicki, Journey in Faith, 24 for Felicians.

52 Ameryka-Echo, October 10, 1903.

53 Wiarus, June 28, 1906. Likewise the organ of the Union of Polish Priests urged nuns to attend summer school. Przegląd Polsko-amerykański 2 (April-June 1912): 190.

54 Oates, Mary J.Learning to Teach: The Professional Preparation of Massachusetts Parochial School Faculty, 1870–1940,“ Notre Dame Working Paper Series (Fall 1981).

55 Ziolkowski, Felician Sisters of Livonia, 117119.

56 Ibid., 208, 278; Homan, “Years of Vision,” 38; Nowiny Minnesockie, July 5, 1917. By contrast, Felicians in the Buffalo-based Immaculate Heart of Mary Province, were barred from attending before 1923 non-Catholic institutions. Kuznicki, Journey in Faith, 271.

57 Ziolkowski, Felician Sisters of Livonia, 217218; Agnes, Sr. M. CHFN to Mother Superior, August 4, 1925; August 23, 1928; Sister M. Agnes File, Archives of the Congregation of the Holy Family of Nazareth [hereafter ACHFN].

58 DeChantal, Out of Nazareth, 168 180, 188–189; Peplinski, A Fitting Response, 2: 155; Ziolkowski, Felician Sisters of Livonia, 206–208.

59 Galush, William J.American Poles and the New Poland: An Example of Change in Ethnic Orientation,Ethnicity 1 (December 1974): 209221.

Google Scholar

60 Kuznicki, Journey in Faith, 213.

61 Mother De Sales came to the U.S. as an infant, effectively making her native-born. Grabowski, Felician Sisters, 319; Peplinski, A Fitting Response, 2: 321.

62 Ameryka-Echo, July 15, 1923; also Wiadomości Codzienne, June 3, 1929.

63 Urbanik, Andrew A. and Baylen, Joseph O.The Development of Polish Cultural-Educational Policy Towards American Polonia, 1918–1935,Polish American Studies 41 (Spring 1984): 524.

Google Scholar

64 Pienkos, PNA: A Centennial History, 261262; Miąso, Education of Polish Immigrants, 230. Miąso gives larger figures for the non-parochial schools than Pienkos, but clearly parochial schools dominated numerically.

65 Dolan, American Catholic Experience, 270–281; O'Connell, Marvin John Ireland and the American Catholic Church (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1988), 322331, 367–372.

66 E.g., Wiadomości Codzienne, March 22, 1917 (St. Paul); Ameryka-Echo, August 26, 1923 (Buffalo); March 10, 1935 (Chicago, in reference to the immediate postwar period); also Kantowicz, Edward Corporation Sole: Cardinal Mundelein and Chicago Catholicism (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983), 7374, 81.

67 The process began after the Third Plenary Council of 1884, but by 1900 there were only eight American dioceses with boards. Strong ethnic sentiments in both national parishes and many communities of nuns hindered centralization before the war. Tender, Leslie Woodcock Seasons of Grace: A History ot the Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit (Detroit: Wayne State University, 1990), 9394. For contemporary advocacy of boards as an Americanization device, see Burns, J. A. The Growth of the Catholic School System in the United States (New York: Benziger Bros, 1912), 199–205, 295–330; Gibbons, E. J. “School Supervision—Its Necessity and Methods,” American Ecclesiastical Review 33 (September 1905): 221–232.

68 For board development in cities with large Polish concentrations, see Sanders, Education of an Urban Minority, 141160 (Chicago); Tender, Seasons of Grace, 454–457 (Detroit); and Michael Hynes, History of the Diocese of Cleveland: Origin and Growth (1847–1952) (Cleveland: World Publishing Co., 1953), 328.

69 Agnes, Sr. M. CHFN, to Mother Superior; September 5, 1926; Agnes, M. Sr. File, ACHFN; Sanders, Education of an Urban Minority, 151–157.

70 Agnes, Sr. M. to Superior, Mother April 4, 1928; Agnes, M. Sr. File, ACHFN; O'Brien, Faith and Friendship, 173–174. The request to close the beginning grades was a product of the supervisor's dissatisfaction with the excessively “Polish” atmosphere of a school in a majority Polish industrial town. McEvoy was also quite definite about their returning to the parochial school by grade three, with the intent of getting a solid religious (not ethnic) education. Rev. Charles McAvoy, Diocesan School Board File, December 8, 1930; January 16, 1931, Archives of the Diocese of Syracuse.

71 Agnes, Sr. M. to Superior, Mother August 4, 1925; November 13, 1925; Sr. M. Agnes File, ACHFN.

72 Agnes, Sr. M. to Superior, Mother January 13, 1926; also May 12, 1926; July 20, 1926; Agnes File, M. Sr. ACHFN.

73 DeChantal, Out of Nazareth, 168; Peplinski, A Fitting Response, 2: 208.

74 Tentler, Seasons of Grace, 454455; Peplinski, A Fitting Response 2: 153–156.

75 Agnes, Sr. M. to Superior, Mother November 25, 1926; Sr. M. Agnes file, ACHFN.

76 Gradual compliance was possible since state boards of education were reluctant to press Catholic nuns too hard, perhaps out of fear of political repercussions from angered Catholics. Kuznicki, Journey in Faith, 270–271; Tender, Seasons of Grace, 449–450.

77 Ziolkowski, Felician Sisters of Livonia, 126. Father Dąbrowski apparently collaborated with nuns on some of these early works. Vinyard, For Faith and Fortune, 129.

78 Ziolkowski, Felician Sisters of Livonia, 274281; Kuznicki, Journey in Faith, 269–272, 303–305.

79 Cyryla, Sr. M. CSSF, Moje mile rozrywki Czytanka na trzecia rok nauki (Niles, IL: St. Hedwig Printery, 1935), 910, 51–55. Misbehavior was typically associated with boys.

80 Cyryla, Sr. M. CSSF, Czytanka dla V klasy (Niles, IL: St. Hedwig Printery, 1939), 27.

81 Wojciechowski, K. Wielcy Pisarze Polscy (Lwów: Ksiaznica, 1929).

82 Zarys Historji Kościola Katolickiego Dla Szkół Parafialnych w Stanach Zjednoczonych (Milwaukee: Nowiny Polski Press, 1930), 145146; 185–186, 271–273.

83 Swiętosława, Sr. M. CSSF, “Religja w Szkołach Naszych”, Referaty Wygloszone na Zjazdach Pedagogicznych Sióstr Felijanek w Ameryce 1933–1935 (n.p., n.d.), 6.

84 Ibid., 6.

85 E. g., Deharbe, J. S.J., Większy katechizm rzymsko-katolicki dla szkół polskich w Ameryce (Chicago: Dziennik Chicagoski Press, 1934); Faerber, W. Katechizm dla katolickich szkół parafialnych w Stanach Zjednoczonych (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1935); Anuncja, Sr. M. CSSF, Katechizm Religii Rzymsko-Katolickiej Nr. 1 (New York: W. H. Sadlier, Inc., 1937).

86 Bronisława, Sr. M. CSSF, “Apostolostwo Katolickiej a Młodzież Polska,” Referaty 1933–1935, 8–15; Bernardyna, Sr. Marja CSSF, “Biblioteka Polska w Szkolach Naszych;” Amundyna, Sr. Marja CSSF, “Bibljoteka Przy KaEzDdej Szkołe Parafialnej;” Sr. Marja Paulina, CSSF, “Stowarzyszenia Młodzieży Szkolnej” Referaty 1933–1935, 41–42, 87–88, 139–140.

87 Cyryla, Sr. M. CSSF, “Kinoteatr a Nasza Młodzież,” Referaty 1934, 72.

88 Liguori, Sr. M. CHFN, “Ideał wychowania w szkołach I zakładach,” Sprawozdanie Pierwszego Zjazdu Naukowa-Pedagogicznego Sióśtr Nauczycielek Zgromadzenia Najśw. Rodziny z Nazaretu, 37.

89 “Obowiazaje programy nauki religii w szkołach parafialnych,” Sprawozdanie Pierwszego Zjazdu.

90 Agnes, Sr. M. to Superior, Mother August 4, 1925, ACHFN.

Cited by

Send article to Kindle

To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

What Should Janek Learn? Staffing and Curriculum in Polish-American Parochial Schools, 1870–1940
Available formats

Send article to Dropbox

To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

What Should Janek Learn? Staffing and Curriculum in Polish-American Parochial Schools, 1870–1940
Available formats

Send article to Google Drive

To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

What Should Janek Learn? Staffing and Curriculum in Polish-American Parochial Schools, 1870–1940
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *