An all out Polish war in Manistee

As noted last week, after the Polish contingent of Manistee’s Catholic community had formed their own congregation in 1885, a priest by the name of Father Grochowski was put in charge of overseeing the church. With the continued influx of jobs in Manistee during the late 19th Century, the list of parishioners grew steadily however a faction of the congregants of St. Joseph became more unsatisfied with the priest due to the large amount of tax that was being placed on them.

An early interior view of St. Joseph Catholic Church.

Under the impression that he was supposedly taking money from the congregation via this tax, as well as attempting to disband the church society, the contingent began threatening Father Grochowski with bodily harm. This eventually led to six men (all members of the society) to be prosecuted in the local court. While all men were found not guilty, the animosity between Father Grochowski and the faction of unsatisfied parishioners continued to fester.

Finally in early May, all the festering led to what the Manistee Advocate proclaimed on its front page as “Polish War!”. The May 10, 1889 issue of the Advocate tells the lengthy (yet fascinating) story: “Manistee was greatly excited Saturday morning.

The smoldering fire of war between Rev. Father Grochowski the Polish church and his belligerent parishioners suddenly burst forth in all the fury of hate and vengeance. For some time back as have been noticed in the Advocate, trouble has been brewing between the priest’s faction and those not satisfied with his administration. Lawsuit galore resulted and every little difference was made a pretext for widening the chasm between the parties.

“It appears the committee appointed by the Bishop and that elected by the priest’s opponents have both been transacting the business of the parish, giving certificates for pew rents, etc. Their action of course conflicted. Sunday week the priest requested all those who had receipt for pews should show them. One man put his hand into his pockets but instead of a receipt, pulled out a big dagger and said, “this is my receipt.”

“A scene of confusion and disorder followed, and no service could be held in consequence. During the following week feelings ran high and the question was discussed by both parties. Friday night, it is said, a crowd of Fr. Grochowski’s opponents met in a saloon in Maxwelltown and here deliberated over the matter. They determined to oust the priest, come what may, and decided to meet next morning (Saturday) for that purpose. When the faint sheen of morning light illumed the eastern sky, men and women could be seen hurrying toward the Polish church, and by 7 o’clock there were fully 400 fighters present, and a couple hundred of priest’s faction.

“Early mass had just been celebrated and Rev. Father Grochowski was returning to pastorate guarded by a few of the special police recently appointed by common council. At the sight of the priest the mob grew frantic, the women being most aggressive. They broke through the rank of the policemen, captured the priest, mauled him and covered him with the dirtiest of filth. By this time Sheriff Waal was on the scene, and with the aid of the city police rescued the reverend father from the mob, and conveyed him to the pastorate nearby.

“The rioters then assumed a more determined stand, and it began to appear to the Sheriff and city authorities that prompt action was the only means of preventing bloodshed. The fire department was quickly ordered out and on gaining the battle field turned the hose pipe on the mob. They scoffed at the idea at first, became more enraged, then finally wavered and fled outside the cooling influence of the city water.

“Orders had been issued to the Light Guards to turn out, and to say the least, the boys promptly responded to the command. Immediately after Capt. Thornburn received notification, couriers were dispatched over the city, and inside of 15 minutes about 20 men were at the Armory, buckling on accoutrements, filling pouches with ball cartridge, and preparing for regular warfare. Each had a trusty rifle.

“The command was given, the soldier boys formed fours deep, and double-quick to scene of action. When the rioters saw the approach of the military they gradually sneaked away and by the time the Guards had formed left front into line opposite the priest’s house, fixed bayonets and were ready for further emergency, the rioters dispersed into detached knots.

“The city authorities continued to arrest the ringleaders, and as all seemed to have quieted down, the guards and fire department were ordered to return. By evening there were 12 men and four women arrested. Late Saturday night the authorities made an overture to the prisoners. It seems several of them had lawsuits pending against the priest and it was agreed that should they withdraw these suits, pay costs of rioting, etc. they would be liberated, and that the priest would leave town inside of a few days. The prisoners agreed to this and were let out.

“There was no services at Polish church Sunday, but it appears both factions intended holding public meetings at German Hall to discuss the trouble. This the authorities prohibited, and a small meeting of the priest’s supporters was held at the pastorate. The people begged and implored the priest not to go away and finally, threatened that should he do so, they would not accept another pastor. It is said the priest consented to remain, and his opponents declare they will not pay costs of rioting or withdraw the suits. The trouble is still on.”

Next week we will take a look at the continued hostility between those who wanted Father Grochowski to leave and those that felt he was innocent and wanted him to stay.

 

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Posted by Mark Fedder

Mark Fedder is the executive director of the Manistee County Historical Musuem. He can be reached at (231) 723-5531 ormanisteemuseum@yahoo.com.

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