THE POLISH COMMUNITY in Derby are celebrating 60 years of parish life.
From just 1,500 in 1949, the Polish community now numbers over 10,000, thanks especially to the new wave of Poles who have come to Britain, writes Józef Łopuszyński.
Bishop Malcolm McMahon of Nottingham was the chief celebrant of a thanksgiving Mass, which was concelebrated with the rector of the Polish mission in England and Wales, Mgr Tadeusz Kukla, and the provincial of the Society of Christ, Fr Andrzej Zuziak, together with a number of priests from the Derby deanery.
Anna Zimmand, an expert on the history of the Polish community, said: “The people who settled in Derby, Burton-on-Trent and the surrounding districts after the Second World War were predominantly service personnel and their families who could not return to their homeland either because of the political situation or because the part of eastern Poland they came from had been absorbed into the Soviet Union.
“These people had a determination that the Polish language and culture, as well as in many cases their deep-rooted Catholicism, would be passed on to the next generation wherever they were born. Derby and the surrounding district made these people welcome.” Miss Zimmand said the first need that had to be satisfied was a place where Mass in Polish could be celebrated. In 1948 Fr Lepich was appointed chaplain to the community. St Mary’s church, Bridge Gate, Derby, designed by Pugin, was to provide the first base. At 12.15pm on Sundays the church would resound to the congregation’s rendition of Polish hymns and Mass in Polish and Latin.
“People felt themselves back in Poland if only for a brief period,” Miss Zim mand added. “In 1951 Fr Gatnarczyk arrived and he was to remain with the community until his death in 1974.” As the anniversary approached, problems arose. The Polish church of St Maximilian Kolbe at Rose Hill, Derby, was in desperate need of renovation.
Miss Zimmand said: “The raising of funds and serving the increasingly expanding community fell to Fr Włodzimierz Pająk (translated this means “Spider”). He weaved a web which pulled the community together.” The church underwent a two-year transformation, finished in time for the diamond jubilee when the choirs and children gave a concert of Polish songs.