South Side's Polish community fading
Joe Bielecki can still recall past holidays listening to singing ensembles accompanied by portable instruments, and joining in on traditional Polish Christmas carols at the Prince of Peace Parish in the South Side.
Since 1993, he has resided in its busy streets where he joined other third- and fourth-generation Polish-Americans, but the community has since changed.
Polish communities in the South Side, and other surrounding neighborhoods, are fading. The demographics of these areas have changed entirely.
"The neighborhoods around here have really changed. Its gentrified," Mr. Bielecki said. "It's now urbanely hip, which has changed the character of the South Side, and residents now don't do the traditional Polish things that they used to."
Mr. Bielecki, a personal injury attorney whose office is also in South Side, is an honorary member of the Prince of Peace Parish on Sarah Street. The parish is just one Polish society still operating in the South Side community.
Founded in 1992, it is a formation of seven former Polish parishes located within the South Side area. The Prince of Peace Parish encourages young poles by raising money to provide scholarships to students within the Pittsburgh Polish population.
Due to the loss of money and the movement of many Polish families in the area, these parishes were combined into only one.
The restructuring of these parishes was only the beginning of Polish organizations closing their doors. Today, residents walk by the Polish Army Veterans Society on Jane Street only to see a "for sale" sign hanging on the building's exterior above the memorial honoring Polish veterans. According to Mr. Bielecki, the sense of community is dissolving.
"The organized presence is fading. The first Polish (immigrants) were coming to South Side in the 1880s," Mr. Bielecki said. "Now, you still have traditional things like Christmas, and the homes will have traditional food, but it's not the same as it was for my parents' generation."
The Polish Cultural Council (PCC) is another group in Pittsburgh promoting the Polish-American community. The group's main purpose is to encourage and endorse Polish arts and sciences within the Pittsburgh area, according to the PCC website. For several years, PCC has taken part in the Three Rivers Film Festival, and other events in order to highlight their culture.
Maria Staszkiewicz, executive director of PCC, has been with the organization for longer than she can remember. She now has 300 participating members, but their newsletter goes out to 1,200 people. Involvement in the PCC ranges from preschool children to adults in their nineties.
"Our idea is not to celebrate Polish culture amongst us, but rather to introduce this culture to non-Polish Americans," Ms. Staszkiewicz said.
She said there is definitely a community of people of Polish descent in Pittsburgh, but it is not a city with a large Polish population. Changes to the city have brought in other ethnicities, which she said is partial cause to the break-up of the Polish society.
"Polish people have married other ethnic groups and the polish-dominated neighborhoods have since been lost in the process," Ms. Staszkiewicz said. "Going to places like Polish Hill you no longer walk the sidewalks and hear the language spoken."
The Polish Falcons of America (PFA), and the Polish Eagles Society are two other organizations in the Pittsburgh area. The PFA, on S. 18th St. in South Side, is a non-profit fraternal benefit society and like most others, is insured by its members. The break-up of the polish community could affect the PFA and other organizations just like it.
The sense in community is not completely lost for Mr. Bielecki, and he still calls South Side home along with other polish people.
"The liveliness in these different events created such nice times and memories for everyone," Mr. Bielecki said.
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