The priest, the parking lot, the stolen mics and my neighborhood


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Our Lady of Czestochowa church – also known as St. Mary’s – is located on Ward Street, in one of Worcester’s poorest inner-city neighborhoods. Rosalie lives right next door!

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Sometimes people who were homeless or struggling with drug addiction hung out by the church’s shrine, located across from the church, at the other end of the church parking lot.

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St. Mary’s was the church of Rosalie’s Polish immigrant grandparents and mom. Rosalie attended CCD classes at the church’s school and walked to mass at St. Mary’s every Saturday night with her mom and two sisters for 17 years! Here she is with her beloved Polish Grandpa on their Lafayette Street back porch. She looks decked out for mass! pics: R.T.

By Rosalie Tirella

I say: The cold, proud priest had it coming to him! Jesus said: Be a lamb, be a serpent! The robbery – aka the recent break in, the filching of microphones, the stealing of $, the messing around in the sacristy at St. Mary’s church in lower Vernon Hill – was my inner-city neighborhood being a serpent.

I’ve watched the lead up to this break in at St. Mary’s on Ward Street – the Polish church’s proper name is Our Lady of Czestochowa – from my plant-filled kitchen window (I live in the apartment building next door) …

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… my parking lot, my walks with Jett and Lilac … for almost three years. I’ve heard the stories from my neighbors.

I ain’t no Aesop but here’s the moral of the story:

If you have a church in one of Worcester’s poorest, most drug-infested, gun-choked neighborhoods where the people are often sad, physically or emotionally abused, underemployed/poor, addicted to heroin or alcohol, desperate, hopeless, homeless! – if you are smack dab in the middle of the world that Jesus came to save and loved the most (Jesus said: THE LAST SHALL BE FIRST! THE FIRST SHALL BE LAST!), then you deal with it. Sensitively, if you’re me. Beautifully, compassionately if you’re a priest or a minister. Heck! If you’re a priest like St. Mary’s Rev. Ryszard Polek maybe you should even try ministering to the people! After all, Jesus LIVED IN/WAS A PART OF a community just like lower Vernon Hill during his sojourn on earth – we’re talking the underbelly, the social outcasts of Nazareth, Jerusalem. He was in the desert storm, wind-whipped whispers from the Devil swirling all around him. The Devil whispered into Jesus’ ears: Come! Follow me! And all this – here the Devil stretches out his arms over a rich, opulent and decadent city  – is yours!

Jesus said: Fuck off, Devil! I’m sticking with the poor folks … my lepers, my cripples, my robbers, my whores … the psychically tormented, the insane! Be gone! And Jesus shook the Devil off like the desert dust from his feet!

And the Devil went away…

If only the pastor of St. Mary’s – the un-Christ like Rev Polek – had learned his Bible lessons from the good nuns at his church in Poland where he was born and lived up until fairly recently. But now his rectory – his home – is next door to his church –  a two-minute walk from my apartment. Rev. Polek sees and is surrounded by the exact same men, women, youth and children I am, but he DOESN’T SEE. Jesus would cry! And be pissed! Righteous anger!!!!

The Rev. Polek has:

Not allowed the Worcester Public Library bookmobile Libby to park in his precious, recently repaved church parking lot so that the little kids (and adults) of the neighborhood can check out books, DVDs, CDs and more. He does have Libby parked on the church parking lot during the school year for the children who attend his church’s elementary school – St. Mary’s.

Rev. Polek has run out of his rectory and chased folks off the church parking lot (repaved recently!!!) and the church’s little pocket park – most recently a sweet neighborhood guy and his sweet pit bull. The man ALWAYS had a plastic bag and picked up after his dog! His daily walks with his beloved pooch in this concrete tough world where dogs that need much exercise are sometimes crated for hours,  owned by drug dealers or fought were to be admired! We all smiled at this pair! Not the pastor! He ran out yelling at the man and chased them off. For ever.

There is much illegal trash dumping in my neighborhood. Right inside, in the back of St. Mary’s church parking lot. On the Endicott Street side. It’s a trash hot spot, to tell you the truth! Rev. Polek has refused to work with the City of Worcester and State Rep. Dan Donahue when he was asked if video cameras could be installed and trained on the hot spot so the illegal dumpers could be caught. I’ve posted photos here of the thrown OFFICE FURNITURE, MATRESSES, chairs, contractors bags filled with garbage etc. All on St. Mary’s property. It sits there for days. Sometimes weeks.

The pastor’s kicked me and Jett and Lilac off his precious church parking lot when I used to walk my pups there (plastic poop bag in hand) in the early a.m. No church service. Just me in my Mom’s New York Yankees baseball cap trying to give my two high energy dogs, both on leads, some exercise in the inner city. A city without a dog park.

The pastor confronted me the last time I walked my mutts, and when I scolded him for not understanding the neighborhood he was smack dab in the middle of and told him Father Madden of St. John’s church, up a few streets, is super great with his neighborhood, actually has programs for the people of the ‘hood, welcomes them … feeds them Rev. Polek said to me in broken English wrapped in a heavy Polish accent: THEN GO TO FATHER MADDEN! Go to him!!!

I said FUCK YOU! then whipped around,  leading Jett and Lilac – they wanted to play with the pastor who just frowned at their exuberance – stormed off! Stormed off his fucking precious church parking lot!

A week later Rev. Polek had about 20 NO TRESPASSING. POLICE TAKE NOTICE  signs posted at the entry of his parking lot, the sides of his parking lot, by the shrine on his parking lot, near the church side of his parking lot… . What’s the Polish word for overkill?! (Rev. Polek!)

But then arrogance superseded nastiness:

Three or so weeks ago, I forget which holiday, the Rev. Polek hauled out the church portable microphones, the speakers, the portable PA system, gold leaf encrusted portable awning and lead a mini church procession around his church parking lot, ending up in front of the church’s shrine. It was warm out, but he was wearing heavy, opulent vestments trimmed in bright red. About 150 parishioners followed him, singing, too. He sang a sad Polish hymn that my mother used to sing around the house when I was a little girl growing up on Lafayette Street. Very plaintive, dark… I cried when I heard that song because it reminded me of Ma and my rough childhood in Green Island. I looked out my kitchen window to watch the Rev. Polek and his tiny flock.

The pageantry was intense and beautiful. It was a sea of people and pretty dresses and bowed heads in the middle of the inner city, surrounded by  tired three deckers, Section 8 housing, poor people, many brown- and black-skinned. It was all in Polish – words and music – not Spanish the way most celebrations in my neighborhood sound.

I struggled with its interpretation: I had never seen anything like this. Was Rev. Polek saying,  Hooray! I’ve got a new parking lot! Screw you poor city people! Look how great and holy we are! Look at my flock! Old, young, babies. We rule this brandy new church parking lot! It’s ours! Not yours! Stay off! Look at us! We are better. We are nothing like you!

Then two or three weeks later, his church is busted into and besides taking money, this outdoor portable PA system that he was using in that parking lot procession was stolen! Ripped off! Nothing else taken! No gold chalice, no gold leafed icon. JUST the PA system that he was using  a few weeks ago – not even flaunting it but he may as well have been – a great outdoor PA system before all the eyes and ears of a  poor BUT MUSIC-OBSESSED community. 

His neighbors, his neighborhood, too.

The recent break in at St. Mary’s is no tragedy, no desecration of a holy space! Jesus, the spirit of Jesus, St. Mary and all the saints and angels, was never there to defile.

And somewhere in the ‘hood there’s a great party going on, the lovely mariachi band sending love through music out to the pretty brown ladies in three deckers, the junkies nodding off in the hallway, the dancers at the backyard party, me writing this story, sweet Jesus up in the city sky!!

Hallelujah!!!