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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Polish Memorial

I wrote this rather somber memorial to the Polish Air Crash victims.

Here is some Dave Dudley (son of Poland born David Pedruska in Wisconsin) to liven it up at bit.

The sudden death in a plane crash of President Lech Kaczynski and his wife Maria along with many other Polish government officials, military officers, and cultural and business leaders has been a very sad time for Chicago, the second city (in some regards) for people of Polish descent. For the last week throughout Chicago, the Polish flag has been decorated with black ribbons, respectfully mourning the tragedy while going on with daily life.

One only has to take a drive down the Edens (or better, Milwaukee Avenue) to see the vast sweep of Polish Culture in Chicago, with the grand and massive structures of St. Stanislaus Kostka, St. Mary of the Angels, St. Hyacinth Basilica, Holy Innocents, St. Hedwig, Holy Trinity, St. John Cantius (among others) magnificently representing the dedication of Chicago's Polish Catholics to their Church. I had the great pleasure of visiting and researching many of the traditionally Polish language Catholic Churches in the course of producing the book Heavenly City, and became aware of the variety and the depth of the brilliant Polish art, culture, and history within Chicago.

The vital importance of Poland and the Polish in world politics cannot be overstated. Poland has been the link between the West and East, leading to both great triumph and great loss. From heading up the military for the Austrian Empire to breaking the Enigma code before WWII to leading the peaceful end of the Cold War (via the Polish Pope, John Paul II), the Polish people have been the front line of Western Civilization. Poland's role in WWII, even after it was overrun by German (and the Soviet Union) is well represented in the (bureaucratically titled) book Intelligence Co-Operation Between Poland and Great Britain During World War II, detailing the vast success of the the Poles in the defeat of the Axis. In fiction, Alan Furst paints a full picture of Polish dash and daring in historical novels such as The Polish Officer, set in occupied Poland in WWII, with a more-true-to-life-sort-of Polish James Bond as the hero.

There has been no shortage of Polish-American stars in sports and entertainment. Greg Luzkinski, from Niles Notre Dame had a great career with the Phillies and the White Sox. Stan Musial is known as perhaps the best hitter in National League history. Wayne Gretzky is definitely the greatest hockey player of all time. Mike Ditka, Notre Dame Quarterback Johnny Lujack, NFL Hall of Famer Bronco Nagurski, and Tony Romo are some of the big names in Polish Football. Stefanie Powers (no relation, Stefania Zofia Federkiewicz) has been a popular actress for 4 decades. Jack Benny, from Waukegan, was also of Polish-Jewish heritage.

One of the highlights of the 2010 Republican Gubernatorial Primary was the emergence of successful Polish-American businessman Adam Andrzejewski as a grassroots candidate for Governor. Andrzejewski found a new source of support in the Tea Party movement, and became a favorite of national talk radio media pundits. In a historical first, Polish President an Cold War hero Lech Walesa came to Chicago to endorse Andrzejewski and the Tea Party movement during the late part of the campaign.

Tonight Sunday April 18th at 7PM at Holy Name Cathedral Francis Cardinal George will preside at a liturgy honoring those who died in the tragic plane crash. The Most Rev. Thomas J. Paprocki, Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago, will be the principal celebrant of this bilingual memorial Mass being said for those who died in this tragedy and also for the healing of the Polish nation. One of the great strengths of Chicago is the heritage, history and future of its Polish Community. We should all take some time to salute the fallen leaders of this great county.

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