Thursday September 6, 2012

ADAMS -- In many churches, stained glass depictions of saints look down upon the faithful as they pray. At St. Stanislaus Kostka Church however, three prominent Communists have found a place among the saints.

The stained glass window that includes the faces of Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky and Joseph Stalin is thought to be one-of-a-kind, created by an artisan to celebrate the release of a Polish archbishop who was imprisoned by the Bolsheviks for opposing them.

All by itself, the window in the choir -- where Archbishop John Cieplak is shown confronting the Communist trio -- is a reason to visit the church known in Adams as St. Stan’s. But it is not the only reason. The church itself, designed by Erhard Brielmaier, is a treasure worth seeing.

Records at a Milwaukee, Wis., library say Brielmaier designed more than 800 Catholic churches in the United States during his 50-year career. Eugene Michalenko, president of the Adams Historical Society, said St. Stan’s sister church is in Wilmington, Del. But it doesn’t have a troika in the balcony.

The story is that Cieplak, during a Soviet Union attack on Catholicism, was arrested, tried in Moscow and sentenced to death. His sentence was commuted to a prison term, but he was released as a result of international pressure.

Polish immigrants in the United States sent a flood of letters to the Russians, so when Cieplak was released, he visited the churches that had supported him, including St. Stan’s in 1926.

Another section of the window in the choir honors Max imilian Kolbe, a Franciscan friar who died at Auschwitz in 1941. Because a prisoner had es caped, the Nazi commandant selected 10 who would die in his place. When a man with a wife and children was chosen, he cried out, and Father Kolbe offered to take his place. The commandant was apparently willing to substitute an older prisoner for a younger laborer, so Kolbe was left with the other nine to starve. He died at 47 and was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1981. An Internet report says the man he replaced lived to be 95 and died in 1995.

In many churches, sanctuary windows honor one man after another. Eugene Michalenko says he is "amazed at how many women saints are depicted in the church, with the east side of the sanctuary having more women than men" at St. Stan’s.

And those who visit will find that this church has more of a European feeling than most other Berkshire churches, of whatever denomination. That’s because its builders were the Poles who had been in Adams only a short time when they decided to build a splendid church with beautiful columns and a soaring ceiling. The sanctuary gleams with color and gold.

Building it was not easy. These hard-working people had little money to spare. Supposedly, they were asked to put $2 of every $10 they earned into the building fund, but Michalenko has been unable to find hard evidence for that. He does know they were very frugal, and "if you threw away food, you would confess it as a sin." It was also a sin to allow food to go bad and thus be wasted.

Determined to reach their goal, the Poles raised $11,000 to purchase the Hoosac Street property where the double spires of the church still stand tall. By 1902, they consecrated their new church, which seats 500 people and is an imposing structure on the landscape.

Small wonder that the descendants of those early builders protested all the way to the Vatican when St. Stan’s was listed as a church that would be closed by the diocese at the end of 2008. For 1,000 days, parishioners kept their vigil, sleeping in pews and praying together. Last February, the Vatican ruled in their favor, and mass is once again celebrated at 8 a.m. every Sunday. It’s easy to see the church then.

One of the side doors is open more often than not, for anyone who wants to take a chance. This coming weekend, however, offers a sure thing. Tours will be given from 1 to 4 Saturday and Sunday. Go late, when the sun is getting low. The windows on the west side of the nave will be alive with color.