Mr. Richard Walawender is the chairman of the Orchard Lake School’s Polish Mission Board of Trustees, Regent, and Honorary Consul of Poland in Detroit.
The Polish Seminary was the beginning, and it was always the heart of Orchard Lake Schools!
The Orchard Lake Schools, originally known as the “Polish Seminary,” were founded in the late 19th century when the need arose for priests to care for Polish immigrants. In January 1879, Fr. Leopold Moczygemba, a Polish Franciscan priest, secured permission from Pope Leo XIII to establish a seminary in the United States to train men for the priesthood for that purpose. Fr. Moczygemba entrusted this papal charter to Fr. Joseph Dabrowski, another Polish immigrant. In July 1885, the cornerstone was laid for SS. Cyril and Methodius Seminary on Detroit’s east side.
The first class of students enrolled in December 1886. After 24 years of growth and expansion, larger quarters were required. The Seminary transferred to Orchard Lake in 1909, some 25 miles northwest of Detroit, the scenic grounds of the former Michigan Military Academy. Remodeling and new construction from 1912 through 1928 permitted further enrollment growth in three schools: SS. Cyril and Methodius Seminary, St. Mary’s College, and St. Mary’s Preparatory.
College and Preparatory emerged from a restructuring of the Seminary in 1927-28, each with a four-year program.
Through extensive fund-raising efforts, support for the Schools in the Polish American community increased, making possible the construction of seven buildings-including a library, dormitory, dining hall, Shrine Chapel of Our Lady of Orchard Lake, and the Robert Dombrowski Fieldhouse. In 2000, the Frank and Mary Padzieski Science Center and the Stanley Bielawski Brent Chapel were dedicated.
In 2008 the Polish Mission was established.
In 2021 the Board of Regents of OLS voted to close the Polish Seminary.
A.K.: At a meeting, the Orchard Lake Regents voted to suspend the closure decision and give Father Bernard Witek, the new Rector, until April 2022 to submit a rescue plan that the Regents can approve. But I think Polonia has many questions that remain.
At first, will the next five months be enough time to draw up a comprehensive rescue plan that the Regents will approve?
Yes, I believe it is enough time. As I see it, there are three elements to the plan. First, it needs to present how the Seminary administration will ensure there will always be strict adherence to the highest moral and ethical standards expected of a Catholic seminary. Unfortunately, the public perception has been otherwise and this needs to be addressed.
Second, the plan will present how seminarians will be recruited and enrollment increased. In light of declining enrollments throughout America’s Catholic seminaries, this may seem very difficult, but I think the opposite. Being an “independent” Catholic seminary, that is, not affiliated with any particular diocese or religious order, the SS. Cyril and Methodius Seminary is in a unique and advantageous position to attract seminarians from Poland and the U.S., as then they can discern which diocese to join after ordination. Also, Fr. Witek and his order of Polish Salvatorians (Society of the Divine Savior) have been quite successful in attracting men to their seminary. He has many good ideas on this front.
Finally, the plan needs to include a fundraising effort pursuant to which the Seminary will be self-sustaining.
A.K.: As for this third aspect – fundraising – will it involve asking Polonia for money? How do you expect that will work if the Seminary is not reopened finally?
That’s a good question and one which we have carefully considered. First let me say that throughout its history in the United States, Polonia has been the source of funding projects for the Church. Over 800 churches and parish buildings have been built in the U.S. thanks to the donations, bequests and gifts of Polonia. Indeed, Polonia has funded and supported the SS. Cyril and Methodius Seminary since its founding in 1885 by Fr. Dąbrowski and throughout its history. The Seminary now needs the current generation of Polonia to rise to the call once again.
So how are we going to ensure that a donor’s intention to donate to the Seminary will be honored? In two ways. First, a donor may donate directly to OLS and stipulate that his or her donation be used only for the Seminary. Second, we are establishing an independent foundation, independent of OLS and governed by a board of Polonia representatives, that will accept donations and bequests for the sole purpose of maintaining the SS. Cyril and Methodius Seminary. So, if the Seminary ever closes, the funds will either go back to the donor or be directed to another Catholic seminary.
A.K.: Let me ask you, after the last meeting of Regents OLS, what kind of thought do you have on the future of the Seminary?
I am optimistic and encouraged by the support of the Regents and their willingness to give this another consideration.
A.K.: Any idea why Fr. Witek didn’t get an American visa? Do you have information on when we can meet the new Rector in the Seminary?
I am not sure what has caused the delay. I suspect the U.S. immigration authorities are examining all immigration cases more closely than ever.
A.K.: How can the Polish diaspora in Michigan support your idea to rescue the Polish Seminary?
I think in a few ways. One very important way is to help in the fundraising effort. Polonia needs to be the main source of funds for the Seminary. We need to prove that Polonia truly cares enough about the Seminary that it opens its pocketbooks for this good cause. Another way Polonia can help is to pray for priestly vocations and to encourage men to discern a future in the priesthood.
A.K.: Mr. Walawender, you are chairman of the Polish Mission Board. May you shortly describe in what direction it will go? I heard that the Polish Mission changed its name.
Yes, we will begin to operate under a new name – North American Institute of Polish Culture & Research. We changed the name because this better reflects our mission and focus. The Institute has a vast collection of artworks and archives we wish to exhibit and make accessible to the public. We have literally over a thousand paintings and etchings that we will be exhibiting not only at the OLS campus, but will be able lend to other institutes and museums to exhibit, such as the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Polish Museum in Chicago, and organizations in New York and throughout North America.
We are in the midst of renovating the Galeria, which, when completed in a few months, will be a first class facility for our exhibitions.
We have been also working on reorganizing our archival collections, under the leadership of Sister Genowefa Potaczała, which includes many letters of Polish kings and dignitaries. We expect soon to have the assistance of several Polish archivists to help organize and digitize the vast collection. Our expectation is to open our archives to researchers of Polish and Polish-American history. Also, we are bringing back a Polish genealogy center to the campus, and to expand the Polish language program.
Importantly, the Regents have fully supported and encouraged this vision. There is a lot of work in progress and a lot still be done. I’m happy that Ania Bieciuk as joined our staff as the Administrator for Polonia Affairs, as she is a great asset. She is working on expanding our social media and website presence. Finally, we hope to have a full-time Director in place in the near future.
A.K.: Mr. Richard Walawender, thank you so much for your time. I wish you many successes in your leadership in promoting Polish and Polish American culture and maintaining a repository for artifacts, archival materials, and museums.