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Alicja Karlic, editor of The Polish Weekly / TygodnikPolski talks with Ms. Renata Frącz, representative of the Polish Lobby group

By September 16, 2021November 12th, 20222 Comments17 min read

Appendix 2
Newspaper from 1929 with donations for the seminary

Polish Weekly: What is the “Polish Lobby”? Is it some newly created Polish diaspora organization?

RF.: No, we are not an organization. We are, as you called us, a group. We are a grassroots initiative of ordinary people – the Polish community, Poles, who were shocked by the decision of the Board of Regents to close the Seminary in Orchard Lake. We waited for an appeal from the existing Polish organizations for their official voice of objection. Unfortunately, a month has passed, and we have not received an official position, so we have prepared a complaint opposing the decision to close the Seminary. We printed forms for collecting names, addresses, emails, and phone numbers and began collecting signatures in Orchard Lake, Sterling Heights, and Hamtramck. We called ourselves the Polish Lobby because it is composed of Poles, Polish immigrants, and Polish-Americans, showing our relationship with Poland and the United States.

Polish Weekly: Did the Polish community in Michigan react? What was the response?

RF.: Very positive and big thanks are due to our volunteers collecting signatures, Polish Weekly and Mr. Różalski, who promoted our campaign on the radio, and to the newspapers that reprinted the appeal. We have collected almost a thousand signatures from Michigan alone and more from the Polish communities in Chicago, New York, Washington, Texas, and Wisconsin. They also reprinted our statements in Polish and English. We received invitations from the media in various US states to present our cause. From our point of view, the most important thing was that our action united the Polish diaspora and the Poles in Poland. We have created an email ( ) contact list; the Polskie Lobby website is under construction. Perhaps we will make a real Polish lobby to present and solve issues important for the Polish diaspora and Poland, and to lobby for support. There is a hidden power in our unity. The Polish community was once able to collect five million signatures on an application for Poland to join NATO.

These are dreams for the future, but for now, we started with the Seminary. We have not addressed the recent controversies on the campus; we have not positioned ourselves on either side. We only explained why we must save the Polish Seminary, which was threatened with closure, and we found a great understanding from the people.

Polish Weekly: Some people think that the Seminary should be closed. You want to save it. Why?

RF.: The SS. Cyril and Methodius Seminary has an extraordinary Polish heritage known across America and globally.

Appendix 1. Permission to open the seminary from 1879.

It is the oldest Seminary in Michigan, older than Ford, GM, or Chrysler. Older than General Electric and Coca-Cola. This is important in a country where people want to know their roots and all national and ethnic groups have their centers and cultivate their traditions. Father Leopold Moczygemba, the initiator of Polish settlement in Texas, founder of the city and parish of Panna Maria, was seeking permission to build a Polish seminary in America. Pope Leo XIII issued the license to establish the Seminary on January 14, 1879 (* Appendix 1), and it was established under the leadership of Father Józef Dąbrowski in Detroit in 1885. Then in 1909, the growing Seminary was transferred by Father Witold Buchaczkowski to the Orchard Lake complex, bought from Polish contributions. It was the former seat of the Military Academy, and nearly all of its financial support originated with Polonia. The purchase of land and buildings cost $183,000 – a vast sum at the time. Today it could be $183 million or maybe more. Let us remember that it was made up of poor people, simple people with high ethical, moral principles, full of faith and patriotism. Let us not forget that these were our countrymen, often our ancestors and that this money was their blood. The aim of the Seminary and school was to preserve the Catholic faith and Polish identity. For decades, the Polish diaspora sponsored the Seminary and the school with generous donations (* Appendix 2), and numerous inheritance estate bequests were also made.

The center was a Polish pride for many years. Apart from the Seminary, there was also a Polish school and college. A Polish church, a Marian grotto, and a chapel were built. There was a museum, a library, Polish archives, a gallery with paintings, sculptures, and valuable collections—everything open, accessible to visitors. Meetings of Polish organizations, exhibitions, and concerts were held there. Polonia, the church, and Polish life flourished.

At some point, however, something got stuck; the nature of the facility changed, which began to operate as a Non-Profit organization and in which the Board of Regents began to play the most crucial role. However, the organization now ignored the founding charter, documents, bylaws, and orders of incorporation stipulating that the Board of Regents was to be composed of Catholics, alumni, Poles, and Americans of Polish origin.

And everything seemed fine, but the vigilance was lost. No one was delving into organizational and financial issues. No one was checking how it works and whether it works. And in the meantime, the regulations have changed many times. The requirement of Polish origin ceased to apply, new provisions were introduced, and even for a layman, one could see that the changes are going in a strange direction. Could it be done into the facility the ownership takeover? In the attachment, number 3 * is given current bylaws. Please note the objectives of the individual Orchard Lake Schools institutions. How many words about cultivating Polish heritage! You can see how extensive the powers of the regents are today, but please also note that they are obliged to act in accordance with civil and church law. I will come back to this fact.

Appendix number 4 * is the current list of Regents. Only one-third is of Polish origin and only one person is in the top management. It can be seen, therefore, how unfavorable the situation is from the point of view of the Polish community abroad and how underrepresented the Polish interests are.

From the point of view of “Polish interests” and not much of the Polish Regents, Appendix 5 * is intriguing.

This is an interview given to Mr. Różalski in 2017 by Mr. Gross, who is the Chairman of the Board of Regents. The interview is long, but it is worth listening to it, as Mr. Gross speaks clearly about “our goals” that are not precisely defined. Particularly interesting is the segment from the 9th minute. Isn’t he talking about the acquisition of Orchard Lake after the “elimination of church property,” the Seminary?

And here I want to go to the specific answer to why you need to save the Seminary. By calling the Oakland County Register of Deeds, i.e. the office where the property deeds are kept, I learned that there are currently three entities on the Orchard Lake campus deed:
1) Orchard Lake Schools
2) Saint Mary’s Preparatory
3) SS. Cyril and Methodius Seminary

Simply put: number one is regents, number two is high school, number 3 is Seminary. Out of these three entities, only the Seminary retains any traces of Polishness on the deed of ownership and should be saved at all costs and despite everything. The rest of the subjects are just words. In the regulations and on the school website, the word Polish appears frequently, but it is not followed by actions. Polish children do not go there, students do not learn Polish literature, history, or language. Students do not even know if they have Polish ancestry. Polish regents are in the minority, and if we were to believe their statements then all of them (which are unbelievable to me) voted to close the Seminary!

Polish Weekly: You say that only the Seminary cultivates Polishness. How is that? The Polish Mission was established 13 years ago.

RF.: The Polish Mission is a separate issue. As I have already mentioned, it is not on the deed of ownership. Let it not turn out that when the Seminary is not available, the Polish Mission will be the next one, which will be put under the hammer, and its collections, so valuable for Polish culture, will either be sold or thrown into the trash because such “ideas” are mentioned by witnesses. The Polish Mission is in decline. Museums and the Galleria have been closed for years. The collections are crammed into the corners in conditions that outrage any idea of protecting valuable artifacts. A leaking roof, leaky windows, no display, the ever-promised renovation and even two construction and renovation plans and … even more cramped, because you have to make room for the school. Worse still! From time to time, documents and works of art from the Orchard Lake collection appear at auctions. From where? Who authorized this? What happened to the money? It is not known. It is known that the museum had over 100 so-called royal letters, then over fifty were talked about and today it is 42. This is simply an incredible scandal that should never happen anywhere and we, as the Polish diaspora, demand professional care for the collections, proper exposure, even if it was to be the construction of a new suitable building with a protection system and regular inventory of the collections.

It seemed that the Polish Mission was lucky because there was a noble and generous sponsor. Polish patriots Edward and Józefina Wikieria made a donation deposited in gold and worth about $ 20 million today to the “Polish Cultural Mission”, pointing out that it cannot be intended for a church, Seminary, or school – only for the Polish Mission. Documents and tax returns of the Wikieria Foundation are available on the Internet (* Appendix 6).

We learn that interest is about $ 600,000 a year. We can see that the money is being spent not on the Polish Mission but on “Orchard Lake Schools” and that Mr. Gross is in charge of the fund. Isn’t that a conflict of interest? Doesn’t it look like a fox guarding a chicken coop? It is an open secret that these $600,000 are put in a common fund, and the Polish Mission only receives a trace amount of money to pay for the few remaining employees and not much else. This is nicely called “allocation.” Questions for Regents: Why is the money gifted by the donators for a specific purpose misallocated? Why does the money go to a common fund? Why, despite constant long-term income, is the Polish Mission underinvested? Regents announced they were constructing a new building in 2016, but there has not had a new building, and the proper exhibition of collections was closed. Why are valuable documents, such as the unique correspondence of the Siberia exiles, not used for research, and practically nobody knows about them? Why are profitable departments, for example, very popular genealogical departments, being closed? What happened to the enormous grant intended for its financing?

Did the Polish Mission’s money fund the school’s account? Is it true that people who want to bequest an inheritance or donate money specifically for the Seminary are prevented from doing so, and the donations go to Orchard Lake Schools? What are the amounts of money involved? How are they utilized? What is the source of funds used to erect the new school building on campus? Is it not from donations to the “seminary”? Is it not from the Wikieria Foundation? Why do regents not make financial disclosures available to the Polish community? Is there anything to hide?

Polish Weekly: Strongly said!

RF.: No, not harshly. These are common questions but have accumulated over the years, and the regents should first pursue a policy of openness, even to avoid suspicion. Second, they should answer these questions, also for the same purpose.

Polish Weekly: Did the Polish Lobby group contact the Regents?

RF.: Yes and no. Requests for contact and information took a long time, and finally, I got a snapshot of the list of regents list sent by Mr. Mirko Vukelic. I wrote back that I was asking for more information referring to the Freedom of Information Act. That’s when I got a response from COO Todd Covert saying they don’t follow the state FOIA laws. I tried the third time, and it got even worse. Mr. Covert’s letter was rude and even aggressive and began with the words, “This will be the last time that we respond to your request ….” (* Appendix 7).

Initially, I wanted to write that my great-grandparents, Joanna Trzeciak and Józef Źrałka, were benefactors of this Seminary, but Mr. Covert knew that I was writing as a representative of the Polish diaspora. He knew and wrote back in a way that was rude but also disrespectful toward me, and the entire Polish community. Is the Board of Regents some kind of High Body that cannot be questioned? Do they feel they own Orchard Lake? For them, are the representatives of the Polish community unbearable petitioners who should be bossed around? I had just such feelings. It is sad, but I believe that the next talks at the special meeting will be productive and not tainted by a condescending attitude towards us.

Polish Weekly: I understand that you have not settled on looking for contacts and looking for answers to your questions.

RF.: Yes, we spoke with Polish regents. For example, there was a short telephone conversation with Ms.Anna Bańkowska, who told me that in view of the arguments presented by Mr. Gross, they could not make any other decision than to close the Seminary. She did not say what these arguments were, and to my question, whether other options were presented and considered, Ms.Bańkowska replied that there were not. Regrettably, Mr. Richard Walawender did not answer my email or the calls of others. However, a very interesting and productive conversation occurred with Mr. Joe Majcher, who explained that the Seminary was too expensive. He said a seminary costs $ 600,000 each year and is unprofitable because there are very few seminarians. He said that the Seminary in Krakow, from which most of the seminarians came, had been closed and that other seminarians were not allowed to change Seminaries during their studies, so no one would come to Orchard Lake. Mr. Majcher informed me that for the first two years, the Seminary was paid for by Orchard Lake’s own expenses. These costs are then reimbursed, and a further two years of study are paid by the parish sponsoring the priest. Unfortunately, it often happens that seminarians quit prematurely, and the money invested in them is lost. Mr. Majcher said parents of high school children were complaining that they had to pay for an unprofitable seminary with the tuition money. He said that the Seminary could be saved if at least eight new seminarians came there every year.

Polish Weekly: What do you say?

RF.: There are different opinions on Mr. Majcher’s arguments. Both emotional and substantive opinions. I’ll start with the emotional ones: several people pointed out that for most of its existence, this Seminary subsidized the high school and not the other way around. That, if it were not for the money thrown into a general fund, the Seminary would have sufficient funds to support itself because virtually all donations and the inheritance bequests went to the Seminary. Nearly every fundraising action is signed by a priest with the implication that gifts support the Seminary, and all major gifts have come from Polonia. Polish community businessmen are withholding sponsorship due to unclear financial situations and their complete opacity. There are also voices of regret that the high school has lost its Polish character, and yet it is located in the area bought and sponsored by the Polish diaspora, so maybe the school should pay for the rent of premises and land, or maybe it should even buy another location and operate there on its own money…

These are emotional allegations. There are also substantive suggestions. I introduced the first of them to Mr. Majcher in an interview: You should establish cooperation, for example, with the Society of Christ, whose goal is pastoral care among the Polish diaspora all over the world. Let them study in Poznań for two years and come to Orchard Lake for the third and fourth years. Unfortunately, later I learned that the Jesuits would certainly not be interested in such a proposal. Well, maybe another monastic order…?
A few years ago, Fr. Tomasz Seweryn ran for the Chancellor, and he was the only candidate at that time to present a program that made the Seminary a self-sufficient and even profitable institution. We present this program in Appendix number 8 * Maybe it will be an inspiration for someone? Maybe there are or will be other interesting ideas? I know that some offer a Catholic retreat and missionary activities, others offer theological studies for lay people towards a Catholic family, etc.

Polish Weekly: What about the church side?

RF.: We have an appointment to speak with Archbishop Vigneron, and then we will know more. For now, our news is limited to the fact that it was the OLS Regents who decided to close the Seminary.
And here I want to return to the Orchard Lake Schools Regulations and the provision of observance of civil and canon law. I quote an excerpt from the Church law:
Can 320 § 1 “Only the Holy See can suppress associations it has erected.”
This means: Only the Holy See can abolish associations it has founded.

Again, the questions arise: Did the Pope decide to close the Polish Seminary? Does he even know about these actions? The Polish bishops have already denied the Regents’ claims.
How can a civil council dissolve a church institution? What does the Archbishop have to say about that?
We will find the answers to these questions. We have access to the Polish Episcopate. We will also have contact with papal institutions. We will go literally everywhere to find out the truth and prevent an unlawful decision.

By the way, I would like to present to the readers two interesting letters, the truth of which has been confirmed. The first is the letter from the Polish Episcopate to Archbishop Vigneron, which expresses concern for the fate of the Seminary and a request that it be kept completely open. It also highlights the facts that challenge the regents’ arguments published in the American press. The second letter is the Archbishop’s reply that he is conveying this request to the Regents.
Do all the Regents know about the letters? Do the Regents know the church law?

We hope to know more after the announced meeting with the Archbishop. He knows how numerous and influential the Catholic community of Poland and the Polish diaspora is. We expect clarification of many issues and finding a solution that will satisfy us.

Polish Weekly: And what are these satisfactory solutions?

RF.: These are short-term and long-term goals. More will be required from the Polish community: a lot of commitment, work, but also cooperation with Regents, parents of school children, many organizations, and even representatives of the Polish government.

The immediate goal is to keep the Seminary, and I think I’ve already explained why this is important. in the future, we must restore the Polish character of the campus. It is said very generally, but most of all, we mean the Polish Mission and a new room for it. We suggest a place for the Polish diaspora, Polish organizations, maybe even a consular representative, a place for cultural, commercial, and cooperative events. This is in accordance with the Orchard Lake Schools statutes. Personally, I dream of reopening the “genealogy business.” I have a vision of a large, three-dimensional, illuminated map of Poland with thousands of towns marked on it and with a large inscription above it: “Where are you from”? To visitors, after pressing the name of their town, a movie would be displayed on the screen next to their town, showing what it used to look like, what it looks like now, what is interesting there, how to establish a culture, tourist, or business contacts, etc. You can do such a project in cooperation even with Polish secondary schools.

We want Orchard Lake to be our Polish showpiece, our Wawel, our Taj Mahal so that all Americans of Polish origin would know about it; old, young, speaking and those not speaking Polish, but feeling a bond with the country of their ancestors. This is the last bell before the Polish heritage will not even be remembered there. We count on cooperation with Polish regents.
We also want to cooperate with all regents and parents of high school students and present to them our plan to “reconcile the heart with the mind,” that is, the coexistence of Polish heritage with the American present. We are realists, and we are not angry with reality. Our proposal is to make this Catholic high school known not only for its outstanding sports performance. We would like it to be known for the fact that it will teach the history of Poland, especially the most recent one since the Second World War, and its connections with American history. We also want students to learn Polish as part of the tuition fee and be able to speak and write fluently after four years. That it would be done in a modern and attractive way, in cooperation with Polish peers, conversations on Zoom or Skype, summer exchanges, green schools, at the end of four years of study, there should be a school trip to Poland.

I think it is possible and that the school would only benefit if news of a unique program spread throughout the US. The fact that it is a prestigious boarding school could attract students of Polish origin from all over the United States. And the students would gain fluency in a foreign language, which looks beautiful on a resume and leads to tangible benefits.

Polish Weekly: We, along with the entire Polish community, hope that your actions gain broad support and that you have enough enthusiasm and patience in implementing the program of saving Polish heritage at Orchard Lake Schools. Thank you for the conversation.

Appendix 3 Current OLS (Bylaws) regulations

DOC (2) (1)

Appendix 8 Father Tomasz Seweryn’s plan

Restore and rekindle OLS-TS PLAN

Appendix 9a Episcopal Letter to the Archbishop of Detroit

Appendix 9b Reply from the Archbishop of Detroit