Skip to main content

St. John Paul is the Father of Orchard Lake: Half its Regents Vote to Kick Out Priests

By May 14, 2022November 12th, 2022One Comment4 min read

A house divided: Orchard Lake Regents split 16–13 on removing the Polish Seminary, Michigan’s oldest place of Catholic formation

By Joseph Serwach

1976 image of St. John Paul the Great with Monsignor Walter Ziemba. Orchard Lake Archives

Forty-one years ago today, an assassin aimed and perfectly struck St. John Paul the Great with four bullets. The trained killer — who eventually became a Catholic — was shocked that the Polish pope would not perish.

Today, 16 Orchard Lake, Michigan Regents — opposed by bishops, priests, nuns, alumni, Polonia, and the entire Polish community — are trying to kill the Polish Seminary that became John Paul’s first “American home” in 1969 and 1976.

The Catholic clergy and Poles lost that 16–13 vote, but they kept fighting, singing their anthem: “Poland has not yet perished, So long as we still live.” Many argue that the bishop’s and priests’ votes have more weight in influencing Michigan’s oldest Catholic seminary.

Orchard Lake’s founding documents require board members to be engaged Catholics, including priests, representatives of Polish organizations, and alumni. Every Regent meeting those criteria (13) voted to save the seminary. It remains the reason the schools began in 1885.

About a decade ago, the Regents of this Polish Catholic community believed Poles weren’t supporting their schools as much as they used to. So Orchard Lake began recruiting non-Polish regents primarily interested in OLS’s high school, Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, and especially sports.

A former football coach and the current basketball coach hold key day-to-day leadership roles, sidelining embattled priests who founded the organization and are supposed to keep the daily chief executive functions.

St. John Paul’s 1976 prophecy: Does it predict the battle for Orchard Lake?

Orchard Lake Seminary priests organized then-Cardinal Karol Wojtyla’s first and second North American tours. Upon his arrival, they hailed him as “the Father of Orchard Lake” and made Wojtyla and the two priests who accompanied him (future cardinals) honorary Orchard Lake alumni.

Wojtyla repeatedly called Orchard Lake’s mission to form priests and Catholic leaders its essential mission. For years, the Orchard Lake high school fed the Orchard Lake college, which fed the seminary. As a result, two venerated alumni are now going through the canonization process leading to sainthood.

But many regents are more interested in high school and high school sports. Last year, board Chairman Stephen Gross, a bankruptcy attorney, told the Detroit Free Press the seminary’s mission was “accomplished” and argued Polish bishops didn’t want to send Orchard Lake any more seminarians.

The Polish bishops said that wasn’t true, and Gross and other regents voted to give the seminary a reprieve if they could devise a plan. The plan was rejected with Andy Harrington, an active high school advocate, bringing “proxies” from largely inactive regents.

But how do you close your primary parental organization when the board fractures with Catholic leadership united in support of keeping Catholic formation and education?

John Paul predicted a final confrontation between the Church and the anti-church

Did St. John Paul foresee this current division in 1976, the last time he stayed at Orchard Lake? Catholic leaders today frequently quote John Paul’s September 4, 1976 “prophecy,” seeing it as a society-wide challenge:

“If the American Polonia expect us to cooperate in matters pertaining to the Polish American community, then we would expect Polonia to cooperate in taking the great responsibility of the Polish nation for Christianity. We have to put it this way because we are now standing in the face of the greatest historical confrontation humanity has gone through.

I do not think that wide circles of the American society or wide circles of the Christian community realize this fully. We are now facing the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-Church, of the Gospel versus the anti-Gospel.

This confrontation lies within the plans of Divine Providence; it is a trial which the whole Church, and the Polish Church, in particular, must take up.

We all realize it is not an easy matter, and a great deal of it depends upon the outcome on the Vistula. I think that Polonia is perhaps the most aware of it, and it seems to me that other layers of American society are less enlightened in this respect and simply eliminate this problem from their sphere of interests.

Polonia, which shares Poland’s sentiments, feels the significance of the confrontation going on at the banks of the Vistula. It is a trial of not only our nation and Church, but in a sense a test of 2,000 years of culture and Christian civilization with all of its consequences for human dignity, individual rights, human rights and the rights of nations.

All these are affected by the confrontation. As the number of people who understand the importance of this confrontation increase in Poland and America, we can look with greater trust towards the outcome of this confrontation. The Church has gone through many trials, as has the Polish nation, and has emerged victorious even though at a cost of great sacrifice.”

One Comment

  • Henryka Olbrot says:

    We wszystko co się robi trzeba włożyć i rozum i serce.
    Kto widzi błędy po drodze powinien reagować zawsze spokojnie ale natychmiast. Przeciąganie bolących spraw tylko pogarsza sytuację. Do rozwiązania potrzebni są prawie ludzie, wierzący w Boga i PATRIOCI