A brief history…
Polish immigrants came to America in the mid 1800’s to escape persecution at the hands of the anti-Catholic German Empire. Prussian May Law prohibited the use of their native language in schools and churches. In America, where Polish immigrants could enjoy freedom, they had difficulty adjusting to the language and customs of the new land. The first Polish parishes were established as a place where the people could converse in their native language. St. Laurentius was the first Polish Roman Catholic church in Philadelphia.
On January 29, 1882, the first meeting of organizers of St. Laurentius Parish was held in Muellersken Hall on Third Street. They petitioned the Archbishop of Philadelphia to send them a priest. There were 47 families that signed up and they collected $31.50 in their treasury. Following meetings brought about the formation of a committee to visit and petition the Archibishop. Thus, St. Laurentius Parish was founded by the Most Rev. James F. Wood, Archbishop of Philadelphia in 1882.
Despite the obstacles in their way, such as the Orange Men, the parish sought a place to erect a church. The parishioners finally acquired a property at Berks and Memphis street, and built a basement church.
St. Laurentius School had humble beginnings as a Polish school for about fifty children in a local blacksmith shop. Father Malusecki, the pastor of St. Laurentius, saw a need for a parochial school. He invited four Felician Sisters from Detroit to take charge of the school. The first classes were started in 1890 and were held in the basement of the church after the upper church was completed.
The church acquired the adjoining properties and built the rectory in 1892. The school outgrew the church basement, so they acquired an additional building at 1614 E Berks Street and dedicated St. Laurentius School on October 29, 1899. With a continued increase in pupils, it became necessary to build a modern school in 1923.
The parish continued to flourish and created affiliations with groups that encouraged the physical, moral, and spiritual development of youths, such as The Catholic Men’s Club and the Boy Scouts of America.
In 1964 more renovations were made, such as adjoining the first floors of the rectory with the original school building to make one unit. This is the space that was recently converted to make room for our Pre-K program.
Rev. Anthony Ziemba, (“Father Tony” as he was lovingly called) became pastor in 1974 and encouraged the community to contribute to make major improvements to the school around the time of the church’s centennial. A strong Community of Faith was slowly being formed with priests helping parents, parents helping teachers, teachers helping children, and all helping one another in prayer, guidance, and charity.