Feast Day puts a spotlight on Polish culture

YOUNGSTOWN — The Feast Day of Our Lady of Czestochowa — Eastern Europe’s most beloved Marian icon — was celebrated Aug. 26 at St. Columba Cathedral.

The observation included a Mass, dinner, Polish music and a keynote speech by the Rev. Eric Orzech, pastor of the Shrine Church of St. Stanislaus in Cleveland’s Slavic Village. Our Lady of Czestochowa is also known as the “Black Madonna” because of the color of her face and that of baby Jesus, whom she is holding.

Nmerous theories surround concerning the color of her skin, including that robbers stole the mosaic icon and tried to burn it.

Her image on the icon has two dark lines like a scar on her right cheek. It is said to have happened when the Hussites robbed the monastery of Jasna Gora in the town of Czestochowa and took the mosaic. As they tried to flee, their horses refused to move so they threw the icon to the ground. One of the thieves drew his sword and sliced the icon twice, and then he was

struck dead.

struck dead.

Considered the patron and protector of Poland and Polish people around the world, she is held in significant esteem in Polish churches and Polish households.

The churches of St. Stanislaus Kostka and St. Casimir in Youngstown, whose parishioners were predominantly of Polish descent, were closed and became part of the Cathedral of St. Columba during the reconfiguration of parishes in the Youngstown Diocese.

In 2010, the process of renovating the baptistry at St. Columba into a shrine to Our Lady of Czestochowa began. The late Youngstown Bishop George V. Murry initiated this effort to welcome the faithful of these parishes to their new house of worship.

Polish Youngstown and St. Columba collaborated to hold this year’s celebration to honor Jesus’ mother.

Aundrea Cika Heschmeyer, director of Polish Youngstown, talked about the importance of holding this feast day celebration.

“This has been a goal since 2012 to have the Polish churches, small and large, come together in one place to pray together and honor Our Lady of Czestochowa. It is important that the shrine is located in the cathedral — the mother church of the Diocese of Youngstown — and that people are given the opportunity to pray in front of the mosaic icon and take a prayer card,” she said.

The dedication of the shrine took place on Oct. 30, 2012.

During the Aug. 26 Mass celebrated by the Rev. Msgr. Robert Siffrin, rector of St. Columba, he said, “Mary brings us closer to Jesus.”

At the Mass, the first reading, Isaiah 22:19-23, was read in Polish by Miros Maszczak, formerly a member of one of the reorganized parishes. After Mass, the congregation stopped to visit the shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa, located under the Cathedral’s bell tower.

Alina Nadeau said she was born in Poland, but her family moved to the United States when she was 6 weeks old. Three years ago, she took a pilgrimage to visit Czestochowa and the original mosaic icon in the Monastery of Jasna Gora. She showed photos of the beautiful interior of the shrine and the black tapestry surrounding the gold frame of the Black Madonna.

Nadeau encouraged anyone who can to make a pilgrimage to see Our Lady of Czestochowa as it was a moving and joyous experience for her.

After dinner, Orzech gave the keynote speech and spoke about the miracles associated with the Black Madonna and her role in Catholic lives today.

“Our Lady of Chestochowa is named after the town where she is located. In Poland, she is Our Lady of Jasna Gora, where the shrine is, as opposed to the town. Outside of Poland, they refer to her as where the town is,” he explained.

The icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa has been intimately associated with Poland for more than 600 years, he said. In every Polish church, there is a reproduction of the Black Madonna. When Poles emigrated, they brought their devotion to the Mother of God, creating home altars and innumerable churches, chapels, and shrines in her honor. A special place is always reserved for her, Orzech said.

He also discussed how towns and religious sites with famous paintings or icons became important and the faithful would take pilgrimages to places like Czestochowa. But, not all pilgrimages involve extensive travel. He said taking a day trip to shrines in the Cleveland or Youngstown Diocese, or even somewhere closer to home, can give you a new perspective.

“Go to another church. It will not hurt you because when you go to Mass at another church, first of all, it will be a little bit different. You’ll have to pay more attention. That’s your little retreat, and you go back to your church and you are a little recharged at your home turf. That’s exactly what a pilgrimage is,” he said.

Siffrin said the feast day is an observance the cathedral plans to continue.

“I have to give credit to the Holy Mother of God for prompting Aundrea to revive this devotion. It started with the dedication in 2012, but with the bishop’s health and the pandemic and everything, it sort of drifted,” Siffrin said. This is a nice opportunity to spread the devotion and give people the opportunity to be pilgrims on the way.”


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