All Saint’ and All Souls’ Day Pilgrimage – Saturday, October 29, 2011


Story and Photos by Laurie A. Gomulka

The Society has been blessed with gorgeous weather for each of its annual pilgrimages, and the event on Saturday, October 29, at historic Mt. Carmel Cemetery in Wyandotte, was no exception. Our day began in the chapel at 11 a.m., where a few board members, including Rev. Walter Ptak, Dr. Alina Klin, and Leonard Skowronski, and Officer Laurie A. Gomulka, greeted approximately 25 pilgrims who came out for the event. In this traditional service, we remember and pray for those who have gone on before us.

Alina Klin recently said that during the month of November, and at All Saints' and All Souls' Day in particular, she has a need to go to the cemetery. I think that many of us can relate to that need. It's a time to honor our dead, and while we believe that they never truly leave us, it's also a time to call them to us and invite them to be with us again.

On Saturday, October 29, Rev. Walter Ptak led our prayer service, which included scripture reading, singing the traditional hymns Dobry Jesu (“Good Jesus, and Our Lord, grant them eternal rest”) and Witaj Królowo nieba (Hail, Holy Queen of Heaven), and reading aloud the names of those beloved dead whom we wished to remember.

Laurie Gomulka, Vice President & Executive Director-Secretary, along with Alina Klin, gave a presentation on All Saints' Day (Wszystkich Świetych) and All Souls' Day (Dzien Zaduski or Zaduszny) customs in Poland. She recalled the presentation given by then-Director Dr. Thaddeus C. Radziłowski at the Society's First Annual All Saints' and All Souls' Day Prayer Service at Holy Cross Cemetery in 2007 and shared with the pilgrims some of the things that Dr. Radziłowski had said. She recalled that he had said that you cannot have home until you have your honored dead buried near you. He made reference to the horizontal line of home and the vertical line of God and heaven. With the Reformation came the breaking of the tie between the living and the dead because it meant that the dead no longer needed you and you no longer needed them. But All Souls' Day and praying for the dead is so much a Catholic thing. Dr. Radziłowski had said that the reason it persists is because it is so deeply Catholic, and one of the things that so deeply marks Catholics is the inclusion of the unborn and the living and the dead-the ones we pray for.

It is not just important for Poles, but for those of other nationalities as well. For example, Dr. Radziłowski reminded us that it is very important for the Vietnamese to bring home the bodies of their dead because otherwise, they believe, they will wander the earth as ghosts. Poles have special foods, as do Mexicans, such as the bread of the dead.

Laurie said that it was very moving to hear Dr. Radziłowski talk about the Polish tradition of reestablishing the ties with the deceased on All Souls' Day, which is a national holiday in Poland. People say, “You can now come back to us on this day.” They open the windows, lay the bread out, and they pray to the dead and invite them back: “Come, fly to us.”

Laurie said in her presentation that Dr. Radziłowski, who had been in Poland for All Souls' Day, had said that the sight of the cemeteries all aglow from the thousands of burning candles was enough to bring a man to his knees and to tears. Both Alina Klin and Rev. Walter Ptak agreed, and Fr. Wally said that the only comparison, which does not nearly do it justice, is St. Hedwig Cemetery on All Souls' Day with its myriad of votive candles. But even at that, he said that there is no American or Western comparison to Poland's tradition. It is truly breathtaking. It is the most-traveled day in Poland. Alina Klin compared it to our Thanksgiving, with everyone returning home, except that in Poland everyone returns “home” to home in a broader sense. She said that to see so many candles aglow in the cemeteries, it appears as though the cemeteries are on fire.

Laurie continued her presentation, saying that in Poland, food is taken after dinner to the cemetery and given to the beggars, who are asked to pray for those who have died. The prayers of the beggars-the least of God's people-have special merit, as it is believed they are close to God.

The beggars sing songs and tell stories in the rural areas. People bring candles from home and put them on the graves of their loved ones. They clean the graves and also make a special effort to clean any unattended graves because in so many instances there were people who were separated from their families. A special effort is made to ensure that no grave is left unattended or without a candle.

Laurie talked about the soul cake tradition. Before the Reformation, it was customary for poor Christians to offer prayers for the dead, in return for money or food (soul cakes), from their wealthy neighbors. During the 19th and 20th centuries, children would go “souling”-rather like carol singing-requesting alms or soul cakes. A soul cake is something like a hot cross bun but without the currants or the cross on top. Laurie circulated samples of the little cakes for everyone to try.

She then gave a brief history of Wyandotte and a brief history of Mt. Carmel Cemetery, explaining that preceding the Poles to Wyandotte were the Irish and German. It was during the 1890s that a large Polish community began to form in Wyandotte, with the bulk of those immigrants arriving during the first decade of this century. The shipyard and chemical industries of Wyandotte were the main draws.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church was founded on Glenwood in 1899, with services being conducted in Polish. The present-day church building was constructed in 1900.

A second Polish community began to form around 1910 in what was then Ford City. This was located in the area north of Ford Avenue and east of the railroad tracks and in a smaller section north of Goddard Road and west of the railroad tracks. In 1914, St. Stanislaus Kostka Roman Catholic Church was founded for this new Polish community.

Another Polish settlement formed on the south end of Wyandotte, and in 1925, St. Helena Roman Catholic Church was founded to serve them.

Mt. Carmel Cemetery was founded in 1865. It is currently under the auspices of St. Elizabeth Catholic Church located on Superior Blvd. It's a mystery as to why it was named Mount Carmel Cemetery, except that perhaps it was due to its proximity to Mount Carmel Catholic Church.

As for some of the prominent people buried at the cemetery, the Ptak family, ancestors of Rev. Walter Ptak, who also were founding members of Wyandotte, are buried in Mt. Carmel Cemetery.

The Felician Sisters have a plot in Wyandotte Cemetery. Rev. Ptak explained that in 1900, the Felicians were asked to come to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel to teach K-12 education. A convent was built for them on the corner of Vinewood and 10th Streets. A rectory was built across 10th Street. The pastor eventually relocated, leaving the rectory across 10th Street empty. Sisters from Detroit who were suffering from tuberculosis came and the former rectory became the infirmary where they lived. Mt. Carmel's pastor and the Sisters were charged with their spiritual care. When they died, they were buried in Mt. Carmel Cemetery. Most were only 20 to 21 years old. There are still two Felician Sisters assigned to Mt. Carmel parish.

The family of one of the Society's Honorary Members, Syl Wienclaw, is buried at the cemetery. Syl's father and mother, John and Mary Wienclaw, and his brother Ted and Ted's wife Lillian are buried in the main part of the cemetery. Along 9th Street, his son John is buried.

Rev. Mitchell Szarek of Ss. Peter and Paul Catholic Church (b. December 20, 1928), who died on April 11, 2010, at age 81, is also buried at Mt. Carmel.

Continuing her presentation, Laurie explained that one of the most prominent families to have a large plot in Mt. Carmel Cemetery is the Cahalan family, a well known Irish family with political prominence in the Detroit area. She learned from Leo Cahalan, son of the late Judge William L. Cahalan, that Leo's great grandfather, James Cahalan, bought all of the family plots, simply because it made sense to do so. It was the largest cemetery at the time.

James Cahalan and his wife Catherine arrived in the U.S. in the late 1800s and settled in Wyandotte, and there have been three or four generations since then. He started off as a night watchman at the local energy company and became affectionately known as “Jimmy the Night Watchman.” He had sons and daughters, and they did quite well. They opened six or seven drug stores in Wyandotte. One of them still exists, but it is now a liquor store and not owned by the family.

The family attended St. Patrick Catholic Church. At the time, there were three Catholic churches in Wyandotte: St. Patrick, St. Joseph, and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. St. Patrick was where the Irish attended; St. Joseph was where the Germans went, and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel was where the Poles attended.

There have always been lawyers and doctors in the family. Of course, many of us are familiar with William Cahalan, former Wayne County Prosecutor. Leo's father, the late William L. Cahalan, became a Wayne County Circuit Court Judge in 1972 or 1973. Both William Cahalans enjoyed long political careers.

The large, cross-shaped monument marking the Cahalan grave sites is interesting in that there is a symbol carved into it that resembles a dollar sign with three vertical lines cutting through the “S” shape. Laurie explained that it is not a dollar sign, but rather a derivative of the letters “I” “H” and “S” superimposed over each other. These letters represent the Greek letters Iota (I), Eta (H), and Sigma (Σ), which are the first three letters of Jesus in Greek.

After the presentation, the pilgrims ventured out into the cemetery, where Polish-style votive candles were lit and placed at three grave sites: the Ptak family graves, the pastor of St. Patrick Catholic Church's grave, and the Felician Sisters' grave site. At the Felician Sisters' grave site, a candle was placed at the grave of Sister M. Damasia Kasprzyk (1888 - 1914), who, Fr. Wally explained, was the first vocation at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church.

Those pilgrims who opted for the banquet at Polonus Restaurant on Biddle Ave. in Wyandotte departed to enjoy a fabulous meal that included City chicken, gołąbki, mashed potatoes, sweet cabbage, mixed vegetables, soup, tossed salad, and bread & butter.

What a blessed day this was!