A small but determined band of Toledo-area Catholics, most of them reeling over Toledo Bishop Leonard Blair's decision to close their parishes last year, is starting a church that belongs to a breakaway Catholic group, the Polish National Catholic Church.
Fourteen people attended Mass yesterday at Resurrection Polish National Catholic Church, meeting in a stark basement cafeteria at the Common Space Center for Creativity on Reynolds Road near Dorr Street.
The purple-robed celebrant, the Rev. Jaroslaw Nowak of Hamtramck, Mich., is interim pastor of the fledgling Toledo parish.
Mass at Resurrection Church was in many ways identical to that of a typical Roman Catholic Mass. The most significant differences are ones that cannot be seen during a service.
For one, Father Nowak, 42, has a wife and two children. The PNCC allows married priests. Also unlike the 1 billion-member Roman Catholic Church and its strict hierarchical structure, Resurrection Parish is owned and controlled by parishioners, who can hire - and fire - their pastor.
The Rev. Michael Billian, episcopal vicar of the Toledo Catholic Diocese, said "it is important to note" that Father Nowak and the PNCC are "not affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI, or Bishop Blair."
He said in a statement yes-terday that he "joins with the other members of the diocese and pray that all members of the closed parishes can make the journey to a new parish community and find comfort through their faith and prayer."
The PNCC is in talks with the Vatican, Father Nowak said yesterday. Members of Polish National Catholic Churches can receive Communion and fulfill their religious obligations at Roman Catholic churches, and vice versa, Father Nowak said.
"Some people will say we are not Catholic. That is not true," Father Nowak said after the service. "We are independent but Catholic."
The Polish National Catholic Church was founded in Scranton, Pa., in the early 1900s by Polish immigrants. There were at least three previous PNCC churches in the Toledo area, although all closed decades ago: Our Lady of Czestochowa Parish on Nebraska Avenue; St. Joseph Parish in Rossford, and Nativity Church in Toledo.
Today, the PNCC has 134 churches with 25,000 members in the United States and Canada.
Leading the charge to start Resurrection Parish in Toledo are Sylvania businessman Jack Sparagowski, whose previous church, St. Anthony's in Toledo, was closed by Bishop Blair, and Toledoan Chris Cremean, who belonged to the now-closed St. Jude Parish.
"One reason I got involved is the fact that it is parish-controlled," Mr. Cremean said. "The parish builds it, maintains it, and owns it. You don't have to worry about somebody coming in and telling you that you can't have a parish."
Bishop Blair last year ordered 17 churches shuttered and merged 12 others to form four new parishes in realigning the Toledo Catholic Diocese's parish boundaries.
He said the changes were needed because of a shortage of priests and because of changing demographics in the 19-county diocese, which has 323,000 members in 159 parishes.
Mr. Sparagowski said he was frustrated by his dealings on behalf of St. Anthony with Bishop Blair and other diocesan leaders who decided which parishes to close.
"They would tell you one thing and then turn around and do something else," he said. "We offered to purchase the church. We offered to bring in a priest from Poland. All the things we felt were viable opportunities to keep the church open, they refused."
One Resurrection member, Mel Adamski, 67, of Toledo said he has been a Roman Catholic all his life, but after the parish closings and the clerical sex-abuse scandal, "I just want to wash my hands of it."
He also expressed dismay over last week's events at St. James Parish in Kansas, Ohio, where parishioners had been holding a prayer vigil since May 1, hoping Bishop Blair would relent and reopen the church. On Monday, the diocese sent a maintenance worker to clear out the building and change the locks, bringing the vigil to an abrupt halt.
Mr. Sparagowski said when he first heard of the PNCC late last year, he and five others drove to the Detroit suburb of Hamtramck to check out Father Nowak and Holy Cross Church. After they arrived, however, they discovered that no Mass was scheduled that day. When Father Nowak heard about the Toledoans' visit, he celebrated a Mass just for them.
"We thought, 'Wow, how impressive is that?' " Mr. Sparagowski said.
The Toledo group began talking to Father Nowak about starting a parish here. The priest contacted his bishop in Chicago, who asked him to help the Toledoans and appointed him interim pastor of Resurrection Church.
Father Nowak, a Polish native, was ordained in the Roman Catholic Church and switched to the PNCC in 1994. He moved to the United States in 1999.
"This is not an ethnic church," he said. "There are Hispanic churches in Texas. Many of our priests were born in America. It is a universal church."
He has made the one-hour drive to Toledo each Saturday since Feb. 19 to celebrate Mass at Resurrection, which in addition to the Common Space service yesterday has met in a Catholic War Veterans lodge and an individual's home while members search for a permanent location.
"Why are we here?" Father Nowak said in his homily, standing beside the makeshift altar in the cafeteria. "Why can't we go to a beautiful church built for people to worship God? You know why. Because somebody closed it."
Contact David Yonke at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6154.