St. Stanislaus Kostka Church is a former Catholic parish located in the city of St. Louis. It was established as a Catholic parish in 1880 to serve the Polish community in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. It is considered to be the best example of the opulent 'Polish Cathedral style' of architecture west of the Mississippi River. The church is notable for a highly publicized dispute over control of the parish and its assets between the church's lay board of directors and the Archdiocese of St. Louis. In December 2005, Archbishop Raymond Leo Burke declared the parish's board members excommunicated and announced his intention to suppress the parish, meaning that it could no longer be considered part of the Catholic Church. The church continues to be maintained and run as a not-for-profit corporation by church parishioners.
In 1878, the Archdiocese of St. Louis authorized the construction of a parish to serve the city's growing Polish Catholic community. In 1880, construction began on St. Stanislaus Kostka. The church was built just north of Downtown St. Louis, in a neighborhood that at the time was home to a large number of Polish immigrants. Under a land deed signed by Archbishop Peter Kenrick in 1891, the parish property was assigned to a corporation under a pastor and lay board members to be continually appointed by the Archbishop (cf. Deed and Charter & Bylaws of 1891).
In 1928, the church was damaged by a fire which destroyed the original center dome of the structure, but the other damage was repaired. In 1969, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, Archbishop of Kraków, who would later become Pope John Paul II, visited the parish during a trip to the United States. The building was listed as a City Landmark in 1976 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.
The church continued to serve the Polish Catholic community in St. Louis even as the community dispersed from the surrounding neighborhood and the area deteriorated. By the 1970's, the parish buildings were severely deteriorated. The parishioners undertook a large scale restoration of the church building and began acquiring land surrounding the church. Later improvements included the construction of a Polish Heritage Center. By 2005, the church assets included 8 acres of land, and the board of trustees estimated the total value of the parish assets at $9.5 million.
Conflict with Archdiocese
The controversy, involving the control of the temporal goods of the parish, centered around whether the property and monetary assets would be controlled by a pastor appointed by the archbishop, which is the canonical norm, or by a lay board of directors. The controversy began under John Cardinal Glennon, and continued under Cardinal Joseph Ritter, Archbishop John L. May, Cardinal Justin Rigali and most recently under Archbishop Raymond Burke.
According to representatives of the lay board, that, since 2005, exclusively governs St. Stanislaus Kostka Church, the current structure of the parish existed for over 100 years and the purpose of Burke's actions was to take control of the assets of the parish for primarily economic reasons. They note that the parish had sustained and restored itself without financial assistance from the Archdiocese, and claimed that Burke intended to close the parish once he had control of it.
However, in the early 1980s, without permission from Archbishop May, the lay board of directors had changed the original 1891 bylaws, which stipulated that the lay board was to function solely as an advisory body to the pastor and thus under the archbishop (cf. the Plenary Councils of Baltimore). Therefore, not long after his appointment, Burke mandated that the structure of the parish once again conform to Canon law. In response, the lay board formally appealed to the Holy See. However, the appeal was denied.
In August 2004 Burke removed both priests from the parish and transferred the Polish ministry to St. John the Apostle and Evangelist Church across from Union Station. In January 2005 he threatened the members of the parish board of directors with an interdict if they did not comply with his instructions by February 4, 2005. On February 10, 2005, the lay board had still not complied, and the archbishop issued an interdict against the board members, alleging that they "knowingly, deliberately and publicly damaged seriously the unity of the Church".
As of February 25, 2005, Burke's reorganization plan for parishes in south St. Louis City permanently changed the personal parish for Polish Catholics in St. Louis to the nearby church of St. Agatha, the move to which was completed on July 1, 2005.
In December, 2005, the lay board announced plans to hire a priest of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, the Rev. Marek B. Bozek, who was thereupon suspended by his bishop, the Most Reverend John J. Leibrecht. In response to the action of the board, on December 16, 2005, Burke declared that Father Bozek and the lay board members (Dr. Joseph Rudawski and Messrs. John Baras, William Bialczak, Edward Florek, Stanley Novak, and John Robert Zabielski), by their actions, were guilty of the ecclesiastical crime of schism from the Catholic Church, an offense to which is automatically attached the penalty of excommunication. In a letter to Catholics in the Archdiocese, he warned the faithful that they would be committing a mortal sin if they knowingly attempt to receive sacraments from a priest who is in formal schism. Burke also announced his intention to suppress the parish as it is no longer in communion with the Catholic Church. Following Burke's announcement, a crowd estimated at over 2,000 attended the first Mass to be celebrated by the new pastor, on Christmas Eve 2005. Subsequently, on December 29, 2005, Burke canonically suppressed St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish, since it operates independently of the Apostolic See and the Archdiocese.