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St. John Kanty Church
By Eagle Scout

By on January 15, 2021

Cracow, Virginia – October 24, 2020, became a warm, sun-filled morning in a small rural community in Tidewater, Virginia. As the 100th Anniversary of the dedication of St. John of Kanty Polish Catholic Church was observed by the twelve Polish families’ gathering of descendants. Their ancestors formed a small enclave that once was known as Cracow, New Kent County. 

PHOTO: Ruins of Church Preserved. Eagle Scout Kody Kopacki, age16, is depicted standing on the remaining concrete steps that led to the entrance of the now disappeared St. John of Kanty Polish Catholic Church. The white metal cross in the background, constructed by Kody, is adorned with shards of stained glass recovered from the church ruins, and symbolizes the church itself.

     The church no longer stands, having burned to the ground when lightning struck the steeple on July 10, 1935.  After the fire, only the cement porch and steps remained, and over time nature reclaimed the site. The church’s relic and its small cemetery along Polish Town Road became the project Kody Kopacki focused on to become an Eagle Scout.  After planning his project, he received approval from the Cemetery Committee at Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament at West Point, Virginia, that administers the cemetery. 

     Kody undertook the work of removing some of the trees and overgrowth and reinforcing the cement steps, along with other Troop 360 scouts and their supporting parents. They also created a circular path between the former church and cemetery, placing a historical marker that included a photograph of the church’s pastor, Rev. Ceslalus Jakubowski, and a brief history. 

     Kody drew up the suggestions of the late caretaker Roger “Butch” Staskiel, who died in January, and Karol Franzyshen, who had shared his research on the community with Thomas Hollowak. The latter published a history of the enclave, From Cracow to Polish Town: The History of a Polish Enclave in the Weir Creek Ministerial District, New Kent County, Virginia [Historyk Press, 2020].

     He was working within COVID-19 restrictions; he was assisted by his Boy Scout Troop 360. He also received monetary donations from friends, family, and the Father Jakubowski Knights of Columbus.

     In addition to creating the path, he constructed a cross with shards of the stained-glass window, which was the church’s front door.

PHOTO: Historical Plaque Erected. A sizable historical plaque, erected by Scout Troop 360,  illustrates the 1920 church and its founder, the Rev. Ceslaus J. Jakubowski, Pastor, and also includes a history of the church and its Polonia connection. 

  The Dedication Ceremony took place at 10 a.m., the exact hour of the original dedication 100 years before. It was presided over by Rev. Oscar Paraiso, who blessed the church remnants and the grounds of the cemetery.  A letter from Gary Silvia, Chairman/ OLSB Cemetery Committee, was read by Robert Ryalls, OLSB Business Manager.  He also read a letter sent to Father Paraiso by the Bishop of Richmond.  The special guest speaker, Thomas Hollowak, gave a brief history of the church. Two of the guests in attendance was Henry Franzyshen – the only descendant still living on his family’s farm, and Butch’s brother, who both gave brief comments of thanks to Kody for the remarkable achievement of his project.

     The Ceremony concluded with a final blessing by Father Paraiso and an impromptu book signing.  Holly McGowan provided individually wrapped cupcakes and bottles of water for those in attendance. 

Note: This is a follow-up article about the historic St. John Kanty Church that first appeared in the  September, 2019 issue of the Polish America Journal.

Richard Poremski
Polish American Journal
Washington, DC Bureau
December 6, 2020