Polish church in Pe Ell falls to time, changes

PE ELL - A major part of this town's proud Polish history crashed to the ground this week, after 90 years as a landmark in the west Lewis County town.

Holy Cross Church – which had been the only Polish National Catholic Church building in Washington state – lost its battle against time, age and other factors as crews cut the main timbers out and let the sagging building fall to the ground.

“I have so many emotions and memories about that building,” said lifelong Pe Ell resident John Treznoski, a member of the church in its heyday. “It comes with the times – what was once a very large crowd died off over the years.”

And a large crowd it was. Polish immigrants to Pe Ell built Holy Cross Church on Third Street in 1916, 18 years after the founding of the nationwide Polish National Catholic Church.

The PNCC split from the Roman Catholic Church over a strong desire to maintain Polish language and traditions – including the liturgy, which is normally spoken in Latin.

The unique makeup of Holy Cross Church and its one-of-a-kind religious affiliation was an integral part of Pe Ell’s history in the 20th century, according to many in the town.

Holy Cross Church was included in the Washington State Heritage Register and had applied for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places – further cementing the congregation’s legacy.

Although the church struggled with finding consistent leadership over the years, the Polish community in Pe Ell found stability and continuity through the church. Around a decade ago, Treznoski said, time finally took its toll on a dwindling congregation.

“There hadn’t been a regular church gathering there for 10 years or better,” said Treznoski. “Those of us still here didn’t have enough money to support a congregation.”

The lack of money was the building’s death knell long before this week’s demolition.

“It’s so sad to see such a neat building go away,” said Shirley James, owner of Ivy’s Attic on Main Street. “I feel bad for the families here who were such a part of it for so many years.”