Mother Teresa visited in 1985 and Pope John Paul II, when he was Cardinal Karol Wojtyla of Krakow, celebrated mass there in 1969.
A North End treasure, Winnipeg's Holy Ghost Roman Catholic Parish, on the corner of Selkirk Avenue and Aikins Street, was declared a historical site in 1988.
Originally established by Archbishop Adélard Langevin in 1898 to serve the early Polish, Ukrainian, Czech and German immigrants of Winnipeg, the latter groups eventually established their own parishes. In 1902, Langevin entrusted the care of the new Roman Catholic church to two young Polish priests of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Father Albert Kulawy and his brother, Father John Kulawy.
A wood-frame Neo-Gothic structure with a brick veneer, it was enlarged in 1905 and a rectory and a school for Polish children soon followed, apparently the first such school in Canada.
Today, Holy Ghost Church is a thriving parish of about 1,400 families, according to its pastor, Father Maciej Pajak, OMI. Completed in 1987, a huge contemporary complex, designed by architect Michael Boreskie, now houses the church, day chapel, school, offices and a hall used for social gatherings.
Remarkably, it still sits on Selkirk Avenue, where East European immigrants once formed one of the most cosmopolitan and vibrant communities in Manitoba.
Not far from the church proper sits the awe-inspiring day chapel with its majestic ceiling and historic furnishings. A miniature replica of the original church, "it was saved from the old church when it was torn down," says Betty Pietkiewicz, office administrator of Holy Ghost.
The chapel seats about 100 people and contains the original pews, chandelier, pulpit and altar from the old church. It also retains the stained-glass windows, Stations of the Cross, paintings and statues once housed there.
"The pillars were cut down and the altar... everything was cut down to fit... and was pretty well done by volunteers. A lot of the older people like to come in here because it is more traditional," says Pietkiewicz.
A painting of Our Lady of Czestochowa, one of the Polish nation's holiest icons, sits above a side altar here.
"This particular picture was taken from Poland in the 1960s and travelled across Canada visiting all the Polish parishes and ended up here in this parish," says Pajak. "It is very important to us... the icon is in our Polish National Shrine and every Polish Catholic family has this icon in their house."
According to tradition, the original Black Madonna in the monastery of Jasna Góra was painted by St. Luke the Evangelist on a tabletop belonging to the Holy Family. Numerous miracles are attributed to the icon, and in the 17th century, King Jan II Kazimierz had crowned it Queen of Poland. It is said to be the third-largest Catholic place of pilgrimage in the world.
The magnificently designed, light-filled church itself accommodates about 800 to 1,200 parishioners once dividers are removed, says Pietkiewicz. This newer church was "very well-received. They liked the open concept and the tapestries."
Eight large tapestries, in rich shades of gold, blue and silver, line the walls of the church. Hand-sewn by parishioners, they portray the work of the Holy Spirit in the Bible, in the history of the Polish people and in the life of the parish community.
Most striking is the enormous tapestry dominating the entire wall behind the altar. Thirteen metres wide and 10 metres at its peak, the Pentecost tapestry depicts the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles. Polish artist Halina Wyluda-Kazmierczak created the painting of the apostles.
The altar area itself is 17 metres wide and holds the table, pulpit and chair specifically built for the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1984 to Birds Hill Park.
"It meant a great deal having the furnishings, being a Polish pope... and since he had visited the old Holy Ghost Church," Pietkiewicz says.
Between the tapestries, 13 stained-glass windows, designed by architect Boreskie, reveal a dramatic, contemporary interpretation of the Stations of the Cross.
Tours may be arranged by contacting the church at 582-4157.
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