History and Memorabilia | Erie Pennsylvania

The history of Erie, Pennsylvania.

St. John Kanty Preparatory School

St. John Kanty Preparatory School was founded in 1909, it stood at East 38th Street in Erie. The Bishop & Martyr of the Stanislaus Catholic Church, in Erie, initiated the idea of a school to service the growing immigrant population in Erie. The mission of founding the school was undertaken by Vincentian priests: Fr. George Glogowski, Fr. Paul Waszko, Fr. Anthony Mazurkiewicz, and Fr. Joseph Slupina; supported Erie pastor, Father Andrew Ignasiak (later Monsignor), in the idea of founding a Polish school that would provided college preparatory education for the children of immigrants. Erie and the Great Lakes region was chosen for its location because of two main railroads, the New York Central and Pennsylvania Railroad whose tracks crossed in the city. It guaranteed good communication for most of the cities in the North Eastern United States. On June 29, 1909, they founded St. John Kanty College Association. Its main purpose was to acquire land and location and build the boarding school.

The first meeting of the Association’s board took place on October 29, 1909 (feast of St. John Kanty in late liturgical calendar), and the decision for location of the school was chosen then. The Association agreed to build the school on land acquired on Cooper Road (East 38th Street) no later than on January 1, 1910, and to accept students for one class at a time until there will be five classes (the Polish university preparatory system). Francis Palecki (1897 – 1984), later Monsignor and Pastor of St. Adalbert Church, Philadelphia, was the first student to register. He was also the first to graduate after five years, the final recognized by many colleges as the first year of Junior College.

On Memorial Day, May 30, 1911, at 4:00 PM, during a special ceremony, the cornerstone of the new building was laid by His Excellence John Edmund Fitzmaurice in the presence of many state and religious officials. The ceremony lasted until 6:00 PM and most of the attendants stayed there till the end.

The large fire proofed building was of magnificent proportions, its beauty being equal to its size. The dimensions were: front 180 feet; end wings 106 feet each; all three stories reaching about 60 feet to the tip of the cross, crowning a golden dome. First and second stories were 12 feet, the third 15 feet high. Intended for five stories originally, it was finished off at the third floor to minimize the cost. Equipped, it represented and investment of at least $125,000 and was designed for 300 students.

The statue of the patron saint St. John Kanty above the main door was hand carved of Carrara marble, made in Milan, Italy. Its height was six feet and seven inches, weighing approximately 1,800 lbs. A Polish eagle, exquisitely carved in stone by unknown artist was immediately below it. On February 3, 1992, the statue, the patron saint of St. John Kanty, was brought to St. John Cantius Parish in Philadelphia through the efforts of Msgr. Bernard E. Witkowski, Pastor of St. John Cantius, and an Alumnus of Kanty’s class of 1953. The expense of removing the statue and transporting it to Philadelphia was covered by the generosity of the Alumni.

The chapel, capable of seating 300 people, was on the third floor directly above the library room. Three altars graced the chapel, of which the main one was the Blessed Virgin Mary’s altar and the side altars dedicated to St. Joseph and to St. Vincent de Paul, for whom the chapel was named. The chapel was completely furnished by a special donation from parishioners of St. Stanislaus in Erie.

Labor Day, September 2, 1912, was memorable day in Catholic educational circles around Erie. On that day, St. John Kanty College was dedicated. At the conclusion of the ceremonies, the Reverend Andrew Ignasiak, president of the Association, submitted a financial report to the board of directors. The board members all resigned in favor of the Vincentian Fathers, as per motion of November 20, 1912, and henceforth, only the Vincentian Community members comprised the governing board. Father George Glogowski became the first rector of St. John Kanty College and Prep School. He held the position until his sudden death on February 29, 1920, at St. Vincent Hospital in Erie.

Father Stanislaus Konieczny was the second rector until January 1926. During his tenure the third floor were renovated by making a Study Hall, and one large dormitory, out of two distinct rooms opposite sides of the corridors. Additionally, a $40,000 gymnasium-auditorium was built over the boiler room which was officially opened with and intramural basketball game on February 12, 1924.

Father Michael Sadowski was his successor as third Rector. St. John Kanty was his first assignment after arriving to the United States in 1913. During his long stay at Kanty he had acquired experience in every available position. His first term at Erie ended in February 1929. Following him as Rector was Father Joseph Studzinski until 1934, when Father Michael Sadowski returned for his 2nd term of Rector-ship until 1937. Father Louis Moska came in his place until October 1938. He was succeeded by Father Stephen Krol, who earlier was the acting Rector of Kanty right after the death of Father Glogowski. His term was short because of weak health and in 1943 he left the office; again, for the third time, Father Michael Sadowski was his successor.

The ninth Rector of Kanty, for the first time, became its alumnus, enrolled as a student in 1925, Father John Lucian Janowski was appointed Rector in August 1947. Because of terminal cancer he resigned in 1950. The next Rector was his colleague from Niagara University studies, Father Edward Gicewicz. Unfortunately, his tenure was broken by the Korean War after eleven months. Father Gicewicz was called on duty as military chaplain in Air Forces. Next, Father Casimir Kiczuk was appointed to this position in December 1950. Father Kiczuk was Kantian. When WWII ended he was in Krakow for theological studies. Successfully, he escaped from the Nazi occupied country and via Italy returned to the United States. During his term a decision was taken to build new gymnasium. Its construction began before he left the office in September of 1954. He was succeeded by Father Adam Minkiel, a graduate of Kanty Junior College. During his governance the school buildings went through extensive renovation and rearrangements because of a re-evaluation by the Middle States Association.

In December 1957, Father Julian Szumilo was appointed another, thirteenth Rector. After four years, Father Waclaw Czapla was moved to his position in 1961. Succeeding Father Waclaw as Rector was Father James Mielechowski in 1964. Ordained a priest in 1936, he was assigned to Erie in 1937. His stay finished at the end of Rector’s term of office in January 1967. Later, after two years in Utica, Father Mielechowski returned to Kanty Prep in August 1969 and left it when the community withdrew from there in September of 1982. Father Chester Mrowka followed Father Mielechowski as Rector until 1976. In that time he was head of the committee for the erection of the new Province of New England (April 23, 1975).

After Father Mrowka’s tenure the office of Rector in Erie was divided into two positions, one was the Superior of the community handed to Father John Sledziona, and the other Principal, went to Father Ronald Wiktor. In 1978, the superior’s office was again rejoined with that of the Principal. By that action, Father Wiktor became last Rector of St. Jan Kanty Prep, a member of the Kanty alumnus, class of 1953. The Father returned as a teacher in 1967. On September 6, 1982, he was the last man to leave the place and turn off the lights.

During the years, most of US born members of the Vincentan New England Province were involved in various periods of time in teaching and educational activity of St. John Kanty Prep. Among them were: Father George Dabrowski, Father Edmund Gutowski, Father Anthony Kuzia, Father Joseph Lachowski, Father Stanley Staniszewski, Father Mitchell Wanat and Brother Joseph Zurowski; additionally, Father Stanley Miekina and Father Joseph Szpilski, both of St. John Kanty Prep, were residents of the New England Province, involved the missions’ activity. The history of St. John Kanty Prep, Erie is the history of Vincentian presence and mission in the North Eastern United States. There would not be present Province of New England if there had not been St. John Kanty Prep.

In the 68 years of Kanty’s existence the school was highly rated and accredited, well known, and an important educational institution of the alumni who pursued further professional education. There were 164 priests (38 of them Vincentians), 17 Monsignori, three religious brothers; 34 dentists, 51 medical doctors and four osteopath physicians; 23 attorneys, three judges, five Ph D’s, and six in the professional military service.

The largest enrollment in Kanty’s history took place in the last year of its existence , when 202 students were enrolled for 1979-1980 school year. In 68 years Kanty graduated 1,214 students with high school diplomas. Altogether, counting those who attended the high school for whatever length of time (955), and those who attended College, only from 1928 – 1943 (65), there were 2,234 students passing through Kanty’s portals. For years St. John Kanty Prep boys were known for their prowess on athletic fields and courts, beating teams from bigger schools.

The school where hundreds of boys played, lived and learned was purchased by Ken and Carolyn Lochbaum, who operated a physical-therapy clinic in Harborcreek Township site. The building was rented out to Gateway Rehabilitation Center, a residential treatment facility for state prison inmates, who opened there in 1999 and then left in 2009 for a Millcreek Township location.

In 2010, the property was bought by Penn State Behrend, from the Lochbaums, for $922,405. In the purchase contract the demolition of the 2,000-square-foot building was part of the deal. Lipchick Demolition of Erie, within a period of six weeks, with their bulldozers, demolished the legendary building. Kanty grounds, zoned as college-related residential/commercial district zone, became part of the Penn State Behrend’s 43 surrounding acres.

St. John Kanty Preparatory School
St. John Kanty Preparatory School.

Father John Janowski (1949)
Father John Janowski (1949)

Father Ronald Wiktor (1953)
Father Ronald Wiktor (1953)

The statue of the patron saint, St. John Kanty
The statue of the patron saint, St. John Kanty.

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