Genevieve Sobocinski Pilot photo/ Courtesy Genevieve Sobocinski
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SALEM -- Genevieve Sobocinski remembers a time when Polish was spoken up and down Derby Street, and life revolved around St. John the Baptist Parish.
But times have changed, she says.
“Ours was a very big parish way back then,” she recalled. “Now people are just not coming to Mass anymore.”
Sobocinski, 88, has been a parishioner at St. John the Baptist all her life. Her parents, both Polish immigrants, were married at St. John’s in 1912, and sent their eight children to its parochial school where the sisters taught in Polish.
According to Sobocinski, her parish was born in the basement of Immaculate Conception Parish in Salem. It was there that Polish Mass was first celebrated with the many Polish immigrants that came to Salem looking for work in the town’s numerous factories.
In 1903, the first church was built, but the congregation quickly outgrew the small building. Ten years later, the parish bought the old Baptist church on St. Peter Street, right in the heart of Salem, where it remains today.
“We still have the old organ from the Baptist church -- the kind that you have to pump water through to get the music,” she said.
As an adult, Sobocinski too was married at St. John the Baptist, and sent her three children to the same school she had attended as a child.
“By the time my children went to the school, though, they didn’t teach Polish anymore. It was all English then,” she said.
In 1960, when the parish decided to build a new school building, Sobocinski and her husband, Raymond, were integrally involved. Raymond was the co-chair of the building committee, and she, after being taught by the librarians at the Salem Public Library how to run a library, ran the school library until its closing in 1977.
Today, Sobocinski is still an active parishioner at St. John the Baptist Parish, attending Mass every day. One of the parish’s first lay lectors, she still proclaims the readings at the Polish Mass every Sunday. In addition, she maintains the church linens and vestments. She also volunteers to cook Polish food for the parish feasts.
“I’m no longer involved in the growing of the parish,” she said in a tone that sounded almost apologetic. “I’m too old.”
However, the parish is as important to her today as it ever has been. Recently widowed, she has turned to her parish community for support.
“My faith means more to me than any money in the world,” she said.
St. John the Baptist Parish, Salem
Year established -- 1903
Pastor -- Msgr. Stanislaw Parfienczyk
Religious Education Director -- Teresa Prochorska
Music Director -- Paul Racki