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Marche Catholic church celebrates 135th anniversary

In 1877 Polish immigrants settled near the Warren, Arkansas railroad stop about ten miles north of Little Rock. Soon they changed the name to Marche and the next year constructed the areas first catholic church.

Eager to continue their traditional Polish ways, other American immigrants unhappy in larger cities also migrated to the Marche community.

So many people came so quickly that they slept in the rundown Warren railroad station and depot using their own clothing as pillows.

Most became farmers growing cotton, beans, corn and of course, cabbage for use in their traditional sauerkraut. Others took jobs helping out on the farms, babysitting and doing odd jobs. Some even commuted into Little Rock via train to seek employment.

As soon as they could raise the money or borrow it, most families purchased family farms to not only raise food for their own consumption but to sell it or the other crops they grew.

The proud Polish immigrants clinged to their traditions, family values and of course religion. Since 98 percent of Poland then and now is Roman Catholic it wasn’t long before they were searching for a church site and asking for a priest to be sent to help them.

Not far from the railroad depot they found a hill they named Jasna Gora, or Sky Blue Mountain which they said reminded them of a religious shrine in Poland, Czestochowa. Soon they constructed a small wooden church they named Immaculate Heart of Mary Church.

Bishop Edward Fitzgerald dedicated the first church in 1878. As his name indicates the Bishop was not of Polish descent and when scores of Polish immigrants met his carriage at the base of the hill all decked out in their traditional Polish ceremonial attire, it was said he was taken back by the gesture

The area today is better known as Blue Hill but the street the modern church is on is named Jasna Gora Drive.

That first crudely built church was torn down and replaced in 1896.

The immigrants just didn’t happen to settle in this area. A judge at the time, Liberty Bartlett had first settled the community and attempted to create a town named after him, Bartlett.

When his efforts failed the land reverted back to the Little Rock and Fort Smith Railroad which attempted to turn it into a resort for Little Rock residents by constructing a dance pavilion and promoting two nearby lakes for hunting and fishing.

But in 1877 Count Choinski chose the land as the home of a newly created Polish colony.

One former resident told of how fancy church events were, especially weddings where men decorated buggies with ribbons and drove around attracting attention and how colorful dances were a common occurrence.

The current structure was constructed in 1932 and dedicated in 1933 by Bishop John B. Morris.

Several hundred parishioners gathered in the 80-year-old building on Friday evening, May 3 to hear Father Thomas J. Hart conduct mass celebrating the church and its pivotal role in the community.

As soon as it was complete crowds rushed over to the gymnasium to enjoy a traditional Polish dinner that included unique Polish dishes.

And following a presentation on the history of the church, a Polish Polka Band played while several attendees, young and old alike enjoyed dancing on the gymnasium floor.

At the end of the night those celebrating expressed their gratitude for all those who worked hard to prepare food and plan the monumental event and hoped they would be around for many more anniversaries.

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