McCarren Park

Father Popieluszko Statue

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

This statue honors Father Jerzy Popieluszko (1947–1984), a Roman Catholic priest who lived in Poland, and is best remembered for his ardent support of the Polish trade union federation, Solidarity. During the Soviet occupation of Poland, which lasted from the end of World War II until 1989, Solidarity fought for the personal rights of Polish workers and for Polish independence from Soviet control.

Father Popieluszko spoke out vehemently against the Soviet-controlled government from the pulpit in his small church, Saint Stanislav Kosta, in North Warsaw. People flocked to his church each week to hear his sermons, which were even broadcast over the radio. Popieluszko became an extremely popular Polish nationalist. He was arrested on several occasions and warned to limit his sermons solely to religious matters. Boldly ignoring the threats, he continued to publicly reproach the government. At one point during the Solidarity movement in the 1980s, Polish factories went on strike. Popieluszko crossed police lines, entered a factory and gave communion to the workers in the courtyard.

On October 19, 1984, the Polish Security Police kidnapped Popieluszko. He was subsequently found in a nearby river, savagely beaten and drowned. Public outrage over Popieluszko’s murder turned into demonstrations and riots, and the government-employed killers were later found, tried and convicted.

In 1985, this triangle, formerly part of McCarren Park, was renamed for Father Popieluszko. In the late 1980s, Stanislaw Lutostanski (1950-) was retained by the Polish American Congress to sculpt the monument. The piece, made of Barre gray granite, consists of a lower portion with a rough-hewn depiction of the contours of the Polish national map, from which emerges the carved portrait bust of Popieluszko. The monument was unveiled on October 21, 1990, to coincide with the sixth anniversary of Popieluszko’s death.

Later, in an apparent act of political activism, the monument was vandalized, and its head severed. The restored monument was rededicated in 1992, in a ceremony reportedly attended by over 11,000 people. Another sculpture, Bound Hands Rising Free, was sculpted by Parks employee Tom Cleveland (b.1952) and installed in 2000. Both sculptures represent the heroic life of Father Popieluszko and Poland’s struggle for freedom. Every year on October 19, the date of Father Popieluszko’s murder, thousands of Polish-Americans, many from this Greenpoint neighborhood, gather at Popieluszko Square to honor this inspirational martyr and celebrate his life and his devotion to liberty.

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