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McCarren Park

Father Popieluszko Square

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

This square is named for the late Father Jerzy Popieluszko (1947-1984), a Roman Catholic priest who lived in Poland. He is best remembered for his ardent support of the Polish Solidarity Movement. During the Soviet occupation of Poland, which lasted from the end of World War II until 1989, the Solidarity Movement fought for the personal rights of the Polish people and for Polish independence.

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

On October 19, 1984, Popieluszko was kidnapped by the Polish Security Police. He was subsequently found beaten and murdered, at the side of a river with a rock tied around his neck and his hands bound. Public outrage over Popieluszko’s murder turned into to demonstrations and riots, and the government-employed murderers were later found, tried and convicted.

The land that currently constitutes Popieluszko Square was acquired by Parks by purchase and condemnation between 1903 and 1905. Originally part of McCarren Park, the square as it exists today was constructed in the 1930s. Soon after the end of World War II, Parks erected a flagpole to honor those who sacrificed their lives. Bedford Street now separates the square from McCarren Park, but the commemorative flagpole still stands. In 1985, the City Council enacted a local law to rename the square after Father Popieluszko.

Two monuments in the square commemorate Father Popieluszko. The granite bust of Father Popieluszko was sculpted by Stanislaw Lutostanski (born 1950) and was initially dedicated in the square in 1990, on the sixth anniversary of Popieluszko’s death. In an apparent act of political activism, the monument was vandalized. It was restored and rededicated in 1992, in a ceremony attended by over 11,000 people. Another sculpture, called Bound Hands Rising Free, was sculpted by Parks employee Tom Cleveland (born 1952) and was 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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