1958 First Annual Pilgrimage of Polish-Americans in Savannah: Honored Catholic Revolutionary War hero Casimir Pulaski

Originally Appeared in : 9908-4/11/19

There was much excitement in the Catholic Diocese of Savannah on Saturday, October 11, 1958 about something that was going to be done to honor a man who was not only Catholic but also an outstanding Revolutionary War hero who died defending the city of Savannah. A dashing soldier who came from Poland, as had others, to help free America from ties with England, Count Casimir Pulaski was fated to be the namesake of military installations and to be carved on monuments. One such memorial to this heroic Pole is Fort Pulaski. Located via the much-traveled road to Tybee Island, this popular tourist and historic attraction has been maintained and operated since 1933 by the U.S. Park Service.


Designed by another famous military man, Confederate General Robert E. Lee, the fort has “taken its lumps” in the past: notably, during the Civil War, and -- more recently -- when a tornado swooped into Savannah and did enough damage to close the fort temporarily. The name, “Pulaski,” has been far from forgotten on other occasions as well, being a popular tourist and visitors’ attraction. Possibly, the “First Annual Pilgrimage of Polish-Americans” which took place on October 11, 1958 in Savannah was one of these. From the moment when then-pastor of the city’s Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Monsignor T. James McNamara, celebrated a special Mass at 10 a.m., the Polish group had great plans ahead.


Mass would scarcely be over by noon that day when a Memorial Exercise was slated to be performed by members of the Sons of the American Revolution. At one o’clock, there would be a fine luncheon at the De Soto Hotel, followed by installation of the officers of Pulaski Club. At two o’clock, members would gather in front of the De Soto prior to marching as a group to the Pulaski Monument in Monterey Square for a three o’clock Memorial Exercise. An hour and a half later, the club’s members would head in a motorcade to Fort Pulaski. That evening, a banquet and dance would be enjoyed, again at the De Soto Hotel. This “First Annual Pilgrimage of the Polish-American Society” was courtesy of a special committee chaired by Joseph Warenzak.


An internet article describing the Polish-American Pilgrimage was accompanied by photos accredited to local Savannah newspapers. Among those shown on this site was an image of Count Casimir Pulaski, the hero who had died of wounds received during the Revolutionary War Battle of Savannah. A notation accompanying the Pulaski portrait offered additional information stating that, at that time (the 1950s), Savannah was considered “the focal point for Polish-Americans throughout the United States” in cooperation with the Pulaski Club of Georgia.


The same website that produced this chronicle of Pulaski events being held that October day in 1958 also offered photos of those associated with the celebration of Pulaski Day, both by locals and visitors to the fort who wanted to know more, about him. Fort Pulaski was declared a national monument during the presidency of Calvin Coolidge. The fort’s appeal has continued to grow as organizations of those of Polish descent have multiplied. Although no mention of the Savannah Polish group’s “yearly pilgrimage” has appeared on the internet lately, the memory of this hero of the Revolutionary Battle of Savannah has persevered.


Columnist Rita H. Delorme is a volunteer in the Diocesan Archives.


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