The Polish share much of their history and culture with the Lithuanians. Their long connection started in 1386 Lithuania’s Grand Duke Jogaila married Queen Jadwiga, of the Kingdom of Poland, then in 1569, the of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was formally formed. This Commonwealth was initially known for its ethnic diversity as well as religious freedom, but as time went on, these freedoms began to erode along with the Commonwealth’s political standing and eventually fell to Tsarist Russia in 1795. Life under Russia was difficult. During the 123 years that Poland was a part of Tsarist Russia, its culture and nationalism were oppressed and the practicing of religion was discouraged. Instead, Russia promoted its own culture and language. This “Russification” was extremely upsetting to the Polish people. Pair that notion with forced conscription of Polish men into the Russian Army and the high level of poverty were the reasons Polish people began emigrating to the United States.
The first wave of Polish immigrants that came to New England was between the years of 1870 to 1914. Some settled in the countryside of Massachusetts’ in Hampshire and Hampton counties, but most settled in large industrial cities such as Salem and Lowell. In these cities they found opportunities for employment in factories. The Poles began arriving in South Norwood in the early 1900s. Poland and Lithuania were neighboring countries who were at the time, part of Tsarist Russia, and likely had some similar cultural backgrounds in common. Initially, South Norwood’s Lithuanians shared what they had with the Poles in the community, but as the population of Poles grew, they began to open their own shops, had an unofficial mutual benefit society and in 1919, sought to have their own church. By the following year, on Easter Sunday, the first Mass was celebrated at St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church on St Joseph Street. St Peter’s remained a much beloved part of Norwood’s Polish community for decades, it was the focal point of Norwood’s polish community as it not only offered spiritual guidance but social programs was well. As more and more Poles settled in South Norwood, several organizations and shops sprang up to support the growing Polish population. A Polish Co-operative grocery store open on Washington Street, it was a shop were most Poles bought their groceries, other Polish shops soon opened up on Washington street to serve the Polish community.