Letter to the Editor

What’s going on at Orchard Lake?

I’m not alone, I’m sure, in wondering what’s going on at Orchard Lake Schools. In the last issue of the Polish Weekly we found out that “archival documents” related to the Polish Home Army (AK) and belonging to the Home Army Association will be shipped to Poland. It’s unclear if those plans also include the exhibits in the AK museum located in an old building. If OL officials have decided that the archives should “return to the Old Country” (perhaps even those created outside of Poland during and after the war, in which case talk of “return” makes no sense), then why stop with the AK? Why not documents, archives and artifacts of the Second Polish Corps, the Polish Air Force and the First Armored Division?

It’s well known that, in general, the collections at OL are a mess. For example, I personally saw piles of old books that had lain for years in a closet. Valuable documents, artwork, even antique coins have reportedly met similar fates. Other items have just disappeared—lost, given away, sold, “secured” in private homes or simply stolen. (The theft of a Virtuti Militari medal was recently confirmed in my presence.) Interesting museum rooms dedicated to Poland’s armed forces (including the AK) collect dust and, for all practical purposes, are inaccessible to the public. We don’t know how secure the exhibits (weapons included) are and who has access to them. I wouldn’t be surprised if all these materials were “returned” to Poland.

In my view, most of the collections belong to Polonia and are part of the history and heritage of Polish immigrants in America. An example is the AK artifacts entrusted to OL by Mrs. Halina Konwiak, who almost certainly would not want her mementos shipped to Poland (where there is already an abundance of such items). The preservation of Polonia’s heritage, so that current and future generations of Americans could learn about Polonia’s and Poland’s history, has always been one of OL’s missions. The collections are also resources for scholars and historians. Shipping the collections to distant Poland would be a loss for today’s and tomorrow’s Polonia.

Other troubling rumors (which, admittedly, I’ve yet to confirm) have also been circulating. One is that the Polish Mission, established 10 years ago as a separate and financially independent entity, will be combined with the seminary. Presumably, this would allow the seminary’s directors to tap the considerable funds in the Wikiera Foundation, intended solely for cultural and historical projects unrelated to religious programs.

For some time, interesting but mysterious things (the word “intrigues” come to mind) have occurred at OL. A couple of years ago the directors appointed a new chancellor. Soon afterwards, for reasons still unexplained (but supposedly at the chancellor’s insistence), the director of the Polish Mission was abruptly fired. A months-long “search” for a new candidate followed (the position was even posted on the internet) only to settle on a person whom (according to certain sources) the chancellor had eyed from the start. We don’t know what will happen to the Mission or if it will even continue to exist. The Mission’s clearly neglected website suggests nobody cares about keeping Polonia informed. Reportedly, the new director simply said that the Mission is moving “in a different direction.”

Little is also known about the seminary. Once, as I recall, the seminary teemed with activity, focused on preparing priests to serve Polonian parishes. How many seminarians are at OL now? Where are they from? (Already, some are being recruited in Ukraine, the Philippines and Cameroon.) Where will they go after graduating?

I’m raising these issues because, frankly, someone must. For decades we were assured that Orchard Lake was Polonia’s pearl, that it belonged to us. True, masses, programs and presentations (like the recent presentation about the Jamestown Poles) are still held, but questions remain. Permit me, then, to direct several of them to the officials in charge of Orchard Lake Schools.

• What’s going on at Orchard Lake?
• What are the plans for the Polish Mission and its new direction?
• Who, in the final analysis, owns Orchard Lake Schools?
• Who owns the institutions located at Orchard Lake? More precisely, who makes decisions regarding the objectives, activities and directions of Orchard Lake’s institutions? (An organizational chart would be helpful.)
• Next, who (or what group) is empowered to make decisions about the future of the Polonian center at Orchard Lake, including an eventual sale of the large, beautifully situated (and, of course, extremely valuable) land, along with its buildings?
• In the event of sale, who (or what group) will profit? What benefits will accrue to Polonia? (This is particularly crucial, since at issue are hundreds of millions of dollars.)

Don’t the directors of Orchard Lake Schools owe us answers to these questions?

Andrew Ładak
August 7th, 2019

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