Beyond the Veil by Iwona Biedermann

Beyond the Veil
Beyond the Veil series portrays the private moments in the lives of Catholic Nuns in Chicago. At the end of the XIX century, Polish Nuns arrived in small numbers to greet the growing wave of Polish immigrants and their families. The Felician Sister, the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth and The Sisters of the Resurrection opened schools, hospitals, orphanages and retirement centers. They provided much needed assistance to emigrants and played a major role in preserving the heritage of the Polish immigrant community in Chicago throughout the XX century.

Many of the Sisters in the photographs have known each other and lived together for the majority of their lives. They were teachers, nurses, political activist, chefs and artists. “They served the need of their time” and now the number of sisters is growing smaller and older. The Sisters who I have met are women who made the choice to serve God by serving others through contemplation and action. Getting to know them and following the rhythm of their daily activities – from moments of contemplation, prayer or religious service, to moments of afternoon bingo or an evening card game – revealed glimpses of our shared human experience.

1. Sister Mary Columbine Kowalska - on her 104th birthday - Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth, 2002.  2. Sister Paula Shire at Mother of Good Cousel in Chicago, 2002. 3. Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth, 2002. 4.The Felician Sister - Terenia at Mother of Good Cousel in Chicago, 2002. 5. Sister Eucharia Fronszkowski - Holy Family of Nazareth, 2001.

1. Sister Mary Columbine Kowalska – on her 104th birthday – Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth, 2002.
2. Sister Paula Shire at Mother of Good Cousel in Chicago, 2002.
3. Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth, 2002.
4.The Felician Sister – Terenia at Mother of Good Cousel in Chicago, 2002.
5. Sister Eucharia Fronszkowski – Holy Family of Nazareth, 2001.

About Iwona Biedermann
Iwona Biedermann was born in Poland. She studied photography at Columbia College and received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1990. Biedermann’s photographic work includes documentary, editorial, portraiture and fine art. She has also taught photography privately as well as for nonprofit youth organizations and was a visiting artist at Columbia College and Loyola University.

Her photographs have appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines including the Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Magazine, The Reader, In These Times, Screen Magazine, New City, Newsweek, Real Simple, Time-Out and various Chicago-based Polish media. Her work has been published in Australia, Brazil, Chile, England, France, Germany, Japan, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and United States.

Recognized through many awards, (Individual Artist Support Initiative, Illinois Art Council 2012, Artist Fellowship, Illinois Art Council 2007, Commission from Public Art Program 2002, Illinois Humanities Council Grant 2001, City of Cultural Affairs Grant 1997, Eddie Adams Workshop 1995, Weisman Scholarship 1985/1986) her work has also been a part of many exhibitions including Beyond the Veil at the Polish Museum of America in 2002, Catholic Chicago at Chicago History Museum in 2008 and Between the Lines of Beauty, Think Art Salon in 2011. Solo exhibitions include Divine DisComfort at Arsenal Gallery, Poznan, Poland in 1999 and Elmhurst Museum in 1998.

In 2003, Biedermann opened the DreamBox Foto Studio and DreamBox Gallery in Chicago. Its mission is to create, inspire and be inspired by cultural exchange between artists and their creative currency: Word | Image | Idea.

Website: Iwona Biedermann Photography

Call for Papers EXTENDED! New Deadline: 18 August 2015

Chicago Catholic Immigrants Conference: The Poles
November 13-14, 2015
Loyola University Chicago


The Loyola University Chicago Hank Center for the Catholic Intellectual Heritage (CCIH) in collaboration with the Interdisciplinary Polish Studies Program will host the third conference in a series of conferences that focus on the historical, cultural, and religious roles that Roman Catholicism played in sustaining ethnic identity for many immigrant communities of people who came to Chicago in the 19th and 20th centuries. Each year the conference is devoted to an ethnic community in which Catholic faith and devotional life bolstered cultural and national identity at the same time that the Church’s institutions helped that ethnic community to assimilate into a new city and nation. The conferences explore many waves of 20th century immigrants to Chicago whose Catholic faith helped to shape their cultural narrative.

The 2015 Chicago Catholic Immigrants Conference (CCIC) will focus on the Polish immigrant community here in Chicago. We would like to invite scholars from the fields of ethnic studies, urban and cultural history, literature and language, theology, and sociology of religion. This conference will also highlight the Polish heritage and traditions with the participation of Chicago artists, students, and Catholic religious leaders.

Future conferences of the Joan and Bill Hank Center for the Catholic Intellectual Heritage will focus on the following immigrant communities: Lithuanian, Vietnamese, and African. The two previous conferences have looked at the Italian and Mexican immigrant communities.

Deadline for Paper Submissions: Tuesday, August 18th, 2015

We invite you to participate as a speaker, a moderator of a panel and/or an organizer of a panel. Each speaker will participate in a panel addressing a topic suggested in our agenda. We are open to proposals given that you will organize the whole panel. Presentations should be limited to 20 minutes, which will be follow with a brief discussion led by a panel moderator.
Please submit your papers including 200-word abstract, 60-word biography, contact and affiliation information to Bozena Nowicka McLees, Director of the Interdisciplinary Polish Studies Program, at If you have any questions please call 773-508-2864.

Chicago Catholic Immigrants Conference: The Poles
Proposed Program

DAY 1 – Friday, November 13th, 2015
9:00 – 9:30 Opening Session and Welcome
9:30 – 10:00 KEYNOTE ADDRESS Followed by Q&A
10:00 – 11:15 PANEL 1: Poles Coming to Chicago, A Historical and Social Perspective
11:15 – 11:30 Coffee break
11:30 – 1:15 PANEL 2: First Parishes and Catholic Organizations
1:15 – 2:00 Buffet Lunch
2:00 – 3:15 PANEL 3: Polish Catholic Education and Assimilation
3:15 – 3:30 Coffee Break
3:30 – 4:45 PANEL 4: Parish Histories and Religious Orders
4:45 – 5:00 Coffee Break
5:00 – 6:30 PANEL 5: Pope John Paul II and Other Catholic Role Models (St. Kolbe, Jan Karski)

DAY 2 – Saturday, November 14th, 2015
9:00 – 9:45 Keynote Speaker
9:45 – 10:00 Coffee Break
10:00 – 11:15 PANEL 6: Immigration, Transnationalism, and Cultural Identity
11:15 – 11:3 Coffee break
11:30 – 1:00 PANEL 7: Polish Catholic Experience in Literature, Polish American Writers in Chicago
1:00 – 2:00 Buffet Lunch
2:00 – 3:30 PANEL 8: Polish Catholic Culture Expressed in Fine and Visual Arts.
3:30 – 3:45 Coffee break
3:45 – 4:30 VISUAL PRESENTATION on the Architecture of Polish Churches in Chicago
4:30 – 4:45 Coffee Break
4:45 – 5:30 PANEL 9: Chicago Polish Catholicism for the 21st Century: Perspectives from Loyola Students
6:00 Sacred Liturgy in celebration of Polish-American Heritage; music performed by the LIRA Ensemble, Madonna della Strada Chapel

Pre-Conference Events:

Wednesday, 11 November: Film Screening & Discussion of The Fourth Partition (2013)

We encourage scholars to expand this program by submitting any other suggestions exploring the Polish-Catholic experience in Chicago.

Stamp Honors 1,000 Years of Christianity in Poland

On this day – June 19th – in 1966, the following article appeared in the Chicago Tribune to commemorate the Polish community’s celebration of 1,000 years of Christianity in Poland:

“Stamp Honors 1,000 Years of Christianity in Poland”

Here is a photo pf the commemorative stamp:

1966 Poland's Millennium Stamp

A big warm thank you to Carole Bilina for donating 38 historic stamps to the Interdisciplinary Polish Studies Department! 115 million stamps were printed in 1966 to mark 1000 years of Christianity in Poland.

“Music Grandpa” by Victoria Ann Granacki

My Polish-immigrant grandfather played a curious-looking concertina accordion every evening in his third-floor flat. It had a floral pattern in the squeeze-box folds, an incomprehensible series of round silver buttons in the right hand, and just five base notes in the left. But could he make that instrument sing with polka-tunes! As a little girl I wandered upstairs to sit at his feet while that lively three-step dance beat its way forever into my soul. A few years later when I began piano lessons, player and audience were reversed. I practiced relentlessly on a tinny old castaway upright that my father had dragged into our basement. But no matter — my grandfather sat in rapture, assuring me I played like Paderewski. Perhaps he heard the Polish rock-star pianist in 1939 in his last concert at Chicago’s Auditorium Theater, overflowing with his fans. Of course at that time I had no idea. I only knew my grandpa listened to me tirelessly and admiringly.

Music Grandpa Image 1

In those days there were Polish weddings in our family every season. The traditional Catholic morning wedding mass had brimming bridal parties but afterwards families just scurried home to do afternoon chores. Guests came back at night in their finest suits and cocktail dresses for a copious banquet – always family-style – with Polish Sausage/sauerkraut the signature dish. And then as the local polka band soared, the dancers began to fly! Women predominated on the dance floor – moms, and aunts and girl cousins — and I bobbed with them all. But my father was the special dance partner I coveted more than any other. An excellent ballroom dancer who courted my mother at Chicago’s Aragon and Trianon ballrooms, he began my tutorials as soon as I was old enough to stay awake. Guiding me with firm hand and twirling me around so my dress billowed, we circled the dance floor endlessly until the chandeliers were spinning and faces a blur. Wedding after wedding we danced, with our last dance at my own wedding. He’s been gone for many years now but there’s still no one who can ever replace him as my polka partner.

Music Grandpa Image 3

The women in my Polish-American family were singers. Choir singers, soloists, accompanists. The church choir at St. Fidelis was their faith and their social scene wrapped together. And they brought song to every Christmas celebration. The Granackis’ life in Chicago started as an extended family in a crowded 6-flat in Humboldt Park, each flat filled with family. So by the time my own family had moved to our 3-flat on a wide, tree-lined street in Old Irving Park it seemed like an estate. One year Christmas was at our house, the next, upstairs at my Aunt and Uncle’s. But each flat had a piano and after the last Wigilia plate was cleared and the men begun the kitchen clean-up, the women launched the caroling. English songs at first, but then the Polish ones – Dzisiaj w Betlejem, Gdy sie Chrystus Rodzi, and Auntie Joy’s special favorite, Lulajze Jesuniu. We had sopranos, we had altos, and soon the men wandered back in to provide the baritones. After my accompanist aunt could no longer play, I was an inadequate replacement, but I hoped if I loudly led the song, the piano errors would go unnoticed. Age eventually diminished the sound of the song but not the enthusiasm of the singers. These days I sing alto in a thoroughly American Catholic Church choir but my aunts’ voices on their favorite Polish carols continue to haunt me every Christmas Eve. Music of all kinds has been woven into my life, but it was the Polish-Catholic flavor in Chicago’s old parishes that gave me the base.

Music Grandpa Image 4

Victoria Ann Granacki, Chicago, 2015