I talked to a friend of mine recently who grew up and lived most of his life in the Polish Village on Lagrange Street. He being a Polish Catholic, I thought he would know, or at least be aware of the story of the deadly riots at St. Hedwigs church in the 1880’s. Nada. He knew nothing. And when I told him about them, he was astonished, as are most people who learn about this stunning and forgotten piece of Toledo history. While we might be able to comprehend some forms of violent civil disobedience, perhaps the idea of church members being so divided they would actually burn their church and kill each other seems unthinkable. But not in 1885 and 1886, when three years of church unrest in this heavily Polish neighborhood known as “LaGrinka” began to combust into deadly violence.
The day was February 17th of 1886 when after a year of riots, unrest and three killings between warring factions of the church, the sanctuary of St. Hedwigs on Lagrange Street was torched and set ablaze. The arson occurred while the trials of more than 30 people were underway from the riots of the previous summer.
In a New York Times article is was also reported that during the height of the blaze, the pastor of the church, Father Augustinski dressed himself in his best clothes and tried to throw himself into the inferno. Three parishioners held him back and prevented him from committing suicide. It was reported that he cried like a child and said if his church was burning he “might as well burn with it.”