Hamtramck works to reinvigorate ‘Pope Park’

Pope Park 1 “Pope Park,” the Hamtramck plaza built in 1982 to honor now-St. John Paul II, is in need of new lighting and landscaping, says Rodney Srodek.

Hamtramck — Not every city can boast of having a “Pope Park,” complete with a 6,000-pound, 10-foot-tall bronze statue of Pope John Paul II.

But not every city is Hamtramck.

With the 1978 election of Karol Wojtyla as the first Polish pope, the people of Hamtramck felt a special bond to the new pontiff.

Its strong Polish heritage, as well as the familial tie of the pope’s cousin, John E. Wojtylo, a Hamtramck councilman in the 1940s and ‘50s, made a connection with the future St. John Paul II only natural.

In addition, Pope John Paul II exemplified genuineness and respect for all people — making him the pope for everyone.

On Oct. 26, 1982, the people of Hamtramck opened a park in his honor, dedicated by then-Archbishop Edmund C. Szoka. They named it the Karol Wojtyla Hamtramck Park and it was sponsored by many members of the community, including the Cardinal Mercier Council 2723 of the Knights of Columbus.

The 100-foot-long and 30-foot-wide park was not enormous, but its paved courtyard, mural depicting aspects of Polish culture and 18-foot-tall pedestal bearing the pope’s statue served as a unique attraction and testament to the pope’s global influence.

St. John Paul II himself saw the park while passing in his popemobile during his 1987 papal visit.

But “Pope Park,” as it is affectionately called now, needs repairs as some of the pavestones are sinking and parts of the wrought-iron fence have become warped.

The statue and base are sound, but the park overall needs a fresh look, said Rodney Srodek, who helped form the Karol Wojtyla Hamtramck Park Committee in 2013.

“This park is a source of pride for all of Hamtramck regardless of religion or ethnic origin,” said Srodek, who added the committee has discussed revamping the park through new lighting and landscaping, as well as repairing the sunken pavestones and worn concrete.

Srodek said the plan is to remove the iron fence, which was originally recovered from the Dodge Main factory before it was demolished in 1981. The fence will be donated to the Hamtramck Historical Museum.

The committee, made up of volunteer representatives of the community, is awaiting 501(c)3 nonprofit status approval from the IRS.

Srodek is hopeful for approval soon, and said the IRS claims last year’s government shutdown as reason for the delay. However, the committee is still able to accept donations for the project, he said.

“The committee is currently receiving donations under a Memorandum of Understanding with the Piast Institute, which makes the donations tax deductible,” Srodek said.

Srodek said the renovations are expected to be complete by the summer of 2015.

“Pope John Paul II was a respected world leader who expressed compassion for all mankind,” he said. “His status stands as a symbol of that spirit of peace and understanding.”

Karol Wojtyla Hamtramck Park

• The “Pope Park” is at the corner of Joseph Campau Avenue and Belmont Street. For more information about the Karol Wojtyla Hamtramck Park Committee’s initiatives, visit www.hamtramckpopepark.org.

•To donate, write a check to the “Piast Institute” with “Pope Park Project” in the memo line and mail to: Karol Wojtyla Park Committee, P.O. Box 12248, Hamtramck, 48212. Contributions are tax deductible.