Early life and education
Paul Joseph Breza, Roman Catholic priest and Kashubian American activist, was born in Winona, Minnesota on June 23, 1937, the son of Joseph Peter and Alice Seraphine (Pehler) Breza, both of whom were descendants of Kashubian immigrants from Bytów, Poland. He was educated at Saint Stanislaus Kostka School, Cotter High School and Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota.
After completing his seminary studies, Father Breza was ordained a priest on June 1, 1963 for the Diocese of Winona. During his nearly fifty years of active priestly ministry, Father Breza has served the Diocese of Winona in a number of roles: pastor, chaplain, teacher, and administrator, tending to people from across the spectrum of society. In his retirement, he continues to fill in for other priests whenever needed in addition to serving as the Diocesan archivist.
Kashubian American activism
In 1979, Father Breza established the Polish Cultural Institute and Museum, located in Winona in a former lumber yard office he had purchased two years earlier. Initially intended to commemorate Winona’s Polish American heritage, the Cultural Institute and Museum has also developed a Kashubian element after Father Breza’s visits to Bytów in the late 1980s and the 1990s. Under Father Breza’s guidance, Winona and Bytów became Sister Cities in 2004, and Bytów celebrated its first annual Dzien Winony (“Winona Day”) on September 26, 2006. Under the Polish Cultural Institute’s auspices, students from both Winona and Bytów participate in an exchange program, the most recent of which took place in 2012.
Honors and Awards
Father Breza has received public honors for his priestly ministry and for his service to the Kashubian American community, both in Poland and in the United States. In 2007 his alma matter, Cotter High School, named him its third “Alumnus of the Year.” In 2008 the city of Bytow recognized him with the title “Honorary Citizen of Bytow.” In 2010, Father Breza was inducted into Winona’s Polish Heritage Hall of Fame. On May 5, 2013, in a ceremony at the Polish Museum, the Polish Consul General in Chicago, Ms. Paulina Kapuscinska, presented Father Breza with the Cavalier’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland for his contribution to Polish American relations. On June 1, 2013, with representatives from the town on Bytow in attendance, Father Breza celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of his ordination to the Roman Catholic priesthood with a special Mass at the the Basilica of Saint Stanislaus Kostka and a banquet at the Polish Museum.