Young Jozef studied in Winona schools until he went away to seminary. He was then ordained in Saint Paul, in 1895. Father Cieminski's first assignment was as secretary to Reverend John Ireland, first Archbishop of Saint Paul. The strong-minded Archbishop Ireland, it should be noted, was no admirer of Eastern Europeans, or of Poles in particular. But Father Cieminski's talents were soon needed elsewhere. His first parish assignment transferred him to Saint Stanislaus Kostka in the newly established Diocese of Winona, where he served as assistant to the pastor, Father James W.J. Pacholski. The fact that Archbishop Ireland dispatched his secretary out of the diocese to work alongside the extremely capable Father Pacholski suggests that the disturbances at Saint Stanislaus were more substantial than the records (at least those presently available to me) would indicate.
Father Cieminski's next assignment, in Wilno, Minnesota, returned him to the Archdiocese of Saint Paul. The Polish colony in Wilno had been established in 1883 under the auspices of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad. It represented an attempt to steer underemployed Polish-American urbanites into the Archdiocese's wide-open western spaces; an outstanding recent article by John Radzilowski treats Wilno as an exemplar of Polish-American farm life. Radzilowski also chronicles Archbishop Ireland's ham-fisted attempt to control Wilno's Saint John Cantius parish by replacing a popular Polish-speaking priest with an unfortunate Bohemian priest who (due solely to his ethnicity) was run out of the parish in some time.
From 1896 to 1902, Father Jan Andrzejewski had labored to build for St. John Cantius what Father Waclaw Kruszka describes as "a new, spacious, and magnificent temple," only to depart just before the building's consecration in a confrontation (according to the 1983 Parish Jubilee Book) over the church organ. Arriving in 1902, Father Cieminski brought the parish back into line despite the fact that Father Andrezejewski remained in Wilno for quite some time. In 1906, Father Cieminski also engaged the School Sisters of Saint Francis from Rochester (otherwise known as the Rochester Franciscans) to staff Saint John Cantius's elementary school. In 1907 Father Cieminski was recalled by the Diocese of WInona as pastor of Saint Casimir's Church in Wells, Minnesota. It would be nice to think his three years in the little Faribault County town were free of any major troubles. Two extremely challenging assignments lay ahead in the near future.
In 1910, Father Cieminski transferred to Duluth, Minnesota, to serve as pastor to the troubled parish of Saints Peter and Paul. According to the 1917 Acta et Dicta of the Saint Paul Catholic History Society (vol. 2, page 262), Duluth's second Polish Catholic church had become a battleground between the Diocese of Duluth and a group of "independent" parishioners determined to bring it into the Polish National Catholic Church. Already a group of "independents" had seceded from Duluth's first Polish Catholic church, Saint Mary Star of the Sea, resulting in the 1907 foundation of Saint Josephat's Polish National Church. The legal battle over Saints Peter and Paul had been won, but Father Cieminski had to spend the next five years putting the parish back in order.
1915 saw Father Cieminski moving to another trouble spot, the parish of Holy Cross in Minneapolis, founded in 1886 by his mentor and friend, Father Pacholski. Holy Cross had been in turmoil for several years, due to a scandal involving (or not involving) its longtime pastor, Father Henryk Jazdzewski. Sensing an opportunity, a faction of "independents" had already broken away from Holy Cross and founded Sacred Heart Polish National Church. Again, Father Cieminski was called upon to heal a congregation and bring it safely back to the fold.
In 1932, Father Cieminski, now aged 65, replaced the late Father Pacholski as pastor of Saint Stanislaus Kostka in WInona. For the first time in his career as a priest, Father Cieminski had the enviable task of building upon an already rock solid foundation. Nor did he need to worry about following in Father Pacholski's giant footsteps. For one thing, he was Kaszubian born and Winona raised; for another, he had drawn some of the very toughest parish assignments in three separate dioceses and succeeded every time. In 1943, his exemplary efforts were rewarded when Pope Pius XII raised him to the rank of Monsignor. In 1946, his retirement after fifty-one years in the priesthood was celebrated with an outpouring of gratitude of respect from his parishioners, his fellow priests, and the Winona community.
Father Joseph F. Cieminski died in a Saint James, Minnesota retirement facility on November 19, 1959. Over his ninety-two years he had experienced - and taken an integral part in - dramatic changes for both the Roman Catholic Church in Minnesota and the Kaszubian community of the Upper Mississippi Valley. He lies buried in Winona, among other members of the Cieminski family, in Saint Mary's Cemetery.