Divine Word Missionaries
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SVD Polish Martyrs
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Source: Following the Word 10
The confreres to be beatified are Louis Mzyk (+1940), Stanislaus Kubista (+1940), Aloysius Liguda (+1942), and Gregory Frąckowiak (+1943) - three priests and one Brother. Their martyrdom was a consequence of their decision to follow Jesus Christ according to the charism of our founder Blessed Arnold Janssen. Their religious missionary vocation was guided by the spirituality of our Society. Fathers Mzyk, Kubista, and Liguda had part of their formation at Nysa. Fathers Kubista and Liguda were also trained at St. Gabriel. These houses were founded by Blessed Arnold, and his charism and traditions were strong in both. Fr. Mzyk studied at St. Augustine and later in Rome. Brother Gregory had his formation at Górna Grupa.
Why were they arrested and murdered? Because they did not fit into the Nazi new world order. Why were they targets of hatred and discrimination? Because they were Polish citizens and representatives of the church. They didn't ask to be martyrs. They were victims of an ideology gone mad. The efforts of the superior general, Fr. Joseph Grendel, and of other confreres to obtain their release or to lighten their sufferings were to no avail. Not even the intervention of the nunciature in Berlin was of any help. Our four confreres had to call on their own human resources and the grace of God when they faced pain and death with heroic fidelity. They gave the highest witness which someone can give: they gave their lives. "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends" (Jn 15,13).
His martyrdom occurred in the maximum security prison in Poznan. A priest who was imprisoned together with Fr. Mzyk testified to his death. One guard in the camp seemed to derive a special pleasure in persecuting Fr. Louis. He went out of his way to insult our confrere and to attack him. On February 20, 1940, this guard came back drunk to the prison. He met three prisoners, among whom was Fr. Mzyk. He sent the other two away and began shouting at him, beating him, and kicking him. Then the guard threw him down a flight of stairs, dragged him to the gate, and twice shot him in the head. Fr. Louis was 35.
Father Mzyk came from Silesia. One of nine children, he was born in Chorzów Stary. After meeting an SVD who came to his parish to give a retreat, he dreamed of becoming a missionary. At 13 he was accepted into the minor seminary in Nysa. His father, who was sickly, died while Louis was studying there. Since his family was poor, during summer vacations Louis worked in the same mine where his father had been employed. His brother William later said, "With this work he not only provided for the continuation of his studies but also helped his mother." After six years at Nysa he did his novitiate at St. Augustine, where he also studied philosophy. His superiors recognized his talents and potential, so they sent him to Rome for his studies in theology. There Louis was ordained a priest on October 30, 1932. His most lasting impression after his ordination and First Mass - was the audience held by Pope Pius XI on November 5, 1932, for the ordination class and their relatives. He remained in Rome long enough to complete a doctorate in dogmatic theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University.
Fr. Louis had hoped to be appointed to Japan or China, but he was ready to go wherever his superiors would send him - which was Poland. After several months assisting the novice master at St. Gabriel, he was appointed the first novice master of the recently established Polish Province. The novitiate was begun in Chludowo in 1935. From the beginning he showed evidence of his holiness. The novices were impressed by his simplicity, humility, and courteousness. His very presence promoted harmony in community. He was truly gifted with introducing novices to the religious missionary life. He was popular with them, and they genuinely enjoyed his presence.
The first months of the war were relatively quiet for the community in Chludowo. But on January 25, 1940, the Gestapo began to round up priests in the Poznan area. Fr. Mzyk was among those arrested and transported to Poznan, where he met violence and death.
It was very cold the morning of April 26, 1940, when the "capo" entered the barracks where Fr. Stanislaus Kubista and other priests were held. Since his arrival at the concentration camp in Sachsenhausen Fr. Stanislaus had been sick with pneumonia and diarrhea. He was getting weaker every day. Despite this he was forced to do a full workload, which included shoveling snow for long hours while exposed to the cold wind. On one of the last evenings of his life another priest, Fr. Dominic Józef, covered him with a blanket. Fr. Stanislaus whispered to him: "This will not go on much longer. My God, I am so weak. May His will be done." Although it was prohibited, Fr. Dominic heard his confession. When the capo entered the barracks and looked at the sick and exhausted prisoner, he told him, "You have no reason to live any more." Then he began to stomp on Fr. Kubista's throat and chest. Another prisoner later said: "We heard the breaking of bones and the last choked rattling. We knew Fr. Kubista was dying." He was 42. He gave up his life without knowing why his tormentor was so cruel. But in dying he maintained his dignity. He could do so because his whole life was one of quiet dignity.
Stanislaus was born to a poor family in Kostuchna in Silesia. He was the fifth of nine children, and he grew up in a very religious atmosphere. The Kubista house was frequently visited by an SVD Brother who sold our magazines in that area. So Stanislaus was familiar with missionaries even as a young boy. At 14, already fascinated by the missionary ideal, he joined our minor seminary in Nysa. World War I interrupted his studies, for he was drafted into the army. However, he did not abandon his missionary dream. Immediately after the war he returned to Nysa to continue his education. In 1920 he entered the novitiate at St. Gabriel. There he also completed his theological studies and his religious missionary formation. He professed perpetual vows on September 29, 1926, and was ordained a priest in May, 1927. Already he was recognized by both formators and peers as gentle, modest, faithful and serene, ever ready for any sacrifice.
Fr. Stanislaus was rather surprised when he received a missionary appointment to Poland instead of China or the Philippines or Papua New Guinea (his requested assignments). His superiors wanted him to work in the newly established Polish Region, where there was a great need of personnel. He saw in this decision a sign of God's will. From the start he showed enormous dedication and initiative. Since he was remarkably industrious and creative, he was able to combine his duties as regional (and later provincial) treasurer with the responsibilities of editing and publishing. He understood that the future of the Society and even of evangelization in Poland - depended on modern communications.
Following in the Founder's own footsteps, Fr. Kubista urged the new region to have its own printing press. In 1931 he received permission to set one up. Thanks to his efforts the SVD in Poland became more and more involved in the press apostolate. This quickly enabled the Society to become known as a religious missionary congregation. He was the editor of Skarb Rodzinny (Family Treasure), Posłaniec św. Józefa (St. Joseph Messenger), and Mały Misionarz (The Little Missionary). When he became editor of Family Treasure in 1934, the magazine had a circulation of 11,000. By 1938 this number rose to 26,000. He had similar success with a small mission calendar for children and a larger one for families. Since Fr. Kubista also contributed numerous articles to these magazines, he became well known as a writer. He was quite influential in bringing missionary concerns to the general public. He was also interested in the value of other cultures - in this he was ahead of his time. Because of this interest he wrote a mission drama about the Incas in Peru which he called The Cross and the Sun. He even drew the scenes and made the costumes for this play.
His communications activities came to an abrupt halt with the outbreak of the war. His own life echoed the tragedy of the Polish people. Soon he was under house arrest at Górna Grupa. There he watched helplessly as his press was dismantled and the equipment and paper were hauled away. His work was destroyed. On February 5, 1940, he was brought to the concentration camp at Stutthof. After two months he was sent to Sachsenhausen to a life of brutal treatment and forced labor. But even in these circumstances he exhibited gentleness, modesty, serenity and concern for others as testified by the survivors who knew him.
Not much is known about the death of Fr. Aloysius Liguda. According to eye-witnesses he was drowned along with nine other prisoners on December 9, 1942, in the concentration camp at Dachau. But his Calvary was a long one, since he endured nearly three years of suffering before his death. He was arrested in Górna Grupa in February, 1940, and he passed through two different concentration camps (Stutthof and Sachsenhausen) before his detention at Dachau. He experienced forced labor, hunger, beatings, and other inhuman treatment, but his presence was a support to other prisoners. His spirit of tranquility and his sense of humor helped many to endure the brutality of the concentration camp. Even in the most trying situations he found words of encouragement or a joke to share with others. He remained faithful to his religious missionary vocation in the midst of torture and disdain for human dignity until his martyrdom.
Aloysius Liguda was born in Winów, not far from Nysa. He was the sixth of seven children. His family was deeply religious, and this had an enormous influence on his life. The nearness of the SVD mission house in Nysa helped him to identify his vocation, and at the age of 15 he joined the minor seminary. World War I interrupted his education, since he was called to military service. He saw action in Flanders and in France, and by the end of the war he held the rank of sergeant. After the war he returned to Nysa to finish his studies there. In 1920 he was accepted into novitiate at St. Gabriel. At final vows he requested an assignment to China or Papua New Guinea. But the superiors sent him to Poland, where he arrived in 1928 (one year after his ordination).
Before his perpetual vows in 1926 his prefect wrote about him: "His intellectual ability is very good. He could be well suited for the teaching profession." So it was no surprise that he was directed toward teaching. After receiving Polish citizenship and passing the entrance examinations for the university, he studied Polish literature and contemporary history. His obligatory two years of student teaching were done at the minor seminary in Górna Grupa. He was quite appreciated for his teaching, which he thoroughly enjoyed. His students at Górna Grupa remembered him as a good, kind and always well-prepared teacher. one of them wrote that he still fondly remembered him as somebody "who used to bring joy, a smile and tranquility to every class."
In addition to his full teaching load, Fr. Liguda was frequently asked to give spiritual conferences and to serve as a confessor for various religious communities. He was known and appreciated as a retreat master and spiritual director. Already at the time of his first appointment he had a desire to do retreat work. Some of his conferences and homilies were published, and they continued to have an influence among young people long after his death. In his first years at Górna Grupa he published Audi Filia (Listen, Daughter), a collection of Sunday sermons to students at a girls' secondary school. It became a kind of bestseller in homiletics. Two other books followed: Chleb i Sól (Bread and Salt) and Naprzód i Wyżei (Forward and Higher). Fr. Aloysius was also quite aware of the importance of formation in religious life, and he had a special interest in the youth apostolate. His charisma and his intellectual preparation helped him to communicate well with young people.
Fr. Aloysius had a remarkable sensitivity for justice, and he was known for defending others who were in desperate situations. In the concentration camps he was not afraid to continue this defense of others, which of course brought upon him beatings and other sadistic punishments. He was 44 when he died - the oldest of our four martyrs.
The youngest of our four martyrs was 31 when he was beheaded on May 5, 1943, in the prison of Dresden. Brother Gregory consciously offered his life as a substitute for others. His willingness to claim responsibility for something he did not do saved several people (including his brother) from certain imprisonment and death. This heroic gesture makes him similar to another martyr of the same war - St. Maximilian Kolbe, who also gave his life for someone else in the concentration camp at Auschwitz.
Gregory is his religious name. He was born Boleslaw Frąckowiak in Łowęcice (a small village not far from Poznań). One of twelve children, he grew up in a deeply religious atmosphere. At the age of 18 he entered the SVD novitiate in Górna Grupa. From the beginning he exhibited great joy in being a missionary Brother. He worked both as a receptionist and as a professional binder in the printing press. Among the people of the area he was remembered as someone with a special sensitivity towards the poor. He had numerous visitors, because he was known for providing something to eat, a warm welcome, and a good word for everyone. Some called him "the friend of the poor." His gentleness, simplicity, and deep spirituality were also appreciated by the students of the minor seminary, who enjoyed his presence and sought his advice. His work as a bookbinder in the printing press was acknowledged as exemplary by both lay employees and by the confreres.
When Brother Gregory professed his final vows on September 8, 1938, he was deeply convinced that he was offering his life to God for the mission of Christ and of the Church. He had no idea how quickly and how radically he would be expected to live out that commitment.
When World War II began, Brother Gregory was part of the SVD community in Górna Grupa. When this house was made an internment camp for priests, the brothers were forced to leave. For a while he lived with relatives in Poznan. There he served as the sacristan at St. Martin's Parish. He also taught catechism to children and even baptized some of the newborn. One day the pastor was arrested by the Gestapo. Since he could no longer safely hide the Blessed Sacrament, Brother Gregory took upon himself the task of distributing it among the faithful. For an entire day and night he and others in the parish knelt in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. Then with great reverence he distributed Holy Communion to those present.
Eventually Brother Gregory was able to find work in a printing press at Jarocin, a small town not far from his home. Like many others, he received and passed on some anti-Nazi material. However, Fr. Paul Kiczka, SVD, advised him to discontinue receiving and passing on these pamphlets, and so he stopped. A year later these activities were discovered by the Gestapo. A number of people were arrested, and Brother Gregory knew that he was among those wanted. Secretly he again visited Fr. Kiczka, who advised him to hide in Poznan. But Brother Gregory had another idea. Among those arrested were men who had wives and children. Wouldn't the others be saved if he took on himself the whole responsibility for this anti-Nazi activity? "May I accept the responsibility for them?" he asked his spiritual director. Fr. Kiczka responded: "If you have the courage and strength. It would mean sacrificing your life." Gregory made his confession and received Holy Communion. After his thanksgiving he shook his confrere's hand and said, "Till we meet again - but not on this earth." He went home, where he was arrested the following day. He "confessed" his crime, and immediately afterwards some of the other suspects were freed. Gregory was transferred from the prison in Jarocin to Poznan and then finally to Dresden, where he was beheaded.
A few hours before his death Gregory wrote to his relatives. A few sentences from that letter reveal his readiness for death: "I am writing to you for the last time in this world. By the time you receive this letter I will no longer be among the living. Today on Wednesday (5.5.1943) at 6:15 PM I will be executed. Please pray for me. It is already one o'clock, and at two o'clock the priest will bring me Jesus. Don't cry, but pray for my soul. I leave it to you, whether you want to communicate to my mother the manner of my death. I am completely at peace. I greet all of you, and I will wait for you in God's presence. Please greet all the Missionary Brothers in Bruczków. After the war bring my cassock there. God bless you. Remain faithful Catholics. Forgive any faults of mine. I'm sorry for my poor mother. May God protect you. Till we see each other in heaven."
These four confreres did not choose their destiny. They did not look for martyrdom. Like millions of others, they were caught up by the times and dragged along by war, suffering, and hatred. They simply tried to remain faithful every day to their religious missionary vocation. That vocation had to be lived out in the midst of horrors and difficulties. Our four martyrs accepted their via crucis as a testimony to the Kingdom of God. Their sufferings probably made little sense to them at the time, and their deaths were anything but romantic. But they could say with St. Paul: "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day..." (2 Tim 4,7-8). Their example encourages the rest of us. In our time of need may we also receive the power of the Spirit to witness to the Kingdom.