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Fr. Marian Zelazek, SVD Walks into Heaven - Marian's Final Journey

Fr. Marian Dies in the midst of his Beloved people of Karunalaya in Puri on April 30, 2006.

“I want to die when I am on my feet and among whom I love.”

Fr. Marian Zelazek, SVD, who was affectionately called ‘Father’ by all especially by the inmates of Karunalaya Leprosy Care Center at Puri walked into his Father’s Heavenly abode on 30th April 2006. Marian who joined the people to celebrate ‘Osto Prohari’, the beginning of Oriya New Year, participated in the prayers and rituals connected with it and shared in their festive communal meal.

At about 2.00 PM bidding farewell to people Father walked about 50 feet towards his car to get back to Ishopanthi Ashram. While walking he suddenly collapsed of a cardiac arrest. He breathed his last in the hands of his beloved people, among whom he lived and for whom he dedicated his life for the last 30 years. Yes, he died while walking and among whom he loved and those who loved him.

Marian began the day, April 30, with his usual enthusiasm and calm. We celebrated the Eucharist together at 7.00 AM. While at breakfast a visitor who was with us asked him: “have you got Indian citizenship?” He responded: “No. I am 100% Indian and 100% Polish. Those who knew Marian closely will agree with him 100%.

About 10.30 AM Marian had three visitors belonging to three different countries. At 11. 30 he accompanied them to the extension building of our Ashram and introduced them to me and left for the Karunalaya Leper Colony, driving his car. Both of us were invited for the ‘Osto Prohari’ celebrations.

I joined Marian at 12.30 as he was concluding his feast day meal. He sat with me, eating some of his favorite preparations of sweet rice while the people served me the feast day meal. As I was finishing my lunch four of our visitors, including two from Poland joined us. The people served them meal and we sat together till they too ate. Then together with the guests we went to see the people singing Kirtans, going around the shrine dedicated to Lord Jagannath.

It was about 2.00 PM and I mentioned to Marian, ‘Father may be now you should go and take some rest’. “Yes” he said and he slowly started to walk toward his car. I was still greeting the people. He walked about 25 meters and suddenly he sat to the ground and collapsed. Those who accompanied him carried him to the Colony clinic and as they were laying him on a bed I reached him. We gave him some first aid. Silently I prayed over him and blessed him. We could not feel his pulse and his body was turning cold. Hoping for a miracle we rushed him to the District Hospital. Two doctors examined him and they declared that that Father is no more with us.

It was 7.00 PM by the time we got Father’s body released from the hospital after the necessary medical and police clearance. We brought Father back to the Colony clinic for embalming his body. Without an air-conditioned mortuary in Puri or anywhere nearby it was a task to preserve the body. We cooled Father’s room with ice slabs and the last night Father spent in his own room in which he lived about sixteen years.

Father bids farewell to Ishopanthi Ashram

At 6.00 AM on May 1, Father Marian bid farewell to his home for sixteen years. We, the SVDs in Puri, along with our neighbours thanked God for Marian and for all what he did through Marian for us all and especially for the people of Karunalaya. We blessed his body and prepared him for his final journey. The people from Karunalaya, his second home, came to welcome Father to their home.

People of Karunalaya bids farewell to their ‘Father’

From 6.15 to 7.15 AM Father’s body was placed at Karunalaya for his beloved people to take a last look and to pay their homage to him. Those without feet and hands were either helped and/or they dragged themselves to Father’s feet. The inmates of Karunalaya gave a very heart renting, tearful, farewell to their beloved Father singing Bhajans and prostrating before him and laying flowers at his feet. Many of them would not easily allow Father’s body to be taken away from them.

Beatrix School

The next stop was at the Beatrix School, a place Father enjoyed with children and felt young from 1983. Accompanied by many of the people of Karunalaya Father’s body was brought to Beatrix school. Nearly 600 children and the staff of the school and people from the neighbourhood paid their homage to Father with prayers and flowers. Many of them could not control their tears.

Fr. Marian in Catholic Church, Puri

Fr.Mrian entered the Church he built to give a last ‘dharsan’ to his one time parishners for fifteen years. Archbishop Raphael Cheenath accompanied by the SVD and diocesan priests celebrated the Eucharist and prepared Marian to bid farewell to Puri. People, irrespective of caste and creed, government officials, temple priests and friends paid their last respects to Father and expressed their deep appreciation for him and the sense of great loss. Biding farewell to Puri Father began his 450 KMs long journey to Jharsuguda.

In the Cathedral in Bhubaneswar

Marian was a part of the diocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar for the last 31 years. His body was placed in the Cathedral at Bhubaneswar and many priests, religious and a number of people from the city gathered to take a last look at Fr. Marian and to bid him farewell.

Marian back to where he began

On March 21, 1950 Marian landed in Jharsuguda to begin him mission in India. After 56 years we accompanied him back to the same place, the final resting place for the SVDs of Eastern Indian province.

His funeral rites were conducted at Catholic Church, Jharsuguda at 9.00 AM on 2nd May. His Excellency Dr. Krzysztof Majka - the Ambassador of the Republic of Poland to India, Msgr. Tomasz Grysa (from Poland) - Secretary to the Apostolic Nuncio in New Delhi, and Mr. Robert, a young man from Poland represented the people of his ‘Fatherland’ on the occasion. Most Rev. Raphael Cheenath, SVD – Archbishop of Cuttack-Bubaneswar, Rt. Rev. Alphonse Bilung SVD and Rt. Rev. John Barwa, SVD – Bishop and Coadjutor Bishop of Rourkela Diocese, more than 200 priests and about 300 Sisters and a gathering of about 500 faithful of his ‘Motherland’ gathered to bid farewell to Fr. Marian.

Marian’s mortal body was laid to rest in the SVD Cemetery in the premises of the Provincial House, at Jharsuguda at about 11.30 AM.

We laid Marian to rest in peace in Jharsuguda because, from all we could gather from his sharing, we believe that Fr.Marian wanted to be buried in Jharsuguda, from where he began his mission in India and where many of his confreres are resting in peace. He had promised to install a statue of the Risen Lord in the same cemetery. He had expressed his desire to Mr. Lalit, his faithful assistant for the last 25 years, to place a good memorial stone at his tomb.

People of Karunalaya offer three days of Puja for Fr. Marian

People of Karunalaya offered three days of continuous prayers and sacrifices according to the Hindu rites for their Father. An altar was set up with a photo of Fr. Marian, an oil lamp representing the soul of Marian that has become part of the Eternal Light and an earthen pot with various holy articles to represent Father’s holy remains (Kalasa). For three days continuously Hindu Holy Scriptures were read. A Hindu Priest performed all the elaborate and complex sacred rites (Pujas) for the dead.

On the third day the burning oil lamp, the ‘Kalasa’ and Father’s photo, were taken to every home in Karunalaya for a final mutual farewell. Finally amidst Kirtans the three symbolic articles, the lamp, the Kalasa and the photo, were carried to the sea accompanied by about five hundred people, all those who could make it on foot, to the sea. Amidst chanting of Kirtans and Slokas the ‘Kalasa’ was immersed into the sea. Then all took a ritual bath as required by the purification rites. The three days of celebrations were concluded with an ‘agape’. Fr. Anuranjan and I joined the inmates of Karunalaya in all the important rituals of these days.

People of Puri gathers in loving memory of Fr. Marian at a memorial prayer service

On May 13 the prominent citizens of Puri joined us to hold a memorial prayer service in honor of Fr. Marian at Ishopanthi Ashram, the home of Fr. Marian in Puri. Many leading persons of Puri town participated in it and paid rich tributes to Fr. Marian. Those who prayed and paid rich tributes to Fr. Marian include the following people.

  • Sree Madhusudan singari, Chief Priest of Lord Jagannath Temple Puri
  • Swami Dineshananda – Head of the the Ranakrishna mission
  • Fr. Joseph Topno, SVD, Provincial Superior SVD
  • Paramahamsa Prajnanannadaji, Babaji, Hariharananda Gurukulam, Balighai
  • Kumari Nirupama of Prajapita Brahmakumari Ishwariya Viswa Vidyalaya
  • Shre Sanjeeb Panda, the S.P. of Puri
  • Mr. A.L. Naidu, a prominent Rotarian and close associate of Fr.Maian
  • Pastor Sarat Singh and Rev. Mohanti
  • Baptist Church People of Karunalaya
  • Mrs. Sudhansubala Pattanaik
  • Headmistress of Beatrix School
  • The heads of various institutions at Puri and many honourable members of various religions in and outside Puri Leprosy Care Center - Kirtan
  • Hundreds of leprosy affected people from Karunalaya and other people from all over Puri and neighbourhoods

The memorial service began with Pushpanjali (Floral tribute to Fr. Marian) by all those present amidst the singing of Bhajans and Kirtans. The religious heads and various groups prayed and sang according to their own religious traditions and customs. Their heart-rending ‘kirtans and bhajans’ created a poignant atmosphere at the memorial service and their song ‘Father Marian amar rahe’ (‘Fr. Marian is immortal’) shook the very the ground of Ishopanthi Ashram on that day. During the memorial service it was noticed that many of them were weeping and as they left the prayer service they were still sobbing and shedding tears.

Thank you for being with Marian and us

We are deeply feeling the presence and absence of Marian. Marian kept to his promise made at the concentration camp, namely he will do everything to remove pain and suffering of people, especially to give bread to the hungry – bread for the body and soul.

We thank you for your friendship and close collaboration with Marian. Often during our Eucharistic celebrations and prayers he mentioned you by name and prayed for you. I appreciate very much the way you have been with Marian and us during last few days. Please continue to be with us to follow the footsteps of Marian and be at the service of his/our people.

With thanks and best wishes

T.K. Kurian, SVD