March 19, 2018, 9:46 am


The tasks which the Society of Christ set up for itself are closely related to the fate of the Polish diaspora. The motto of the Society is “To serve God and the Polish diaspora.” Over generations, this diaspora has sought spiritual sustenance in the traditions of Polish religiosity.


          Time and again, experience has shown that Polish émigrés retain their cultural and historical memories remarkably well. Whenever Catholic Poles have been compelled to leave the country of their birth, they customarily took with them the Faith of their Fathers, and the memory of the land where they acquired that Faith.
            The story of the Society of Christ is thus interwoven with the story of Poland. When Poland regained independence after the First World War, seven million Poles found themselves outside the borders of the country. Many of them wished to be able to hear Masses and conduct their religious life in Polish. Therefore, in 1920 the Catholic bishops of Poland resolved to establish a priestly Society whose task would be to serve the Polish communities abroad. Edward Cardinal Dalbor was the Primate of Poland at that time, and he set about organizing the Society. Augustus Cardinal Hlond took over the job of establishing the Society after Cardinal Dalbor’s demise. In 1929, Hlond opened the first Seminary whose mission was to educate priests to work in Catholic communities with Polish roots worldwide. In 1931 the Vatican formally bestowed on the Polish Primate the task of priestly service to Polonia. Cardinal Hlond was convinced of the importance of the task, hence his now-famous remark that “Polish souls often perish in alien milieux.” The Cardinal secured from the Vatican a permission to start a new religious Society to serve Poles abroad: the Society of Christ, or Societas Christi pro Emigrantibus. The name of the Society was bestowed by Pope Pius XI.
            Rev. Ignacy Posadzy was asked to assist in organizing the new Society. A family mansion of Potulice and fifty acres of parkland were given to the Society by Countess Aniela Potulicka. In September 1932, 37 candidates began their novitiate in Potulice. Soon the new Seminary became the center of activities related to religious assistance to the Polish diaspora. A printing house was set up and the following periodicals came into existence: Głos Seminarium Zagranicznego (mostly for priests in their missions), Msza Swieta (Holy Mass) and Poczet polskich Swietych (The Saints of Poland) for the faithful. In the 1930s the Society erected another building in the city of Poznaƒ (the Ostrów Tumski district), and purchased houses in Puszczyków and Dolsko. The seminarians studied in Gniezno, Poznan, and Rome. In 1939 the Society had about 300 members. Its priests worked in England, Estonia, France, and Italy.
            In 1939 the invading Germans took away all of the Society’s possessions including real estate. In spite of this, 43 clerics were consecrated as priests in conditions of conspiracy during the Second World War. During the war the Society of Christ worked in German camps where Polish Catholics pressed into hard labor were housed. The conditions under which the Society of Christ worked during the Second World War are beyond description. Thirty-eight of the Society’s priests were imprisoned and twenty-five killed. After liberation, the priests who had been pressed into hard labor in Germany began working among the Polish Displaced Persons. Some priests returned to Soviet-occupied Poland. After the war the Society regained only the greatly damaged buildings in Poznan and Puszczykow. The other two buildings were appropriated by the communist authorities. Thus Poznan became the center of the Society’s work.
            The Society of Christ members were the first Catholic priests to begin parochial work in the formerly German territories which the Great Powers gave to Poland in compensation for the lost eastern territories annexed by the Soviet Union. On 6 May 1945 Rev. Florian Berlik, S.Chr., was the first priest to say Mass in war-ravaged Szczecin (Stettin) in northwestern Poland. However, in Soviet-occupied Poland travel abroad was severely limited because the communist authorities very seldom granted passports to priests. There was no shortage of candidates for priesthood, however. In 1946 Cardinal Hlond wrote the following in the Commemorative Book of the Poznaƒ Seminary: “Show the way to the Polish pilgrims. In humility and total self-abandonment, and in the spirit of profound concern for Polish souls, serve the cause of the Kingdom of God in places where Poles have been overwhelmed by the impossibility of returning to their country.” After the “thaw” of 1956, when passports become easier to obtain, priests from the Society of Christ began to regularly travel abroad to reach the Polish diaspora scattered literally in all the countries of the world.
            On September 18, 1956, Rev. Jan Otłowski, SCh, arrived in the United States. After a short stay he moved on to Canada where he founded the first House of the Society of Christ on the American continent. In 1966 in the U.S. and Canada there worked twelve priests from the Society. Rev. Wojciech Kania became their first American Provincial; he held this office until 1970, when he returned to Poland to become Superior General of the Society. He was replaced by Rev. Franciszek Okroy and, in 1973, by Rev. Władysław Gowin. Under Gowin’s leadership, the offices of the Province were moved from Warren, R.I. to Detroit, MI. In 1976 the Society purchased a building in the suburbs of Detroit. The Provincial House soon became the center of religious and social activity for the local Polonia. On February 2, 1978, the North American Province of the Society of Christ was formally inaugurated, and Our Lady of the Polish Diaspora was declared patroness of the new Province. In 2006 this Province had 53 priests who worked in 22 centers and churches in the United States, and 8 such centers in Canada. Priests from S.Ch. work in the following American archdioceses: Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, Galveston-Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Milwaukee, New York, Portland, St.Paul-Minneapolis, Seattle, San Francisco, and Washington, DC. They also work in the dioceses of Dallas, Jolliet-Illinois, Paterson, Pensacola-Tallahassee, Phoenix, San Diego, San Jose, and Toledo. In Canada, they work in the archdioceses of Toronto and Regina, and in the dioceses of Antigonish, Calgary, Hamilton, London, Pembroke, and Saint Paul. In 1988–95, Rev. Tadeusz Winnicki was the American Provincial. In July 1995 he was elected Superior General and returned to Poland, to be replaced by the new Provincial, Rev. Andrzej Maslejak.
            The Society of Christ priests have been assisted in their work by Missionaries of Christ the King, a women’s order founded by the Rev. Posadzy back in the 1930s. However, the Sisters work in only a few American parishes and missions.
            The parishes and missions staffed by the Society of Christ priests engage in a variety of activities, from spiritual to social, charitable, and cultural. The priests organize, sponsor, or support catechization of children, Saturday language schools, church choirs, prayer groups, Bible Study groups, pilgrimages, lector groups, senior clubs, cultural and sports clubs, folklore dancing ensembles and the like. Polish parishes and missions sponsor or support Polish folk festivals, Easter and Christmas dinners and suppers, the Polish custom of wafer-sharing on Christmas Eve, and Polish historical anniversaries. The Church thus participates in the maintenance of the Polish cultural heritage, indeed it encourages people to know and respect their national and cultural past.
            At present, the Society of Christ has 382 priests, 23 brothers, 63 clerics, 12 members of the novitiate, and six aspirants to the novitiate. The Seminary in Poznaƒ opened its doors to candidates from Australia, Brazil, Belarus, Germany, Romania, Ukraine and the United States. The headquarters of the Society are located in Poznaƒ where the Superior General (presently Tadeusz Winnicki) resides. Apart from North America, the Society has its Provinces in South America, Australia, France, Germany, and Great Britian. Priests from the Society also work in countries such as Austria, Belarus, Hungary, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine where they do not have separate Provinces but report directly to the Superior General in Poland.
            The priests from the Society of Christ work mostly with the Polish diaspora. They try to preserve the cultural memory of their parishioners and at the same time help them integrate into the countries in which they have settled. This does not mean that they do not wish to serve those non-Polish members of their missions and parishes who for a variety of reasons decide to join them. In their parishes all people are welcome. Priests from the Society of Christ try to show their parishioners the priceless treasures of the Catholic Faith at the beginning of its third millenium. They proclaim its continuing relevance and its ability to find its way into people’s hearts in the changing world. Like all priests, the Society of Christ members wish to carry the word of God to all persons, regardless of their background or history.
Florian Berlik TChr., Historia Towarzystwa Chrystusowego dla Wychodêców, 1932–1939 (Poznan, 1987).
Bernard Kołodziej TChr., Dzieje Towarzystwa Chrystusowego dla Wychodêców, 1939–1948 (Poznan, 1983).
Alicja Karlic, 25 lat Prowincji Towarzystwa Chrystusowego w Ameryce Północnej (Detroit, 2003).

Dodano: 2009-12-17 | odsłon: 3385

Jacek Nowak, SChr