Blessed Jerzy Popiełuszko, priest, martyr
| Biography of Blessed Jerzy Popiełuszko Fr. Jerzy Popieluszko was born on September 14, 1947 in Poland on the feast of Holy Cross Day. He was the fourth child born to Marianna and Wladyslaw Popiełuszko. Two days later, he was baptized in his family parish church in Suchowola. His mother, still in a blessed state, offered him up as a servant God. In 1954, he started elementary school and then continued his education in the local high school. After graduation, he entered the seminary in Warsaw. After a year of study, he was drafted into the army and inducted into a special unit created to destroy priestly vocations among young people. Two years in the army had adversely affected his health. Later it even interfered with his priestly ministry. He was ordained at the hands of Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski on May 28, 1972. During the years 1972-1980 he was a vicar in the following parishes: Holy Trinity in Zabkach, Our Lady of the Rosary in Anin and Child Jesus in Warsaw. Due to his failing health and inability to continue the duties of a vicar, he was assigned to work with students in St. Anne’s Church in Warsaw. In 1979, he began his priestly ministry as a chaplain to medical workers in the archdiocese of Warsaw.
On May 20, 1980 he was transferred to the St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish in Warsaw. There he continued his ministry and assisted in the parish as a resident.
On August 31, 1980, at the request of Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski he celebrated Mass for striking workers. This was the beginning of his ministry among workers. All along, Fr. Jerzy was involved in assisting the needy – especially families with many children, poor, and close to those in prison camps. He collected food and medicine for them. He attended hearings of those arrested for interfering with martial law. He supported political prisoners.
In February of 1982 he started celebrating Mass on the last Sunday of every month for freedom of Poland. As months passed, more and more people came from near and far to participate in the Mass. The communist leaders at that time were not pleased with the actions of Fr. Jerzy and the respect he was enjoying from people all over Poland. More and more often things happened that were meant to scare Fr. Jerzy and force him to resign from ministry. Twice his home was broken into, he was constantly being followed, harassed, stopped by police. His home was bombed and his car was doused with paint. At the same time letters were arriving at the Bishop’s office complaining that his sermons „were consistently taking aim at the People’s Republic of Poland”. In September 1983, a case was brought against him accusing him of „excessive use of his rights as a priest in an effort to cause harm to the People’s Republic of Poland.”
In December 1983 he was arrested. Upon the intervention of the Church, he was released. He was facing a possible 10 years in prison. From January to June 1984, he was interrogated 13 times. His prison sentence was later dropped as a result of the amnesty program of 1984. However, simultaneously a slander campaign was being conducted by Jerzy Urban, the then spokesman for the government newspaper.
On October 13, 1984, near the town of Ostróda an attempt was made on the life of Fr. Jerzy Popieluszko who was returning from Gdansk to Warsaw.
On October 19, along with the driver Waldemar Chrostowski he travelled to Bydgoszcz. At 6:00pm on that day, he celebrated Rosary Devotions and Holy Mass in Polish Saints Martyred Brothers Church.
On their return trip at about 10:00pm he was abducted in a place called Przysiek near Torun by three members of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. He was brutally beaten, he was tied up in a way that any movement caused the noose to tighten around his neck, and then he was locked in the trunk of a car. A boulder weighing about 24 pounds was tied to his legs, and he was thrown into a tributary of the Wistula River near Wloclawek.
His body was finally found on October 30. On November 2 after an autopsy was performed, a ceremonial farewell was conducted for Fr. Jerzy in Bialystok, and his remains were transferred to St. Stanislaus Kostka Church in Warsaw. An all night prayer vigil was organized for the murdered priest. His body was buried on the grounds of the St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish in Warsaw. Hundreds of thousands of faithful people from all over Poland participated in the funeral.
At the funeral Mass, 6 bishops and more than a 1,000 priests concelebrated. Since then, the burial place of Fr. Jerzy has been a site of special prayer. Since interment, the grave of the Martyr has been visited by more than 18 million people from all over the world.
On June 14, 1987, a Servant of God, John Paul II prayed there. A spontaneous yet live worship of the Martyr which began immediately after his death continues to this day. The St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish continuously receives affirmations that graces are being obtained through the intercession of Fr. Jerzy.
He was beatified on June 6, 2010 in Warsaw’s Piłsudski Square. His mother, Marianna Popiełuszko, who had reached 100 years of age a few days earlier, was present at the event.
Life of Father Jerzy described in a movie: “Popieluszko: Freedom Is Within Us," by film director Rafal Wieczynski, released in Poland.
The Polish-language film, tells the story of a man who worked against the Communist regime with the weapons of the Gospel until he was martyred for the faith.
The Tablet, weekly of the diocese of Brooklyn, in the November 12, 2011 issue, published a very nice article about Blessed Father Jerzy Popiełuszko written by our parishioner Veronica Szczygiel. For those who has no The Tablet magazine we have a pdf copy of the article and you may read it here