An encounter in the Polish town of Wejherowo with Father Leon Wysiecki, the founder of our parish…

P1010592In the shade of the Cross …  

”I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.” (2Tm 4,7)

As I stepped through the gates of Wejherowo Cemetery, I was immediately immersed in this place and its history. The Swords of Grunwald symbolically adorning the ancient wall surrounding the cemetery intensified the uniqueness of the moment. Strolling through this ancient cemetery was not on any sightseeing tour, despite being an essential part of an extensive, unchronicled past which its residents had been part of and witnessed.

Wejherowo is a small city on the boundary of Pomerania and the Kashubian Pradolina Reda. It was recognized at the time of the Polish Kingdom, as the capital of Kaszuby. As a result of the first Polish partition (1772) it was joined to Prussia. In 1920, it was finally returned to Poland only to have its name changed in 1939 to Neustadt in Westpreussen under the rule of Nazi Germany.

The tombs of the interred at the old cemetery in Wejherowo define the long history of this city with German and Polish names interspersed on the tomb markers as you pass them aisle after aisle.

In search of my prime objective I proceed down the main aisle of the cemetery. “Father, if you follow this road to the very end you will come upon the very grave that you search," stated Father Dziekan from the Church of the Holy Trinity in Wejherowo. With those words, my heart began to beat a little bit faster. I felt as if I was finally going to meet someone after years of separation. To my surprise, upon reaching my destination, the grave of the late and beloved Fr. Leon Wysiecki was maintained in good condition and yet he was buried here in the twenties of the last century. I am not aware of any distant relatives, or even if any are still alive. The tombstone of marble is engraved with his name and the symbol of his priestly ministry: an open book of scripture, a chalice with a raised Host, all encircled by a stole. The gravesite is surrounded by an aesthetically pleasing metal fence.

While placing the wreath and lighting a votive lamp, I tried to remember in prayer some of the events of the priestly life that were enshrined here.

He was born June 19, 1866 in the nearby Kashubian village of Łuzyno located among the forests atop the hills that typify this glacial region. After completing seven years of schooling he went in search of another life overseas. Was it for bread or for freedom? Unfortunately, the written word is silent about his motivations. Only God knows the truth of his journey. As many as 90,000 people emigrated from the Kashubian area to the United States. The motivations were different as every person is different. Some people were in fear of Germanization, others went for bread, and still others to avoid the draft into the Prussian army. On November 28, 1891, twenty-five year old Father Leon Wysiecki was ordained in the Diocese of Brooklyn after completing his seminary studies in Detroit. In 1903, he signed a contract to construct St. Stanislaus Kostka Church in Brooklyn. At the time, many had doubted the wisdom of this project. However, God had His own plan for Greenpoint that was incomprehensible to the human mind at the time: a plan of love towards the Polish community. Fortunately for us, this young priest was able to envision God’s plan.

Strolling through the aisles of the old cemetery, I discovered graves of the people who sacrificed their lives for their God and their country. I stopped at the graves of the Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul, who from 1866 cared for sick in the Hospital of the Blessed Virgin Mary. On the other side of the same aisle – as if in the neighborhood – I found the graves of the Sisters of the Resurrection who saved a financially failing school in 1934 and for many years they dedicated their lives to educate girls to be more aware of their responsibilities as Polish-Catholics who are to be brave and love their God and country. Sister Alice Kotowska of the Sisters of the Resurrection was shot in defense of the girls and the school in Piaśnica in Pomerania by the Gestapo. On June 13, 1999, the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, raised sister to one of the blessed martyrs of World War II.

Near the grave of Father Leon are the graves of soldiers, a Marine Rifle Regiment, who died in 1939 in defense of their motherland.

The weather that day was perfect. I was protected from the hot sun by shade trees which lined the cemetery aisle and stood there like soldiers at attention. Also, I noticed a splendid scent in the air that was being carried by the wind; it was a delicate aroma of honey intermingled with a splendid scent of soapwort.

Chroniclers of the history of St. Stanislaus Kostka Church are not in agreement as to the reason why Fr. Leon Wysiecki resigned as pastor and returned to Poland in 1922 which was finally free after so many years of partition. Even more curious was that Fr. Leon did not return to his own hometown, but became the pastor in Solec Zdrój in the Diocese of Kielce. Apparently, this mystery will not be solved because the secret is buried with Fr. Leon in Wejherowo. There were many unanswered questions with much speculation and conjecture about the whole situation. Additionally, his family asked for his exhumation in order to move his remains to place of forefathers.

When the 115 year anniversary of our parish was announced, I wanted to experience the person who through innate talents and prophetic vision could organize the successful construction of our church.

While I stood at his gravesite with friends, we prayed a Chaplet to the Divine Mercy expressing our sincere gratitude to Fr. Leon whose vision for Greenpoint has lasted for over a century.

Returning to the main gate my eyes gazed on a powerful scene on a tombstone from 1931 depicting the body of Jesus Christ of the Cross nestled in the arms of his loving Mother, resembling the Pieta. Below were the words inscribed from the Book of Lamentations:

Come, all you
Who pass by the way,
Look and see
Whether there is any suffering like my suffering,”

After reading my recollections of this extraordinary visit to Wejherowo cemetery, I ask that you say a “Hail Mary” for the intention of the eternal life in heaven of Fr. Leon Wysiecki. He was a Polish immigrant, who left a most beautiful gift – a church – for future Polish immigrants and all others who enter its doors. He rests in peace in the shadow of the cross.

In closing, I knelt down and prayed for us all,

Father. Jarosław Lawrenz, CM

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