Becoming an image of Christ every day, following the example of Brother Grzegorz Frąckowiak, SVD

Author: Guy Mazola, SVD
Subject: Martyrs
Language: English, Spanish
Brother Grzegorz Frąckowiak, SVD

May and June are two memorable months of the year for the SVD Brothers. During these two months, we commemorate the death of Brother Grzegorz Bolesław Frąckowiak – May 5 – and the celebration of his martyrdom on June 12. These two dates remind us of the life and vocation of our dear Brother Grzegorz, honoring the vital role he played in the life of the Society and of the Catholic Church.

Brother Grzegorz’s life and formation

Grzegorz Bolesław Frąckowiak was born on July 18, 1911 in Łowęcice, near Jarocin (the region of Wielkopolska). His parents, Andrzej and Zofia Plończak, owners of an average size farm, had nine sons and three daughters.

Brother Grzegorz’s early life was austere and serene. Despite poverty, this did not hinder him from reaching his aspirations and ambitions in life. His parents wanted to enroll him in the minor seminary. Since he could not afford secondary education, Bolesław did not have a basis good enough for study at the seminary. The seminary authorities advised Bolesław to pursue his vocation as a missionary Brother. He took their ad- vice with humility. He was sent to Gorna Grupa, where the postulancy and the novitiate of the SVD were based. There, he met fellow martyrs Aloysius Liguda and Stanislaw Kubista.

After a year of postulancy, he received his new name: Grzegorz, and his habit, on September 8, 1930. He then became the principal bookbinder of the novitiate. He also wrote the daily spiritual exercises undertaken by his fellow aspiring novices and even took care of the food preparations. People remembered him smiling and being always very helpful. He liked to be a helping hand in the sacristy, especially in decorating altars.

Opting for a life as a religious Brother also means opting for a community life together with others, constantly shaping and redefining our lives as Christians. Brother Grzegorz offered his talents and skills at the service of his community. He lived for his community. In the same way, we are called to grow in the community. We live with other brothers in simple relationships, sharing life and faith, with mutual forgiveness and daily discernment in seeking the will of God.

On the contrary, the opposite attitude prevails in community life and living: indifference, disinterest, and selfishness. Today too, as it was during the time of Grzegorz, the voice of the Lord resounds with strength. He calls each of us to care for the other. Today, too, God asks us to be “guardians” of our brothers, to establish relationships characterized by mutual readiness, by attention to the good of the other, and all his interest. If we cultivate this aspect of brotherhood and solidarity, justice, mercy, and compassion will naturally spring from our hearts.

Faced with a world that demands from Christians a renewed witness of love and fidelity to the Lord, we should feel the urgency of doing everything to participate in charity, in service, and in good works (cf. Heb 6:10).

The way to martyrdom

In 1940, when the novitiate was invaded, and everyone was gathered for transport to the concentration camps, Grzegorz escaped. At first, he went to his brother’s house in Poznań. However, there was no possibility to register him there as a resident, and he had to leave the city. He went to Łowęcice, his birthplace. Later on, he went to Jarocin, participated in underground religious ministry, and created an editorial “For you, Poland.” However, the Nazis knew about the secret group, and they were hunted down, and the members were captured. He was later arrested with some members that managed to escape. However, he asked to be the one found solely responsible and taking all the blame to liberate some of the members.

Grzegorz wanted to save the lives of other prisoners, many of whom were family fathers. His martyrdom led through Jarocin, Środa, and Fort VII in Poznan, where he was kept till the end of the year. Dresden was his final stop. His fellow prisoners (Walenty and Antoni Kaczmarek) remembered Brother Grzegorz leading common prayers of the rosary, litanies, and others. In 1943, he was beheaded by guillotine on May 5 at 6.15 p.m. after secretly writing a letter to his family. He was thrown in an unmarked grave.

Brother Grzegorz Frąckowiak, was beatified on June 13, 1999 in Warsaw together with three other members of the Society of the Divine Word, Stanisław Kubista (1898–1940), Alojzy Liguda, and Ludwik Mzyk (1905– 1940), by Pope John Paul II. His feast day is May 5. The four SVD Poles blessed martyrs, whose joint day of remembrance is celebrated on June 12, were killed in the concentration camps during World War II.

In his homily during the Beatification Mass of Brother Grzegorz and the other 107 Polish martyrs, Pope John Paul II said, “In the group of Blessed, there are religious brothers and sisters who persevered in the service of charity and in offering their torments for their neighbor… As we carry out this solemn act, there is in a way rekindled in us the certainty that, independently of the circumstances, in all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us (cf. Rom 8:37)”.

In this time of crisis caused by the COVID-19 pan- demic, we are called to offer our authenticity and wholeness, shaped by our service and compassion and our devotion to true love. The call of a religious Brother is to provide the gift of our humanity, our gaze upon the cross, and the consciousness of our God-given equality. We offer ourselves.

The COVID-19 pandemic crisis is accompanied by much suffering and loneliness. It also highlights our vulnerability and the limits of our societies. We are expected as Christians in this challenging situation. There is no other way than solidarity and fraternity. This time of crisis invites us to a profound inner change, to care for others, to put our trust in bonds rather than in goods.

This was Brother Grzegorz’s attitude in the concentration camp during his captivity. He is an example of a true disciple of Christ as described in the document of the 18th General Chapter: “A missionary disciple be- comes an agent of transforming the world, actualizing the Kingdom of God together with others. As Divine Word Missionaries, we are inspired and compelled to commit ourselves to carry out the work of the Missio Dei to become transforming missionary disciples of Christ in each place, among every people, and for all cultures. As transforming missionary disciples, we draw upon Christ’s love for us as well as our love of Christ. However, to become effective ambassadors and instruments of Christ, we must know Christ and remain with him” (In Word and Deed n°6, # 13).

Our ministries as Brothers are an essential element that can heal the woundedness of our world today. We pledge to embrace our responsibility as radical ministers of the Gospel actively, to be agents of solidarity, reconciliation, and peace, and to extend hope and welcome the most vulnerable in our midst, our brothers and sisters in Christ, to our common home. In this way, we become an Image of Christ every day of our life, as was Brother Grzegorz.

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Guy Mazola, SVD

Brother Mazola Mido, Guy, a missionary of the Divine Word (SVD), is from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Former missionary in the Philippines and in his home country, he is now working in Rome as General Councilor.

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