It is the responsibility of every bishop to concern himself with the care of all the souls in his diocese – even if those people are not natives of the place, are immigrants or short-term visitors. Wrocław Archbishop Marian Gołębiewski recognized the need for pastoral care of English-speakers in his diocese, and so in 2007, he established the Pastoral Centre for English-Speakers in cooperation with Father Kazimierz Malinowski OFM Conv., then the Provincial of the Franciscan Order of the Province of St Anthony and Bl. Jakub Strzemię. The Franciscan brothers of St Charles Borromeo (Karol Boromeusz) Roman Catholic Parish were given responsibility for the Pastoral Centre. Fr Bronisław Staworowski, then the parish priest at St Charles parish, assigned Fr Piotr Tymko to be the first rector of the Pastoral Centre for English-Speakers.

Fr Piotr Tymko

Fr Piotr Tymko, Rector of the Pastoral Centre 2007-2008

Fr Piotr is from Legnica. He was ordained in the Czech Republic, where he served in parishes for several years. He spent a year in the United States to learn English and prepare for service as a missionary in Uganda, where he worked for three years before coming to Wrocław.

Inaugural Mass, picture credit: Fr Piotr Mical, OFM Conv.

L-R: Fr Bronisław Staworowski, Br Daniel Zdebik, Fr Piotr Tymko, Bishop Andrzej Siemieniewski

Our inaugural Mass in English was held on Divine Mercy Sunday, 15 April, 2007. Fr Piotr and Fr Bronisław concelebrated the Mass, Bishop Andrzej Siemieniewski was the homilist, and Brother Daniel Zdebik and Brother Dariusz Sowa assisted as Deacons.

About 140 people attended the first English Mass. Most people who attended the first Mass were native-speakers of English or Poles who know or study English.  However over the years, English-speakers attending the Mass have come from many countries, including Italy, Germany, France, Belgium, Spain, England, Ireland, Canada, the United States, India, Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, the Phillipines, Korea and China. In fact, most people who attend the English Mass are not native-speakers of English, and the Pastoral Centre caters for the needs of a truly international English-speaking community in the Wrocław diocese.

Inaugural Mass 15 April 2007

One of Fr Piotr’s first concerns was to organize people to help out with the Mass. God provided well for us. Many English-speakers from inside and outside the parish came forward and volunteered to read at Mass.

Organizational Meeting April 2007, picture credit: Jolanta Sąsiadek

Fr Piotr talks to volunteers after the inaugural Mass

Jarek Baliński, a talented and versatile pianist from the parish, and  Dominik Bończa-Skrzynecki, a gifted Polish-American vocalist, got together and provided music along with a group of volunteers who enjoyed singing together in English.

Dominik and parish choir at 1st Mass, picture credit: Fr Piotr Mical OFM Conv.

Dominik Bończa-Skrzynecki leads singers from the parish choir at the first English Mass

It quickly became apparent to Fr Piotr that our congregation would not be made up of 100% native-speakers of English. Many people who come to the English Mass speak English as a second language and may never have been to Mass in English before. To accommodate their needs, Fr Piotr had slides prepared with the Mass responses in English, so everyone could participate fully and learn the Order of the Mass. Then Fr Piotr began publishing a bi-weekly liturgical Bulletin called The Lord’s Day. This simple leaflet has the readings for two consecutive Masses as well as supplemental texts about the saints, spiritual life, the liturgy, devotions and so on. Every week since the initial publication on the first Sunday of Advent, 2007, people who come to the English Mass have found copies of The Lord’s Day at the entrance of the Church to help them read along with the scriptures. Most people take the Bulletin home to read or share with other English-speakers and to have Pastoral Centre contact information close at hand.

From our first Mass in 2007 until late spring of 2008 we were graced with the assistance of two English-speaking deacons: Br Daniel Zdebik and Br Dariusz Sowa, both from the same parish in Jasło, in eastern Poland. They were ordained in 2007, and to our joy, returned to us as priests. When Fr Piotr was transferred to the United States (where he now works in a parish in Illinois), Fr Darek Sowa took over as our rector and despite his misgivings about his fluency in English at the beginning, he is remembered especially for the clarity of his English and the beauty of his homilies. In 2009, Fr Darek acquired an assistant when he was joined by Fr Stanisław Stec, who often celebrated the English Mass, heard confessions and celebrated weddings when Fr Darek’s duties took him away from Wrocław. Also, beginning with in 2009, when our rector and his asistant were on holiday, we were blessed to have a regular priest celebrating the English Mass in the summers – Fr Krzysztof Kukułka, who was writing up his doctoral thesis on the theology of  Saint Bonaventure.

Fr. Darek Sowa

Fr Darek Sowa, Rector 2008-2010

Fr Darek steadily built upon the foundation laid by Fr Piotr. He initiated adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in English at the end of Mass on the first Sunday of each month. The devotion continues to this day on first Sundays after the English Mass and is a great enrichment to our spiritual life in Poland, where it can be difficult for non-Poles to take part in the many devotions offered in their local parish.

Our first Annual Teacher’s Mass was organized by Fr. Darek. The Teachers’ Mass took place in October on the Sunday nearest Teachers’ Day, and was celebrated by Bishop Andrzej Siemieniewski. The Mass honored teachers of English and was attended by teachers and students of English at all levels, from the university down to primary school. At the Mass, we prayed for English teachers especially, because through their efforts, Wrocław has become much more welcoming to English-speaking foreigners in the past twenty years.

Fr Darek, First Communicants, parents and family friend, May 2009

The Teachers’ Mass helped spread the word about the Pastoral Centre throughout the English-speaking community in Wrocław, and Fr Darek saw an increase in the number of people asking for weddings in English. Father Darek received two people into the Church – a teenage girl from South Africa and man from the United States. The man was baptized, confirmed and had his First Holy Communion in our English Mass; the girl had her First Holy Communion at the English Mass, along with her younger sister.

In October of 2009, Fr Darek organized the second Annual Teachers’ Mass, again inviting Bishop Andrzej Siemieniewski to celebrate, give the homily, and to be our special guest at a reception after Mass. We all appreciate Bishop Andrzej’s support of the Pastoral Centre and his visits to us on special occasions.

Fr Daniel Zdebik, third rector of the Pastoral Centre

Fr Daniel Zdebik, Rector 2010-2012

In 2010, Fr Darek was transferred to his home territory in the east of Poland, to Kalwaria Pacławska, a Marian shrine and the home of Conventual Franciscan novices in our Province. Fr Darek is assistant novice master there. He remembers fondly his service in the Pastoral Center and recalls that he took special satisfaction and joy in making English-speakers feel welcome and at home in the English Mass. Fr Darek’s successor was well-known to us all: Fr Daniel Zdebik, who along with Fr Darek had been with us since before his ordination. Fr Staszek continued to celebrate Mass regularly and hear confessions along with Fr Daniel, while our new rector applied his organizational skills to the third Annual Teachers’ Mass and overseeing the progress of the Pastoral Centre’s first convert to the Catholic Church – a young American woman who received her catechesis through the Pastoral Centre. On the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday 2012, she was received into the Catholic Church by Fr Daniel in a private ceremony witnessed by Fr Krzysztof Kukułka.

Fifth Anniversary of the Pastoral Centre, Divine Mercy Sunday, 2012

Bp Andrzej Siemieniewski, Fr Daniel Zdebik, Fr Stanisław Stec, Fifth Anniversary of the Pastoral Centre, Divine Mercy Sunday, 2012

Awaiting First Holy Communion, Divine Mercy Sunday, 2012

Divine Mercy Sunday has a special place in the history of the Pastoral Centre. Our first Mass in English was on Divine Mercy Sunday. On Divine Mercy Sunday 2010,  Fr Darek baptized, confirmed and gave First Holy Communion to a convert who had gone through RCIA in the United States. Fr Daniel initiated the custom of having Divine Mercy-oriented Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament on the first Sunday of the month closest to the Feast of Divine Mercy. On Divine Mercy Sunday 2012 we celebrated the fifth anniversary of the Pastoral Centre. Bishop Andrzej Siemieniewski was again our main celebrant, and we were especially blessed that three of our Pastoral Centre priests – Fr Daniel, Fr Staszek and Fr Krzysztof – could be present to concelebrate, since at the same Mass, First Communion and Confirmation were given to the first convert to the Catholic Faith who was catechized at the Pastoral Centre for English Speakers. It was a most joyful occasion, and richly symbolic of the mission of the Pastoral Centre.

The year 2011 marked a change in the liturgy for English-speakers, when a revised translation of the New Roman Missal came into use beginning with Advent of that year. Starting in January, the pages of The Lord’s Day were devoted to explaining the changes that would come in the prayers of the Mass so that people participating in the English Mass in Wrocław would be able to make a smooth transition to the new translation, and so our Mass would be the same as the English Mass all over the world. Visitors from English-speaking countries should find that the English Mass in St Charles Borromeo is exactly what they are used to at home.

Krzysztof Sobczuk, English Mass organist since 2011

When Fr Daniel took over as rector, for several months we had already been without trained volunteers to provide music for the Mass. This situation persisted for nearly a year as we looked and prayed for an English-speaking church organist who could sensitively balance traditional English liturgical music with the Polish devotional and spiritual traditions that so enrich our English worship. Our prayers were answered when Fr Daniel engaged Krysztof (Chris) Sobczuk to be our regular organist for the English Mass. Chris was a member of the Pueri Cantores Wratislavienses choir and graduated from the Metropolitalne Studium Organistowskie in 2010, where he studied under Fr Stanisław Nowak. He’s the main organist at his home parish of Sw Józef in Ołbińska street (the sanctuary of Our Lady, Mother of Mercy) and conducts the Vox Carmeli choir there. Chris is also a qualified teacher of English as a Foreign Language, making him uniquely suited to our community of Catholics from diverse linguistic backgrounds. Although it’s not always easy for non-native speakers of English to sing during Mass, we all appreciate the beauty and solemnity that Chris’s playing brings to our English liturgy.

Fr Krzysztof Kukułka, picture credit: Fr. K Kukułka

Fr Krzysztof Kukułka

In 2011, Fr Staszek accepted an assignment to the mission territory of the Czech Republic, where he is now serving as parish priest in Jihlava. In 2012, Fr Daniel was transferred back to his home parish in Jasło, before being transferred to a new assignment in Illinois, USA in May, 2013. Happily for us, another familiar figure was assigned to be our rector in 2012: Fr Krzysztof Kukułka. Fr Krzysztof is from Świdnica. From his ordination in 1985 until 1990, he worked in various Polish parishes, including ours. In 1990 he was assigned in Kazakhstan for a year, and then in 1991 he began working in Uzbekistan, where he was the superior of the missio sui iuris from 1995 to 2005. During the latter period, Fr Krzysztof was essentially responsible for the Catholic faithful in Uzbekistan, overseeing five parishes in five cities and completing the building of  the church in Tashkent, which had been abandoned before its completion at the beginning of the 20th century. After that, Fr Krzysztof began research on his doctoral thesis, which was written in the English language. While working on his thesis, Fr Krzysztof lived in the United States, Italy and for four years in England. He was granted the Doctor of Philosophy degree by the University of Wales: Trinity Saint David in 2012.

Fr Andrzej baptizes a boy in Uzbekistan, picture credit: http://www.franciszkanie.pl/

Fr Andrzej Kulczycki, former assistant in the Pastoral Centre

Father Krzysztof is assisted by Fr Andrzej Kulczycki. Fr Andrzej comes from Modlęcin, a small village near Świdnica. After his ordination, he worked with youth in various parishes in Poland until 1998, when Fr Andrzej was transferred to Russia and then Uzbekistan, where he served in Franciscan parishes. Besides serving the parish in Polish and helping us with our English Mass, Fr Andrzej is also ready to assist Russian and Italian speakers with their pastoral needs. He has many interesting stories to tell about his adventures as a pastor in missionary lands.

Over the years, every rector of the Pastoral Centre has brought his own talents and experience to the job, identifying different needs that he wanted to address. Despite their best efforts to publicize the Pastoral Centre on Catholic radio and in the religious press, most of our priests remained frustrated by the fact that the Pastoral Centre’s existence was largely unknown to the people who need it most. One of Fr Krzysztof’s first aims was the creation of our own website (he had already established a Russian-language Catholic website in Tashkent in 2002). With Fr Krzysztof’s vision and energy and the indispensible technical assistance of Damian Lilla, the Pastoral Centre website was launched in October 2012.

Kościół pw. Najświętszej Marii Panny na Ślęży, photo credit: Adam Dziura, Wikimedia Commons

Church of the Most Blessed Virgin, Mount Ślęża

Father Krzysztof has also brought to the Pastoral Centre many creative ideas for extra-liturgical activities that can help bring people together as a community, not only a congregation. Every week after Mass when the parish cafe is open, everyone is invited to get together for tea, coffee and cake and meet other people, talk and share ideas. These meetings of people from varied backgrounds and cultures help to strengthen relations among people who otherwise might never meet, and often provide a fascinating insight into other cultures and diverse Catholic customs. Combining the social and the physical, Fr Krzysztof organized a hike up Mount Ślęża in September 2012. A traditional Polish Christmas Eve dinner was organized in January to introduce foreigners to Polish customs – a first for most of those who attended. We have also had two retreats, one at the convent of the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration in Ząbkowice Śląskie in late August 2012.

In 2013, we had retreats with the Missionaries of the Holy Family in Szczytna in February; in the convent of the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration in Kłodzko in May; and in November we visited the Owl Mountains, staying for our retreat with the Salesian Sisters in Pieszyce. On Gaudete Sunday in December, as a gesture of appreciation for many kindnesses and much hard work, a group of laypeople from the Pastoral Centre hosted Fr Krzysztof, Fr Andrzej and the recently-arrived English-speaking Fr Stanisław Rochowiak for an evening at the Wrocław Philharmonic. We hope such cultural events will become a tradition in our English-speaking community.

In July 2014, we bid a fond farewell to Fr Krzysztof Kukułka, who has done so much for us in his two years of service as rector of the Pastoral Centre. Fr Krzysztof’s tenure has been a time of great development in pastoral and social life for us: we’ve grown closer as a community thanks to our regular meetings after Mass and our many retreats and outings headed by Fr Krzysztof.  About 1,000 people per month come to our Pastoral Centre website to find out about us or read articles on the site, which was inaugurated by Fr Krzysztof as well.  He will be greatly missed; thankfully he is not far away in his new assignment in Legnica.

Once again, we are blessed with familiar faces in our new leadership.  Fr Stanisław Rochowiak takes over as the rector of the Pastoral Centre in the summer of 2014 and he will be assisted by our old friend Fr Andrzej Kulczycki.  Frs Stanisław and Andrzej are carrying on the custom of weekend outings, leading a group to the shrine in Bardo, followed by hiking and an afternoon of river-rafting on Saturday 19 July. Both Fr Stanisław and Fr Andrzej are warm, open-hearted men who enjoy a good time and a good laugh, so we can expect more good fellowship in the Pastoral Centre in the year to come.

In late summer 2015, Fr Stanisław was transferred back to Uzbekistan, where he now serves as parish priest in Fergana. About a month later, Fr Andrzej was also called back to Uzbekistan. He’s currently serving in Bukhara. Fathers Stanisław and Andrzej have both said that we are all welcome to visit them in Uzbekistan. Maybe one day, some of us will give them a shock by taking them up on their invitation. We can get all the information we need about the trip from our new rector, Fr Lucjan Szymański, who comes to us from… Uzbekistan, where he served as a missionary for many years. Welcome Fr Lucjan! We hope you will stay with us for a long time!

Read about the Sixth Anniversary of the Pastoral Centre for English Speakers.