May the grace and peace of the Risen Lord be with you all, as we celebrate this Founders’ Day!
From my reading of Resurrectionist Charism, and from my Visitations, I have become more conscious of the testimony of the Venerable Servant of God, Father Paul Smolikowski. I must confess that I did not know a lot about his life and work, but have come to know and admire his impact on our Congregation.
As I wrote in my Founder’s Day Message 2019, “When I read about the life of the Venerable Servant of God, Father Paul Smolikowski, I feel his true reflection of the spirit of each of our Founders:
- The Vision of Bogdan Janski
- The Spirituality of Father Peter Semenenko,
- The Missionary Spirit of Father Jerome Kajsiewicz.
Indeed, it was not and continues not to be any exaggeration to call him “one who was the soul of the Congregation and embodied within himself the whole tradition of the Community”.”
In particular I was inspired by the hope he had, especially in the face of adversity and struggle, and how he cherished the new life that comes from the resurrection of Jesus. He, indeed, deserves to be distinguished and highlighted among the Resurrectionists who have graced our history and heritage. And so, I share with you a reflection on the life of Father Paul Smolikowski, as we celebrate this Founders’ Day.
As Resurrectionists we have a special respect, affection and devotion for the Venerable Servant of God, Father Paul Smolikowski. The distinction he has received from the Holy See raises him in our eyes, and the eyes of the Catholic community, to recognize the quality of his life and his ministry.
As I reflect on the many facets of the life of Father Smolikowski I recognize how faithfully he listened to the call of God, and responded with all his heart. This reminded me of the words of Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitia. On Love in the Family (paragraph 137), when he writes,
“Take time, quality time. This means being ready to listen patiently and attentively… It requires the self-discipline of not speaking until the time is right. … we need to be sure that we have heard everything the other person has to say.”
Although the Holy Father is talking about human communication skills, it is applicable to our prayer life and our communication with God – speaking and listening. Too often, in human and ‘divine’ communication we are more concerned about being heard and listened to, rather than hearing and listening. ‘Hearing’ is a function of our ears and mind, whereas I see ‘listening’ as a function of our heart and soul. We ‘hear’ a lot, but we choose what we ‘listen’ to. I am sure we can each identify moments when that distinction is real to us. I can go to the doctor and I ‘hear’ him tell me to lose five kilos (at least), but I may not choose to ‘listen’, and therefore do not alter my diet at all.
On Mount Tabor (Matthew 17:1-8) the voice of the Father told Peter, James and John, in the company of Moses, Elijah and Jesus, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him”. As followers of Jesus, and as religious in the Church, our ‘listening’ not only produces inspiration and wisdom, but leads us to action, in union with Christ. Just as our human ‘listening’ is at times a challenge, it is not always easy to ‘divine’ listening either.
In our Constitutions we are reminded, in Article 55, to follow the example of Mary, our Blessed Mother, as “She teaches us how to hear God’s word, ponder it in our hearts, and act upon it”. Just as she attentively ‘listened’, we are called to ‘listen’ in order to reflect and pray, and to respond to God’s promptings, as she did. As well, in Article 64, we are told, “We know that God will speak to us within the depths of our hearts, but in order to hear His voice, we frequently need to set aside our activities, to listen to Him and converse with Him”. This ‘art’ of ‘listening’ comes to us through our discipline and our seeking out of silence, in order to “render our apostolate more fruitful by strengthening our union with Christ” (Article 65).
In reading Resurrectionist Charism. A History of the Congregation of the Resurrection it is obvious of the capacity and willingness of so many of our Community members to ‘listen’ to God, among them Father Paul Smolikowski. This was not only a part of their vocational discernment, but of their daily lives as Resurrectionists. His life echoes the words of Henri Nouwen (Desert Wisdom. pp. xiv – xvii), that to have “a spirit of discipleship” one needs “a willingness to listen, to learn, and to be converted”. The life and ministry of Father Paul reflected this wisdom, as he lived out, and shared, his discipleship of Jesus Christ.
In my reading, I found three particular moments in the life of Father Paul that revealed to me his ability and willingness to ‘listen’:
- the call to serve the missions in Bulgaria and the Ukraine
- his service and leadership at the Polish Pontifical College
- his leadership as Superior General.
Ministry in Bulgaria and the Ukraine
In 1874, when Father Paul was asked by Superior General, Father Peter Semenenko, to serve in the mission in Bulgaria it had been in existence eight years already. Even after only one year of Perpetual Vows (March 5) and of ordination to the priesthood (April 15) he had distinguished himself in his religious life and priesthood. Having been ordained in the Eastern Rite, he was well prepared to minister to Eastern Rite Catholic communities. In Adrianople, at the School for Latin and Eastern Rite students, he developed a method of education that quickly gained the attention and admiration of many in the Congregation, and among the people in Bulgaria. In Resurrectionist Charism, Father John Iwicki expressed that “From the very beginning, the aim of Resurrectionist education was to prepare Catholic lay leaders to renew society: to become acquainted with the realities of the world, the various social issues and to meet these with a sense of duty and dedication” (Resurrectionist Charism. Volume I, p. 461). Unfortunately, Father Paul’s methods sometimes brought him into conflict with his local Superior, Father Thomas Brzeska, who did not share his vision Despite political and economic challenges the Resurrectionists continued to serve the pastoral and educational needs of the Bulgarians.
In 1882, after eight years in Bulgaria, Father Paul was asked by the Superior General, Father Peter Semenenko, to share his educational expertise in Lwów, in Ukraine, in a boarding school and seminary. While there he contributed to the final draft of the Constitutions for approval of the Holy See. He continued to serve there until 1892, although he had been elected in January 1887 to serve as a General Councillor to Superior General, Father Valerian Przewłocki.
Father Paul accepted these obediences to serve in Bulgaria and the Ukraine, having ‘listened’ not only to the voice of his Superiors, but to the voice of God, calling him to share his talents with these Eastern Rite communities, to which he had felt called early in his Resurrectionist formation. Despite his strong ties and commitment in Bulgaria, he willingly and freely accepted the assignment in Ukraine. Father Paul sought, above all, to do the will of God, as presented to him by his Superiors, and did so with a joyful and zealous spirit. His ‘listening’ brought him challenges, but also many graces and blessings, as he contributed to the work of the Congregation in Bulgaria and the Ukraine.
Ministry in the Polish Pontifical College
On March 8, 1866, Pope Pius IX requested the Resurrectionists to form a Polish Pontifical College in Rome, and was accepted by Superior General Joseph Hube. This was the fruit of many lengthy discussions at many levels in Italy and Poland, and even early fund raising initiatives. This fulfilled a dream of Bogdan Janski, as he expressed in 1837, “A Polish College for ecclesiastical students along the same lines as the English and German Colleges should be established in Rome” (Resurrectionist Charism. Volume I, p. 256).
Father Peter Semenenko was named the first Rector, followed in 1882 by Father Charles Grabowski and in 1888 by Father Anthony Lechert. In 1892 Father Paul became the Rector. This ministry was not an easy one, initially with some diverse voices against the Congregation’s role by the Russian Ambassador, and by some ecclesiastical figures in Rome and Poland. Throughout the seventy-two years of the Resurrectionist leadership and service there were constant complaints of seminarians; the lack of support of some Polish Bishops; and, despite the international preaching assignments of many Resurrectionists, and donations from Houses – the ongoing financial burden. However, the support of the Holy See, beginning with Pope Pius IX, was constant to this service of the Resurrectionists to the Polish Church. The Bishops of two major Diocese, Bishop John Puzyna of Krakow and Archbishop Bilczewski of Lwów wrote in defence of the Resurrectionists: “We wish that the Fathers continue in their direction of the college. You, who from its very foundation have sacrificed so much for the good of the Church and our Fatherland. So many good results have come forth from this college that we cannot ask for ore. We can never forget how many difficulties the Congregation sustained an continues to sustain in continuing the administration of the college. We do not see any great lacks in the direction of the college, especially in matters concerning spiritual formation” (Resurrectionist Charism. Volume II, p. 119). Despite the Congregation’s efforts to improve the staff, strengthen the formation program, to be more selective in the choice of students, and building the relationship with students and the Polish hierarchy, it often seemed that this was never enough. There were often calls within the Congregation to abandon this ministry, including, at times, even from Father Paul.
However, the Fathers were not only ‘listening’ to the voices of discontent, or the voices of supporters, but most of all ‘listening‘ the voice of God calling them to continue to contribute to this important ministry for the Church in Poland. Successive General Chapters supported this ministry, despite some calls to abandon what often seemed an ungrateful ministry. Despite the personal cost to Father Paul, in trying to ‘steer this ship’, he remained faithful during his many years as Rector. His priestly example touched the lives of many students, most of whom, over time, began to appreciate and value the ministry of the Resurrectionists, including members of the Polish hierarchy, such as Archbishop Joseph Weber.
Ministry as Superior General
Father Paul Smolikowski had served in various capacities on the General Council: elected as a Councillor in the Eleventh Chapter (1887), and then as the Superior General successively in the Twelfth (1893), Thirteenth (1895), and Fourteenth (1901) Chapters, as the Secretary General in the Fifteenth (1905) Chapter, and as a Councillor in the Sixteenth (1911) Chapter. He was an exemplary religious, and a man of prayer. His extra-ordinary talents, as revealed in his many ministries in the Congregation, made his candidature a promise of sound and mature leadership. Once again, Father Paul did not only ‘listen’ to his supporters, but most importantly to the voice of God, who had gifted and blessed him to assume these roles within the Congregation. Father Paul wanted to be a good steward.
During his time as Superior General Father Paul wore many hats: editing the writings of Father Peter Semenenko and making presentations on them, involved in formation and teaching of Resurrectionists seminarians in the Roman House, continuing (living and working) in the Polish Pontifical College, as well as his day-to- day leadership of the growing Congregation. Father Paul ‘listened’, at a great personal price, to all the voices that called upon him to share and serve important needs present in the Congregation. I cannot imagine how he did it!
Unfortunately, with the proclamation of the Apostolic Constitution Conditae a Christo in 1900 a serious revision of the Constitutions began, to put it into compliance with the Apostolic Constitution. Not only was Father Paul ‘listening’ to the voice of the Holy See, but unfortunately also to manipulation of Father Ladislaus Marszałkiewicz (Resurrectionist Charism. Volume II, p. 158), which resulted in “misinterpretation and misunderstanding” (Ibid. 136) which brought about revolt among a large part of the Congregation. Despite Father Paul’s intention to ‘listen’ and remain faithful to the Holy See, the newly revised Constitution was seen by many Resurrectionists as a “skeleton of the Rule” (Ibid. p. 137). ‘Listening’ to the voices of his trusted brothers, Father Paul resigned his position as Superior General, to bring about healing and reconciliation among them. As a true sign of his ‘listening’ to God,
Father Paul showed no bitterness or desire for revenge, but rather remained open to significant service in and to the Congregation.
Throughout his life and ministry Father Paul Smolikowski ‘listened’ faithfully to the voice of God. Despite the sacrifices and sufferings that his response some times brought him, he always put the will of God, and the good of the Congregation before his own interests, comfort, or status. Humility reigned in his heart, and truth on his lips. I believe that in particular in the face of hardship and suffering, including the harsh and sometimes cruel treatment of some of his brothers, his hope and confidence in God continued strong. This witness of Father Paul further supports and inspires the Cause of his Beatification and Canonization by the Church, recognizing his heroic virtues, exemplary life, and generous service.
Perhaps we can each relate to some of the realities shared – the disposition to a new ministry, a challenging call to service, and a faithful ‘listening’ ear and heart, leading to a generous response. All of these elements, I believe, are evident in all three of these areas brought forth in this letter. Our challenge, as we celebrate the life and ministry of Resurrectionist Father Paul Smolikowski, is to follow his example of ‘listening’ and responding to the voice of God, and the needs of the Church and world.”
God bless you, my brothers in the Risen Lord!
Rev. Paul S. Voisin, C.R.
Posted on Feb 2023,