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South Texas Living

Beatification ceremony draws Texans to Poland

Beatification ceremony draws Texans to Poland
Travelers from Texas, accompanied by Monsignor Franciszek “Father Frank” Kurzaj of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Floresville, visit the Gory Sw. Anny, Mount St. Anne, in Silesia, Poland, in June. The annual tour is sponsored by the Father Leopold Moczygemba Foundation.

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Elaine M. Stephens
Special to WCN
August 28, 2013
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Texan pilgrims again joined Monsignor Franciszek “Father Frank” Kurzaj, now pastor at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Floresville, to Silesia, Poland, in early June for what has become an annual event.

This year, the Texas travelers went first to Portugal, where they visited the capitol, Lisbon, and spent two days in Fatima. The town is known for Marian apparitions that took place in 1917 when the Blessed Mother appeared to three shepherd children. The Texas pilgrims were honored to carry the cross and the statue of the Blessed Mother during the evening rosary prayer devotions at Fatima. They also visited the homes where Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco lived in 1917.

On June 5, the travelers left Portugal by plane for Krakow, the cultural capitol of Poland. Here, the Texas group visited Wawel Castle and Sukiennice Hall in the old center of Krakow, among other sights.

The group from Texas visited Krakow at this time to participate in a beatification ceremony. In Lagiewniki, Krakow, is a basilica dedicated to the Divine Mercy, where, on June 9, two Polish nuns were beatified -- the third of four steps in the canonization process, or sainthood, by the Catholic church. One was Sister Margaret Lucy Szewczyk, the foundress of the Congregation of Seraphic Sisters. Today, 16 of the sisters work in Texas with the elderly, poor, and needy at the St. Francis Nursing Home in San Antonio and at the John Paul II Nursing Home in Kenedy. Some serve at the retreat center at the Shrine of Our Lady of Cestohowa in southeast San Antonio. The other was Sister Sophia Czeska, who, in the 17th century, founded a congregation of nuns who dedicated their lives to the service of needy children and teenagers.

The Texas pilgrims participated in the two-hour religious event. For many of them, it was a very moving, meaningful, and memorable occasion, which will stay with them the rest of their lives.

“We met a family of Silesian Kotaras and were amazed at the similarity in characteristics and mannerisms with some of our family in Texas,” recalled Sam Kotara of Karnes City. “The countryside is beautiful, especially in spring, and their faith is very strong. There must have been a lot of oppression to make them leave such a beautiful country in the 1850s.”

Texans Andy and Joyce Rives of Panna Maria also enjoyed the trip.

“We enjoyed seeing the churches in Poland which are so similar to the architecture of our own churches near Panna Maria,” they said. “At Fatima, it was very emotional to see devoted people walking on their knees as they participated in the candlelit Living Rosary.”

In the Krakow area the pilgrim travelers also visited the Wieliczka Salt Mine and the Jewish settlement in Kazimierz. They also stopped in Wadowice, the birthplace of John Paul II, and visited the World War II concentration camp at Auschwitz.

A high point of the visit was the opportunity for the Silesian Texans to visit the villages of those who left Silesia in the 19th century to travel to find new homes in Texas. Tears were shed when a Janysek from Texas was able to talk to a Janysek from Silesia, Poland, who traveled from Germany especially to meet their relatives from Texas for the first time. Lori Janysek Wiatrek of Cestohowa, Texas, met her cousin and afterward said, “He wants to learn about his great uncles who came to Texas for his children’s sake, just as we want to know about the Janyseks who stayed in Poland, so we can tell our grandchildren.”

The Banduchs from Poland welcomed the whole group to their home in Boronow, where homemade pastries and refreshments were offered. As a special surprise, the family prepared a large banner displaying the family tree, which included Paul Banduch, who, at age 22, married Agata Walentek in Boronow and then left for Texas, settling in Panna Maria with the first group of Silesian immigrants.

The Wiatreks, Kotaras, and Korzekwas were welcomed in Boronow, where the whole group from Texas participated in devotions in the beautiful, 17th century wooden church.

In Pluznica, the birthplace of Father Leopold Moczygemba, the Texas Moczygembas, Feluxes, Dugis, Jarzombeks, and Janyseks were in their ancestral village and were deeply moved as they visited graves, took pictures, and spoke with distant relatives.

In Ziebice, the travelers and those related to the Jendrzejs, the Jendrusches, the Lyssys, Opielas, Joschkos, Yantas, and Dragons were first introduced in church to the local pastor, Father Paul Zaiontz, and then to his parishioners. They spent the time taking photos and visiting the beautiful cemetery, re-connecting after 160 years.

The Texans also visited a replica 18th-century village at Chorzow and had the opportunity to speak with Silesian high school students using the old Silesian dialect.

“The students were very polite and asked about my occupation and how I learned to speak Polish,” said Jeff Wiatrek, a retired rancher from Cestohowa, Texas, who learned Polish from his parents. He also was interviewed by Polish radio and TV stations during the trip.

Since 1989, many groups from Texas have made this annual journey with Father Frank. His next trip will take place in June or July 2014. For information, call Dorothy Pawelek at 830-253-1029.

For more information about the Father Leopold Moczygemba Foundation, visit and

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