Thursday, May 10, 2012


I ran out of clean clothes three days ago. By this time tomorrow, I will have also run out of axe body spray, which has served as my substitute for a washing machine. I fear I may be going native.

Early Tuesday morning (5 AM early) the other fathers and I shoehorned ourselves, our luggage, and the breakfast Mamma Garbacz had packed for us, back into Bart's car for our commute to Krakow where we were to board a plane for a one hour flight to the North of Poland. This was to be the first step in accomplishing the second major goal of our Polish pilgrimage: to see Jody, (or as her sisters call her, Dzoti) Sowers, a postulant in a religious community here.

The drive was relatively uneventful, and after leaving the larger portion of our luggage in Fr. Pawl's care, we were at the airport. In typical fashion, we were treated like cattle and variously violated by the Polish version of TSA before wandering into a grey metallic sort of holding area. The flight left on time and landed at our destination on time. We waited briefly before we were collected by a representative of the car rental company. His arrival heralded what would ultimately become the most harrowing leg of our journey. Americans, aside from participants in demolition derbies, are not well suited for European driving. Fr. Tim's anxiety was palpable. Fr. Marcin's hurried instructions from the passenger seat bore a constant sense of strain. My feverish recitation of the Act of Contrition from the back seat did little to ease the tension. The whole enterprise seemed to be summarized as we tried to gain access to the expressway by Fr. Tim's almost despairing declaration, "Oh God! We have to merge."

By the grace of God, we safely made our way to the seaside town of Sopot. A short expletive filled adventure on the round-about eventually led us to the parking garage. From there a brief walk brought us to the shore of the Baltic Sea. The nausea inducing fear of the drive having passed, we decided it would be wise to eat. The first open restaurant sold fish, so we decided to sample the local seafood. It was huge and delicious (see the picture below). From there we walked the long wooden dock (the longest in Europe in fact) out into the sea and enjoyed the sun on the benches overlooking the marina. We tried to avoid having to look at the various mostly nude European sunbathers. I considered taking pictures to post here so as to deter any would-be nudists reading this post, but I was afraid doing so would only prompt the fleshy monsters to disrobe further.

Swans, a replica pirate ship, a Polish fisherman, and more amber and coral jewelry that I had ever seen before dazzled us until we finally headed back to our little car for the last leg of our journey to see Jody. A short drive, a brief argument, and a couple of near death experiences later, and we found ourselves at the convent hugging and laughing and very glad to see a radiant looking Jody. Convent life suits her well.

As with all places Polish we were forced to eat. And then eat some more. After the meal we were shown our rooms and then made our way to the chapel for Marian Devotions and Mass.

The sisters have their own chaplain, Fr. Edwin, who lives in a private apartment within the convent. He provides daily Mass and fulfills other priestly needs. In return he is provided with meals, lodging, and free housekeeping. Fr. Edwin has been with the sisters for fourteen years. This assignment suits him, as he is a sickly man who receives dialysis twice each week. Unfortunately, Fr. Edwin is also a bit odd and an exasperatingly long homilist. Given that it takes three times longer to say in Polish anything that one might say in English, and my disdain for rambling homilies, it was pure agony as Fr. Edwin laboriously recited details of the life of the foundress of the order to the sisters and their lay guests that evening. Already exhausted and curious to hear more of the details of Jody's life, I just wanted Mass to end. Finally Fr. Edwin prayed the closing prayer and offered a relic of Mother Foundress for veneration by those present. As the sisters approached in procession to do this, Fr. Edwin waved at us as though shooing us away. I was rapturous until hearing what I will remember as the saddest words of our trip. "Don't leave! We are not finished yet." Father was just asking us to be seated. God forbid we depart before he stammer his well wishes and greeting to us in English.

Mass finally did end. We met Jody's Polish Language Instructor. We had drinks with Fr. Edwin in his apartment. And finally we slept, though not without arguing with Jody about whether we American priests would celebrate Mass with the community or at another time the following morning. I am pleased to report that Jody has already mastered the nunnish skill of bending priests to her will. Painfully early the next morning, we once again found ourselves listening to the droning homily of Fr. Edwin.

The early morning was soon forgotten. We shared breakfast with Jody, the other postulants, the novices, and the novice mistress. This was a particular privilege, as these young women are generally sequestered from the remainder of the community and visitors for meals. Given that we were priests, however, and the peculiarity of Jody's situation as the only American to have ever joined the Order, we were given permission to eat with them in their dining hall. Of note at this meal were sausages made of wild boar. Following the meal, the sister-to-be was given permission to leave the convent under the supervision of her priests for the day. And what better place to take an aspiring nun than a medieval castle established by a Holy Military Order only to be routed by the selfish Poles in 1410.

Arriving at the castle required more driving adventures, including a demonstration on how to pass in oncoming traffic. Upon arriving in Malbork, home of the castle, Jody requested that we stop at McDonalds. She had not eaten American food of any sort for a year. Fr. Marcin and I were glad to accommodate her, as we had been without Internet access for a full day and were in need of a fix. We spent a bit of time sitting in the square watching the fountain after satisfying our craving for the Golden Arches, and finally, we ascended the hill leading to the Castle.

Malbork Castle is comprised of three sections, all connected, sitting on forty-six acres. To enter the innermost section of the castle, one must pass through six gates, one of which is a functioning drawbridge across a moat. Within the castle is space sufficient to house an army and its horses, servants, and supplies to last a siege of three months. For the centuries during which it was a functioning castle, the walls were never breached.

Within the castle was an outdoor prison, functioning water fed latrines, the quarters of the grand master of the order, a church, dining halls, and everything necessary to support the residents and staff. The building is built of red brick, much of which was reconstructed by preservationists following WWII when axis troops took refuge in the castle and prevented Stalin's troops from progressing further toward Berlin until the evacuation of that city could take place. We saw pictures of the damage. Unimaginable.

Stopping in the chapter room, where members of the order would have prayed the liturgy of the hours, we spent a good deal of time singing and playing with the acoustics of the chamber.

All in all, this place was incredible - Heating systems, wells, defenses, turrets, everything one hopes for in a castle. By the end of the tour we were exhausted and much in need of a good meal. Jody had turned 21 the day of our arrival at the convent, so that night she ordered a beer. She drank enough to taste and enjoy it before passing the mug to me. I enjoyed the rest on her behalf.

Returning to the convent we paused at McDonalds once again for an Ice Cream Shake, another request from the sister, and a brief email/facebook checkin. We all went to bed early and got up for one final convent Mass.

The city in which Jody's convent is located is quite unattractive in most respects, and suffers from the neglect of most small rural towns I have encountered. Undeterred by its post-communist accouterment, however, the city by reason of a shrine to St. Valentine, calls itself the city of love. (As a matter of curiosity, besides lovers, Valentine is also patron of the mentally handicapped. As Fr. Edwin noted before we left this morning, these two patronages are often one in the same.). As with the day previous, Jodi had permission to spend the morning with us, so we wandered to the shrine of St. Valentine hoping to see his severed head. We drew near, but the church is undergoing construction thus preventing us from actually seeing the head. I was deeply saddened by this. The others, making the best of a poor situation, decided to climb the Church's tower. I declined, choosing to recline in the door of the church instead. From the looks and what I was able to intuit from passersby, this is an activity generally reserved to drunkards and lepers. If I had set out a small cup, I might have collected alms.

From the church we wandered among venders in the market square, drank some coffee, and ate ice cream before winding our way back to the convent for lunch. The sisters, all fifteen of them, came to wish us well. We lingered over goodbyes, gave hugs for all who sent them, tried not to become tearful, and then reluctantly set out for the airport. I sit now, writing from my Hotel room, wondering how these days have all passed so quickly. By this time tomorrow, I will be nearly home.

So, in summary, Poland is amazing, Jody is doing swimmingly, and none of us has died, which is honestly more than I had hoped for (Mostly that none of us is dead. I had anticipated having to kill one or the other of my brother priests. We have all remarked about how successfully we have managed not to fray one anothers' nerves.). I will try later to give some spiritual insight into these last few days. For now, it is sufficient to say that as with my adventure last year, this adventure has given me some perspective and helped me to get ready to leave Rapid and head to Spearfish.

For now, enjoy these pictures.


  1. Awesome.. I'm glad u have had fun and seen all that u have seen. But I am also (very selfishly) glad ur gunna be home too.. Been worried about u.. It's easier to be worried when ur in the SAME state.. ;)
    I am on the other hand a little confused.. Fr. Marchin is in a sweat shirt and jeans and then there is a person layin there in shorts on the deck.. Course there is only 1 person..I don't get it is it cold or is he one of those kinda ppl that are ALWAYS cold? LOL
    Either way its an awesome picture(s).. As always love you and fly safe.. Gods Speed.. Hope to see u soon.. :D
    -Kass :)

  2. Wonderful post Sir Winston, simply wonderfu!

  3. You are hilarious. Glad you had such a brilliant time!

  4. You are hilarious. Glad you had such a brilliant time!

  5. i didn't know i had the talent to bend priests to my will...this will come in handy in the future!

  6. All of your Poland posts were wonderful -- and so thoroughly *you,* Father. Thank you for sharing them...


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