HOW A PARISH PRIEST SAVED A SCHOOL
In Hrubieszów commune, in Eastern area near Lublin, in a small village Gdeszyn, a local parish priest Ryszard Ostasz sold his crops from his fields, a modern tractor, and he even resigned from his pension fund, in order to save a village primary school from its liquidation.
We are coming to Gdeszyn on freezing-cold day. Roads are more and more narrow and there are less and less buildings in the landscape. We have been driving 40km/h for some time because there is ice on roads. At last we nearly see a village down the road; a small village, white with hoar-frost. We are passing Ukrainian and Polish graveyards – of mute witnesses of a difficult past of these lands. We easily find a ground-floor building of a school. The door is open. A few men wearing work uniforms are wandering along a corridor. Seeing us, one of them takes out a clerical collar from his shirt collar. He is smiling apologetically and after a while he comes back in a cassock on which he puts on a sport shirt. Here is our host – known not only in the area priest Ryszard Ostasz, called priest Rysio by his parishioners. After a while also a head-teacher of the school appears in the door – Barbara Łapińska.
A patron obliges
First – visiting. The priest apologizes that it is cold but it is winter holiday and they are saving money at the cost of heating when there are no children. Classrooms and corridors smell fresh paint. They are clean, bright and functional. Many town primary schools would like to look so. And it is difficult to believe that a few months ago it was an object in a miserable state.
In order to understand us and why we were fighting for this school so badly, you must listen about a man who used to live here, the priest Pisarski...- priest Ryś starts – about the patron of this school.
Fr. Zygmunt Pisarski had used to be a parish priest in Gdeszyn since 1933. He is an unusual man who practised ecumenism before anybody heard about him he had brought agreement between Poles and the Ukrainians, and made their relationship of national and religious character milder, which helped him to create an atmosphere of mutual friendship in his parish. Even the brutality of the war did not force him to resign from his beliefs. He helped people in need no matter what their nationality was: Poles, Ukrainians and Jews. During his being a parish priest, nobody was hungry or given to the Germans. And just for the fact that he did not reveal surnames of the Ukrainians or Poles to occupants, he was killed on a frosty January morning in 1943, being shot by the Germans in the middle of the village. In 1999 John Paul II carried out a solemn beatification of 108 martyrs for faith in Warsaw, including Fr. Zygmunt Pisarski. In the parish a sanctuary of conciliation of Blessed Fr. Zygmunt Pisarski was set up, to which even more Ukrainians than Poles come.
When we were leaving Gdeszyn, we went to the village graveyard to visit the grave of Fr. Pisarski. Despite the frost of 23 degrees, on the grave of the Blessed priest, among artificial chrysanthemums and callas frozen to icicles, there are a few grave candles – after nearly 60 years since the death of Fr. Pisarski.
How could have we allowed for closing down the school with the name of such a heroic man? – Fr. Ryś asks– And at the moment when on the other side of the border the Ukrainians call their school by the name of Fr. Pisarski. It is like amputating a part of one’s and the nation’s memory. It is unacceptable!
They were insisting
If the school is closed down, nothing will be left – adds the head-teacher. – Villages where there is neither a church nor a school are somehow lifeless. A school in a village is a centre of culture and a place of meetings. It is a heart of this small homeland. Besides these values there are also practical reasons - parents do not want their children to commute by sometimes dilapidated buses or wait for their school bus on a road. Moreover, they do not want several kilometres to their school like in the 19th century. Everybody prefers small and safe schools where knowledge is taught and checked. It is somehow obvious but....
In Gdeszyn there has been a primary school of three classes till now. Children learnt in a not renovated building for 20 years. Hardly a few classrooms were used, whereas other classrooms were in ruin – says Fr. Ryś. – So, the district decided to liquidate the school. But we started insisting on not liquidating the school and did not allow for it. We persuaded the village mayor to give back this building to us. The parish priest and other inhabitants of the village set up an Association of Lovers of Gdeszyn Land and he submitted an application for taking over the school. However, good will is not enough to manage an education institution – but money is necessary. Villages in the Eastern area near Lublin are not rich. But Fr. Ryś showed his courage here. He sold his whole property. He has given 100 thousand zlotys to the school so far.
Anna Litwin, our colleague from the editorial office in Zamość, tells us that many people in the diocese perceived the priest’s behaviour as crazy. However, it was not only him to behave so. For, enthusiasm is infectious. The thing is that it is not everybody – there are also some people who wanted the association to fail. Luckily, it did not fail...
Something from nothing
They had nearly one and a half months for a thorough renovation of the school, otherwise the building would have returned to the commune. So in summer 2011 half a village led by the parish priest were taking part in renovating the school building. They were working in three shifts; from 8 am till 3 am. Everyday Fr. Ryś brought help from outside – prisoners from the prison in Zamość. We would like to add that everybody was working without any wages; for their children and grandchildren.
And they succeeded. The school was opened. And although a fight for every penny financing the school is still going on, and much energy is still being used for encounters with clerks, undoubtedly everybody fighting for the school succeeded.
The head-teacher Barbara Łapińska, a young and energetic person, jokes that when she was offered work in Gdeszyn, Fr. Ryś loyally warned her that ‘lots would be happening’.
I did not think that so much – she laughs today. – In the school children will learn and play because there is also a pre-school department here – including 44 children. There are 16 teachers employed for several hours per week, who are keen on social activities; because nobody checks the time here.
At this moment we can say that the village school in Gdeszyn was saved and can become an example for other villages where their authorities are liquidating small institutions for economic reasons. As we can see, when people are mobilized and asked about a method of action, much can be advantageous and not only in the material meaning of this word. For, it is advantageous – which is not understood by an economic estimation- to build small communities, strengthen relationships, activate people and help a village to live its own and colourful life. When we were visiting Gdeszyn, the festival of carols was finishing which gathered not only musicians from the whole area but also became an occasion for meeting at the table full of specials from the local housewives. The meeting also impressed Bishop Marian Leszczyński from Zamość, a special guest who was playing the harmonica to accompany singing children.
The school managed by the Association is maintained from the subsidy given by the National Education Ministry to the commune. Unfortunately not whole subsidy is given to the school. It receives only as much as the average cost for a student in the commune is – explains the head-teacher. – Will it be enough? It is a difficult issue. We must look for donors and financing from the state budget; especially, when somebody starts from zero, like us.
Everything will be fine
The Association has many ideas for the future. Fr. Ryś does not imagine a situation when the school building would be empty after finished lessons. An internet cafe is going to be created here as well as seniors’ club and a meeting place to promote the idea of reconciliation among nations.
If everybody cares only about easy and comfortable life, then we will fail because upbringing of children demands much effort and devotion. Therefore, it is worth fighting for what belongs to us.