For many people, even those who are engaged in the life of Christian Church, the Order of Cistercians is rather associated with the life behind the monastery walls, where one can hear a liturgy prayer celebrated from the early morning to the evening. This picture can be also enriched with compulsory silence and agrarian work or writing-editorial work so that ‘ora et labora’ would be not only a beautiful calling from the far past. Summing up, a Cistercian is often imagined as a ‘white monk’, devoted to religious contemplative life and able to earn his living. The picture is often filmed willingly, which is proven by quite popular films: ‘Die Grose Stille’ (Great Silence) by Philip Groning or ‘Des homes et des Dieux’ by Xavier Beauvois – translated into Polish in a quite unsuccessful way as ‘People of God’.

Monks and pastors

Very few people associate a Cistercian with active pastoral work, where he would appear as a parish priest, retreat preacher or a catechist. Whereas it has been inseparable fact for over eight centuries. The beginnings of the pastoral work of the Order of Cistercians reach back to the year 1215. It was when for the first time the General Chapter gave an order to build chapels on farms and celebrate the Divine cult in them. The pastoral activity of Cistercians converged with the development of parish net and more intensive pastoral activity in the whole Church. In XVI and XVII centuries, the management of the parish by Cistercian monasteries became a reality in all countries of Europe, where the ‘white monks’ worked. However, we must note that Cistercians understood this element of their charisma gradually, through phases. The fact is that in the first thousand years of Christianity, Cistercian monasteries, based on the Rule of St. benedict had basically the contemplative character. Nevertheless, circumstances from outside set new challenges towards the order, which were answered through the engagement in active pastoral ministry. It happened so in Poland as well. In the period of heyday (XVIII century), the Cistercians clustered in 17 abbeys, managed 45 parishes in which 60 pastors in white monk’s frocks worked successfully. At present, the Polish Congregation of Cistercians of the Blessed Virgin Mary the Queen of the World, having four abbeys (Jędrzejów, Wąchock, Mogiła and Szczyrzyce) and dependent houses (Glass Houses – Cracow, Sulejów, Trybsz, Czarna Góra, Henryków, Jodłownik, Gdańsk-Oliwa, Wilow Springs – USA), is undertaking, according to its possibilities, a rich pastoral-apostolic activity. The Cistercians manage parishes, conduct retreats and missions, join catechization and teaching young people. Thanks to this engagement the ‘white monks’ toss bridges among many dioceses where they are present. Adapting themselves to certain requirements of local churches, they reveal universality of what is basic for pastoral ministry in the whole Church.

Among emigrants from Poland

A significant example of the fruitful integrative work are the Cistercians working on creating a parish among Polonia of the diocese of Chicago. One of them is a community built from the base by legendary father Hubert Kostrzański (an abbot of the monastery in Szczyrzyce in the years 1971-96). Before, supported by father Grzegorz, he evangelized many compatriots living in the USA in his pastoral ministry. As a result, after uneasy years of religious conversion, the parish in Willow Springs became a significant example of integration among compatriots populated around Chicago. The monastery and church under the name of Mother of the Church, erected ‘on a hill’, through efforts and work of people from Podhale – have been appreciated for over ten years and often visited places by families of the ‘old’ and ‘new’ emigration from Poland and Slovakia.

A new parish priest

It was so on the fourth Sunday of Advent 2012 when a new parish priest, a Cistercian was being nominated to the ministry of a parish priest, who will also have a function of a superior and director of the Polish Mission in Willow Spring. Fr. Michał Blicharski has worked in this parish for over sixteen years. As a pastor for many years, he got to know ‘his sheep’ very well. Many of them are grateful to him for many things. As a new parish priest he remains ‘old’, tried-out pastor, always willing to say a good word and devote his attention full of warm-hearted joke. Poles dispersed in the arch-diocese of Chicago at the Cistercians will find the face of the Church which they had learnt in their home-country. Here they want to experience Sunday Eucharist and celebrate various celebrations. In this parish they take holy sacraments. Children and the youth do not lose a contact with religious culture of their ancestors. A number of groups at the parish is imposing. Each of them requires pastoral care. In order to meet new challenges, a lot of priests would be necessary. However, the present abbot of Szczyrzyce – father Dominik Chucher cannot promise new personal ‘allotments’ for now.

Pastoral work

In the parish beside the newly nominated parish priest, father Ludwik Żyła is holding pastoral ministry. Both Cistercians take pastoral care of 549 families. Their whole pastoral work annually comprises over 70 baptisms, nearly 50 weddings, over 30 funerals. Next year they promise to get to over 180 families – so far few ones active in the parish life. It is still necessary to utilize both the material area (on which there is a monument of blessed John Paul II of big sizes) and a spiritual area, which is guided by the Year of Faith. We should wish the Cistercian pastors and their believers much courage in a wise sowing on a fertile soil.

>Willow Springs, January 2013.


"Niedziela" 5/2013

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: