At the beginning of the 70s of the last century, divine services in Polish for Poles inhabiting Switzerland were once a month among the others in Berno, in a small chapel at Kapellenstrasse. Some of them were celebrated by Father Innocenty Maria Bocheński OP. His homilies had a clear structure of a university lecture, that is, the introduction, thesis, argumentation, conclusions and the ending. In my opinion, who has recently come from Poland, not only a form, but mainly the content of these homilies was a complete novelty.

Fruits of teaching

A contact with Father Bocheński caused fundamental spiritual changes in me. I saw Christianity, especially the Catholic Church in a completely different light. Incomprehensible and extended forms were filled with a lively content. Moreover, instead of accepted ‘for faith’ or ‘for the sake of peace’, or on the basis of the fact that ‘everybody says so’, there appeared more and more truths which were not afraid of a critical analysis and were unbeatable. I started to perceive the Catholic Church as a great guardian, gathered for hundred years, a treasure of reflections and experiences, passed on from generations to generations, making it possible to live in the harmony with God’s will. I also understood that a man without God loses his humankind. I experienced it myself, when I had to live in two atheistic systems – in the national socialism caused by the National-Socialistic Labour Party of Germany and in the Bolshevik socialism applied to Poles by members of the Polish United Labour Party. I experienced the problem of freedom and responsibility in an extremely intensive way. Father Bocheński taught that God had gifted us with freedom. When something raises our discontent, we should state whether there are possibilities of introducing changes. If so, we should try to introduce these changes, not grumble or take a paralyzing attitude of innocently hurt people.

The changes of my awareness made me join actively the life of the Polish Catholic Mission in Switzerland. It fruited with appointing me by Father Bocheński in 1979, to a team whose task was to elaborate a statute for the Pastoral Council at the Polish Catholic Mission according to the changes which had took place in the canonical law after the Second Vatican Council.

A race car driver

Father Bocheński loved speed. In his youth he participated in car races. At the age of 67 he gained a license of sport pilot. When he was an advisor of the government of the German Federal Republic, he was being transported by a fighter jet from the military airport in Bonn and back. He used to come to Berno by a souped-up car of Mini mark. He used to bring students. One Sunday, after a Divine Service, two students sat down on the back seat, Father Becheński, being curled up, sat behind the steering wheel and started to Fryburg. He had left a briefcase with accessories on the roof of the Mini, which slipped down onto a roadway. One of younger loyal people, an owner of a sport BMW, picked up the briefcase and started off, following the Mini. He was trying to catch up with the car and give back the briefcase, but he managed to do it only in front of the building of Albertynum in Fryburg, in which Father Bocheński lived.

He was also famous for punctuality. It was not convenient for students, but it was also respectable when he appeared in his Mini in the headquarters of the Polish Catholic Mission in Marla – as he used to call it – ‘roundup’, he did not get off his car as long as the time came for him to go to an altar and start a liturgy. I was also lucky to hear a few funeral speeches, which Father Bocheński had written in case of his death. In one of them, proclaimed in the castle in Rapersville, I heard a statement that ‘the world is built reasonably’. For me, the constructor of machines, it was a kind of revelation. Mathematics, all laws governing the nature are comprehensible for the reason and are not complicated at all. This is the complexity of the world, its sizes and simultaneity of what is happening with it, cause that we are not able to understand it quite consciously. I have tried to invent something in my life, with much effort of my mind and much material contribution. The result of this effort- in comparison with what we can understand through our senses in the present world – is so weak and poor, that we can do nothing but fall onto our face in front of the majesty the Creator. Intelligence and invention, which exist in his creation, is shocking.

The last funeral speech of Father Bocheński was read out during the funeral Holy Mass in the church in Fryburg. It was written in French, which I do not speak, but thinking from bursts of laughter of the funeral participants filling the church to the brim, it included many comical elements.

An expert of fights

Our hero, a participant of a few bloody battles, a veteran of the Polish-Bolshevik war, a chaplain in the corps of gen. Anders in the battle about Monte Cassino, was an expert of battles. When at a feast after a patriotic ceremony there was a scuffle at one of the tables, Father Bocheński asked one of the present about what had happened. Having heard that the drunk walker insulted a drunk sapper and there was a battle, he answered: ‘I saw them fighting, but they were doing it unprofessionally’.

Even in the biggest fire in the battle at Monte Cassino, he did not stop philosophizing. On a slope, on which the fight took place, Polish sappers put a board with the inscription, especially in a dangerous place: ‘Do not be silly, do not allow for killing you’. This inscription became a stimulus for writing a book in further years entitled: ‘A book of wisdom of this world’. The author formulated the wisdom as a technology for a long and good life, which was compatible with an intention of sappers from Monte Cassino. This assumption also resulted in his attitude to heroic impulses, because he thought that one should life for a great matter and do something for it, and little advantage is when somebody will allow for killing himself for its sake.

In the functions fulfilled by the Polish Catholic Mission, I often needed some advice. Then I asked for listening. On this occasion, I saw in the person of Father Bocheński an affectionate and sensitive man, who is friendly to people, who defends himself from too much insistence of the surrounding, with the shell of his rough behaviour.

Seminaries for Polish diaspora

In assigned dates which used to be always on Wednesday, in Albertynum there were discussions called ‘Sempol’ (a seminary of Polish diaspora). Issues suggested by participants were discussed. Once I suggested an issue for a discussion, about searching for useful constructive solutions. When a solution is known, particular steps which are investigated, are logical, arranged and unavoidable. However, a sought solution does not appear when we are using only logics, excluding invention from it. The discussion resulted in a conclusion that a way leading to a solution is similar to a river with many inflows. Sailing against the current, we have many possibilities and not all inflows lead to a searched purpose. Sailing in the opposite direction, we always get to the river mouth.

Another issue was a problem concerning the effectiveness in fighting evil. Evil is a lack of good and destroying evil is a destructive act itself and does not enlarge quantity of good. Jesus ordered us to do good and love even enemies, because only in this way the spiral of revenge can be prevented.

A down-to-earth and critical attitude of Father Bocheński to the surrounding world used to be sometimes painful. When after a solemn ceremony, during which participants were singing the hymn ‘God, who’s been protecting Poland…..’, I stated emotionally that the solemn melody of this hymn correlates with what our hearts feel, Father Bocheński referred to prof. Bronarski who found out that the melody comes from a strongly licentious French vaudeville and was played in a different tempo. Generally, Father Bocheński lived at odds with music, because he called it ‘organized noise’.

His attitude to women was quite peculiar. He respected them a lot, but he did not cope quite well with the woman’s intuition. Once, he finished a quite lively discussion with a respectable lady, saying the sentence: ‘Mrs, You will not win with me, because I am saucy’. He hated gibberish, that is, unclear speech, disordered and without content. In the third sentence he used to interrupt his interlocutor and rebuke him or demonstratively used to leave parties.

After the breakthrough, he visited Poland only once and was scared by the low level of people who considered themselves as spiritual and political leaders. What he heard, thought to be one big incomprehensible gibberish.

Foundation of the Polish Catholic Mission

Poles living and staying in Switzerland, are grateful to Father Bocheński a lot. He established not only the Polish Catholic Mission in 1950, but also a foundation whose purpose was creating the permanent headquarter of the Mission. In 1957 he bought a parcel of land in Marly, near Fryburg, where there was a small house. Later this house was enlarged by a chapel and bursa for students. The name of the foundation was Foundation for the sake of the Polish Catholic House in Marly. After some time its property was enlarged by the property inherited from Bronarscy brothers and gifts of other donators. It exists till today and is able to keep not only the estate in Marly, which is the headquarter of the Polish Catholic Mission, but also give some financial means for maintaining pastors in ministering to Poles staying in Switzerland.

From the very beginning Mr. engineer Aleksander Gorajek was in the board of the foundation. He told that when in one of the meetings, the members of the foundation board were thinking over it with no effect, where to take money from, in order to expand the building of the Mission, Father Bocheński suggested: ‘Do like Mrs Mazikowa – die, having prescribed the whole estate to the foundation’ in a testament’. (Mrs Mazikowa sold vegetables on the central square in Berno and as a lonely person, she prescribed her whole possession to the foundation in a testament). Her gift was outbid only by brothers Alfons and Ludwik Bronarscy – professors of the University in Fryrburg, by prescribing three estates to the foundation.

The genius of the idea of Father Bocheński turned out to be effective in a difficult situation, in which the Polish Catholic Mission has been since 2003. The Mission would not have survived without the housing facilities and financial support. Moreover, it was a point, a piece of land on the hospitable Swiss land, which belonged to Poles and which Father Bocheński called affectionately ‘Small Moscow’ – in reference to the name of the possessions in Wołyń, where he had spent his childhood. When communist were governing Poland, this place – similarly as the Polish Museum in the castle in Rapersville in XIX century – was a surrogate of Homeland for many refugees from Poland.

It was the last time when the Founder and Sponsor had taken part in a meeting of the Board on 22 January 1994. Being nearly carried to a conference hall in the headquarter of the Mission he said that he wanted to meet the members of the Board and participate a little in the meetings, and it was to last no longer than 15minutes. In fact it lasted longer, because for a few hours. He ate dinner with them and told a lot about his life. At the end, he gave them his latest book entitled: ‘Religion in trilogy’, dedicating every copy personally. We also heard a few grumblings about difficulties caused by the bodily shell. In the contrast with this shell the mind maintained a kind of efficiency. Father Bocheński was pleased with the meeting. He stated that he could die peacefully for the sake of the Polish Catholic House, because the Foundation was in good hands.

After the death of the Founder, the name of the Foundation was changed into the Foundation dedicated to I.M. Bocheński for the sake of the Polish Catholic House.


As a professor and rector of the University in Fryburg, Father Bocheński educated the whole generation of people who have been composing intellectual and political elites of the Swiss Confederation till today. One of his students was Kurt Furgel. When in the year 1982, the Polish Embassy in Berno was occupied by armed attackers, he had a function of a director of the Department (ministry) for Judiciary and Police in the Federal Government of the Swiss Confederation. He appointed Father Bocheński quickly for the crisis staff and he found him not only as somebody who could negotiate with kidnappers in Polish, but as an experienced expert of martial art. The plan suggested by Father Bocheński was successful and hostages were freed without any bloodshed.

Another student of his specially talented students was priest Dariusz Gabler, who was a parish priest in the parish church Herz Jesu in Winterhurz. During the Lent he used to invite interesting people giving lectures. A lecture about the truth was given by Mrs Jeanne Hersch. A lecture about superstitions was given by Father Bocheński. These were the thesis from a book being written about it at that time. The person and the topic attracted many listeners. After the lecture there was a discussion, in which the referent spoke a few languages fluently (in German, French, English, Latin, Old-Greek, Hebrew, Polish and Russian).

In my opinion, I had an undeserved luck to meet with such a person as Father Bocheński – and what is more – to continue one of his works. At present I am holding the post for the third time as the chairman of the Foundation Board of his name.


"Niedziela" 18/2013

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