The saints attract one another like a magnet because they have the same ideals. Among laymen, who had a great influence on intellectual and spiritual formation of blessed John Paul II were: Mieczysław Kowalczyk, Jan Tyranowski and Jerzy Ciesielski. The two last ones are candidates for canonization. On 17 December 2013, on his 77th birthday, pope Francis acknowledged heroism of virtues of God’s servant Jerzy Ciesielski, whose beatification process started in 1985

It is difficult not to think about God’s servant Jerzy Ciesielski as an ideal Christian man. An excellent father of a family, a promising scientist, an excellent sportsman, a man loving nature, a social activist, and also a Christian man consciously aiming at Holiness. ‘Jurek was carrying a testimony of God in himself’ – cardinal Karol Wojtyła said so once about him.

A man talented in many spheres

The beginnings of their relationship reach back to the year 1952, when the student of the Faculty of Land Construction of the Polytechnics in Kraków and the Studies of Physical Education of the Jagellonian University, Jerzy Ciesielski joined the ‘Community’ also called ‘Family’, concentrated around Fr. Karol Wojtyła. Before his first trip with students, Fr. Wojtyła said to others participants: ‘He is a boy who lost his father. Let’s be good for him’.

Jerzy Ciesielski was a very sporty man. He played handball and basketball, and he practiced rowing and kayaking. He belonged to a Sport Club ‘Cracovia’ and played in a basketball team, representing Poland in international competitions. He had qualifications of a swimming and skiing instructor, he was nearly annual participant of the nationwide kayaking race in Dunajec. From 1952 he organized kayaking races in various parts of the country as well as hiking, cycling and kayaking trips.

Jerzy used his outstanding sport talents and instructor’s qualifications for the ‘Community’. ‘When he taught others techniques of swimming, or skiing, then one could feel that he wanted to teach them not only the techniques but also his world of values and affections’ – mentioned archbishop Karol Wojtyła after Jerzy Ciesielski died. Jerzy infected members of the ‘Community’ with kayaking. One of the most pleased members was Fr. Wojtyła, because he discovered that a kayak gives a possibility for meditation and individual talks with a partner with whom one is sailing.

Long talks of Jurek with his uncle

Fr. Karol Wojtyła was related with the Ciesielski family – he blessed his marriage, baptized his children, visited them. ‘It was the uncle – mentioned Danuta Ciesielska – with whom Jurek talked so long when he was looking for his life path, when this path was to become ours, as well as for all years of our marriage and family. Talks, prayers, accompanying us in all moments of our life – all this created still ripening friendship. The uncle somehow participated in building our marriage relationship, he was the first one to find out about our plans and later he prayed in their intention with everybody.

Danuta and Jerzy were companions of Karol Wojtyła in tourist trips. One of them hardly finished tragically. In April 1959 bishop Wojtyła and Jerzy Ciesielski set off on a skiing trip from Hala Gąsiennicowa to Valley of Five Ponds. When they were on Zawrata, suddenly the weather got worsened. In darkness they went down towards the Five Ponds. They noticed that they had reached them only when ice started cracking under them. ‘God allowed them to reach their destination. Half-live…For me the day of 5 April remained a day of their re-births forever’ – mentioned Danuta Ciesielska in the book ‘Record of a road. Memories about unknown pastoral ministry of priest Karol Wojtyła’. But there were also funny moments. Once the Uncle had a duty of guarding a camp. ‘When we returned from our trip in the evening, the Uncle was standing at a fireplace, meditating and was drying shorts of Jurek. He was meditating and waving them over the fire so effectively that only their trouser legs remained’ – remembered Danuta Ciesielska.

Tragedy on Nile

Unfortunately, a happy marriage life did not last long. In October 1969 Jerzy Ciesielski used the suggestion of his friend - prof. Jan KantyTyszowiecki and he took over his lectures at the University in Chartum (Sudan) as the so-called visiting professor. After the first year of his stay there, he helped his wife and children to go to him there. On 9 October 1970 a tragedy happened. Jerzy Cisielski took his children for a voyage by ship on Nile. Suddenly the ship ran aground, burst and sank. His wife stayed at home that day. The oldest daughter Marysia and another young Polish woman were lucky to be saved, because they were on the upper board, whereas Jerzy went down to the cabin to put his children to sleep. Marysia luckily jumped into water and swam to the shore. Kasia, Piotruś and their father, who was such a good swimmer, drowned.

Searching for bodies was very long, and not earlier than on 23 November there was a funeral at a Graveyard in Kraków.

Archbishop Karol Wojtyła was facing a double difficult task: help his friend to go to a place of eternal rest and explain the sense of his premature death, when this beautiful, excellent man was so needed not only by his family but also the society and the Church.

Archbishop Wojtyła celebrated the Funeral Mass in the collegiate of St. Anna and then he conducted the funeral of Jerzy Ciesielski and his children – Kasia and Piotruś.

Danuta Ciesielska in her book ‘Record of a road’ mentions that when she was returning through Rome with Marysia and with ashes of her husband and children, Karol Wojtyła went to the airport to pick them up, although there were debates of the Bishops’ Synod. Many years later, in 1993 when he arrived in Sudan as pope, he mentioned his deceased friend to gathered crowds in Chartum.

The archbishop supported the Ciesielski family spiritually after Jerzy died. Danuta Ciesielska appreciated it in the beautiful words: ‘How much we owe to the Uncle – it is impossible to express it in words. We survived the next years really thanks to his prayer and presence’.

A duty of aiming at holiness

Bishop Karol Wojtyła confessed in the aforementioned article of ‘Tygodnik Powszechny’ that he felt a deep need of giving a testimony about the man at whose life he was looking closely for nearly twenty years. Once Ciesielski told him in ‘the most ordinary way’ that a duty of a Christian man is aiming at holiness.

‘There was not any unnecessary chaos in His attitude towards life – wrote bishop Wojtyła: he accepted everything as elements of his vocation, what he thought important to do or experience in certain conditions. It always created a particular measure of His engagement and made cooperation with his other people easier. In fact he was trying to make this cooperation easier. He was looking for contacts with people and he did not create any isolation towards himself. He was a man of environment, he was somehow what is expressed in the French phrase ‘chef nature’, but he could transform his ability of management into the advantage for others.

Bishop Wojtyła was one of the youngest council fathers, but he was the most experienced among them to work with laymen. What the council decree postulated about the apostolate of laymen, he had already ‘processed’ it in practice. To great extent, thanks to contacts and talks with Jerzy Ciesielski.

Cardinal Wojtyła confessed that when during the Second Vatican Council the problem of apostolate of laymen was being discussed, during the debates he often thought about Jerzy. Instinctively, I was looking for confirmations in his life’ – he mentioned.

God’s servant lived with the following maxim: ‘Each of us received a road to take, which is just our vocation. The sense of my existence depends on my faithfulness to this vocation: Your glory and our merit for the eternal happiness. Lord, help me understand my vocation every day and give me Your grace so that I would be faithful to it…’

This prayer was answered. Jerzy Ciesielski was faithful to his vocation till the end of his life. But it is not the only reason for which he can be given as an example for laymen. God’s servant was saint in everyday life, apparently banal, without any spectacular events heroism. He became a saint through inner development, his serving to his family and people, whom God had put on his way. How converge it was with one of holiness aspects, which was later shown by his friend, and a pope later, blessed John Paul II.


"Niedziela" 3/2014

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