Fr. Ireneusz Skubiś talks with senior archbishop of the archdiocese of Lublin Bolesław Pylak about the person and pastoral ministry of bishop Stefan Wyszyński in the same archdiocese

FR. IRENEUSZ SKUBIS: – The diocese of Lublin, famous for the Catholic University of Lublin, has always harmonized with the Church in Poland very well. Today it remains with its roots in decisions of Priest Archbishop, a significant pastor of this area – I remember when Your Excellency was getting retired (1997), ‘Niedziela’ with its supplement of Lublin was being circulated in Your diocese in the number of 17 400 copies! Your Excellency was the successor of bishop Stefan Wyszyński, the later great primate of Poland. How does Priest Archbishop remember him?

ARCHBISHOP BOLESLAW PYLAK: - I have always appreciated the values of the printed word – it is surely the sowing of the primate Wyszyński who was a writer and a publicist and as an Ordinary of Lublin he was taking care of readership of Catholic press, he recommended priests to set up libraries and reading rooms. And something of it remained in me.
Talking about the primate Wyszyński, I must return to the times of his cooperation as a bishop with bishop Zdzisław Goliński, in the year 1947 consecrated for his auxiliary bishop in Lublin. They created an excellent pastoral duet. At the times of imprisonment of the primate in Komańcza bishop Goliński received a letter from him, in which he wrote that it was good to work in Lublin, that he had loved the diocese of Lublin and that there was an experimental field in bishopric work there. And, indeed, when after two years and 8 months he moved to Warsaw, his style of pastoral ministry spread all over Poland. In the diocese of Lublin he worked for a very short time but he did a great work.
He was famous in Lubllin, he studied canonical law and socio-economic sciences at the Catholic University of Lublin in the years 1925 -29, he gained PhD and his PhD thesis was about: ‘Rights of the family, Church and the state to school’. He worked among students, at that time the Association of the Catholic Academic Youth ‘Revival’ was being created which had worked for many years and he was the soul of this movement, he was also an activist in ‘Bratniak’ group and he worked in the diocese. Later he returned to Włocławek and he worked very effectively socially, giving lectures at the Higher Seminary and acting, among the others, in the Union of Christian Workers, being a lecturer at the Workers’ University. When there was German occupation the year 1939, he was threatened by arrest. 1/3 priests were killed on the Western Lands during the German occupation. Bishop of Włocławek Michał Kozal advised him to go away. And then he arrived in Lublin. In 1940 he settled near Lublin, in the parish of Nasutów – some property of the Zamoyski was there. He stayed there for some time, certainly, with his changed surname because the Gestapo was looking for him, and later he moved to the residence of the Zamoyski in Kozłowka.
In 1941 – because he was not physically strong, he was threatened by tuberculosis – he went to Zakopane. At a moment a highlander advised him to go away from the city because he was wanted. He did not return to Kozłowka, because at that time the Gestapo was arresting Zamoyski and imprisoned him in the concentration camp. It would have been the same with Wyszyński. He stayed in a town Żułów near Krasnystaw. An owner of Żułów gave his property to nuns from Laski, who took care of blind people. Living conditions were very modest but he worked for nuns and blind people for the whole year. Not earlier than in 1942 did he leave Laski and he became a chaplain of nuns in a care house for the blind, and he was also a chaplain in the hospital of the National Army and he dressed wounds of the injured during the Warsaw Uprising. He experienced terrible times in Laski.
Later he left for Włocławek where he was a vice-director of the seminary. There were few priests – the Germans killed many of them – many of them had pastoral work, he also published ‘Priestly Athenaeum’. He was a man of a pen and his main interests were social issues. It was very important at those times because Poland was experiencing communist transformations.
In 1946 the Holy Father Pius XII appointed Fr. Prof. Wyszyński a bishop of Lublin. At that time I was in the third year in the seminary in Lublin. We prayed a lot for the new bishop and our joy was great when Fr. Wyszyński came to us – God’s man and so human and direct. He often came to the seminary and was interested in us. In order to serve to it, three deacons were consecrated (there were 11 clerics in our year) and I was among them. We used to go to various areas with bishop Wyszyński and often for whole weeks. He was very active and visited our southern-eastern areas, destroyed by the Ukrainian groups, by the Germans; Zamość region was being colonized by the Germans.
Travelling with bishop Wyszyński, I observed his work. He was a very hard-working man. He was talented and had an organizational gift, he was also a great theologian and he could realize theology in particular situations and conditions. He was a great pastoral talent. There were various opinions about him: a diplomat – it was probably the opinion of the Safety Office functionaries, a sociologist, a preacher, but he was first a pastor, although all these terms were very right.
At that time we needed the bishop. The diocese was very destroyed and everything had to be restored, and it was necessary to organize the curia; burned cathedral, many destroyed churches. During the German occupation the seminary had its headquarter near Lublin, in Krężnica Jara. In 1945 it was returned to Lublin but only to its previous building – the new building was first occupied and later was empty, but the authorities did not want to give it back. Bishop Wyszyński was doing everything in order to regain it. Only when cardinal Bernard Griffin, the primate of England was to arrive in Lublin, it was possible to make the authorities agree to give back the building, first the first floor and later the whole building. However, the building was destroyed because in the beginning the Germans had their hospital in it, and later the Soviets occupied it. We restored the building with our own hands, we were going to the parish to collect donations for restoration which was not easy because people were poor, the German occupation destroyed everybody but they gave a little for the seminary. Thanks to God that we rebuilt everything slowly. And bishop Wyszyński was irreplaceable here.
I served to bishop Wyszyński as a deacon. I remember when he was to come to the diocese, he wrote to Fr. Piotr Stopniak: ‘Do not prepare a special flat for me, only a simple iron bed will make. It is necessary to rebuild the cathedral and the diocese’. His modesty and poverty were striking. And what was a great experience for me was serving to him during the Holy Mass. He sometimes had to take rest when he was ill – not physically strong enough. Then I used to bring him the Holy Communion to his bedroom. I remember when during the Holy Mass we got short of the Sacramental bread (Hostia). How it happened – I do not remember. Then I ran to the cathedral to bring some Sacramental bread (Hostia) and he stayed at the altar and was peacefully waiting for my returning. I think he was praying. And what was surprising – he was not nervous but he was behaving as if nothing had happened. There was also another times when I had not discerned something at work and later I was apologizing to him, whereas he said: ‘Did you want to do it? Certainly, not’. He was very human, close and there was great holiness in him.

– What was the attitude of bishop Wyszyński towards the Catholic University of Lublin?

– The Catholic University of Lublin was his apple of the eye. Even his ingress started with the greeting at the Catholic University of Lublin. He emphasized that he took a lot of advantage at the University. In order to greet him in the cathedral, about 50 thousand people arrived from Lublin! Later I read in documents of the Safety Office that its functionaries were also surprised. As the primate he always arrived for the inauguration of the academic year at the Catholic University of Lublin. In the end of August there were Social Days – he celebrated Holy Masses in the academic church and he preached sermons. And he had a lot to say, we all were listening to him with delight. There was the Episcopal Commission for the Catholic University of Lublin which he presided over, bishop Julian Wojtkowski was a Secretary and I helped the primate a little. Bishop Wyszyński wanted to know what clerics, professors, staff, material conditions were like, and at that time the authorities were doing everything to inhibit the development of the Catholic University of Lublin. Together with the rector at that time Fr. Antoni Słomkowski, an excellent man, they created an unusual tandem full of care about the Catholic University of Lublin. I remember – already as a bishop – when at the Episcopate there was Mary’s Commission set up by the primate Wyszyński ( I was its member) within which new initiatives were created, connected with devotion to Mary and many nationwide pastoral actions.
When cardinal Wyszyński was dying, in the end of May 1981 there was a meeting of the General Council (8 bishops). He was brought to us in his wheelchair. He was very weak and said: - I do not leave you a particular plan, please, walk on the road which we have been walking on so far, and implement God’s thought in life. Later he was expressing his farewell personally with every bishop. I came up, bent with tears in my eyes because it was a very painful farewell to me and he said: ‘Bolciu, the Catholic University of Lublin has always been the subject of our care….I answered that it would also be mine. The Catholic University of Lublin was really a special value for him.

– How did bishop Wyszyński start restoring the diocese?

– It was his great work, done during two years. He made a visitation in 80 parishes. I observed his work. He was very careful and he understood the structure of the parish very well. Later he was trying to outline a very detailed picture of the parish. When did he write it? – I think that at night. As the Ordinary I used these protocols hand-written by bishop Wyszyński and I elaborate the book: ‘Stefan Wyszyński. Bishop of Lublin 1946-1949’.
My second act of gratitude is a shorter elaboration entitled: ‘Mary’s roads in life and activity of the Primate Stefan Wyszyński (1901-1981)’. Because his work was, to a large extent, the work with Mary which caused an accusation against him, as too much sentimentalism or going into folklore. But he did not pay attention to it and did what he wanted to. And the fact that Poland survived the ‘red sea’ at that time, is his great merit.
If we consider the restoration – the nation was poor but it had a great enthusiasm among people and their great sacrifice. A Pole was a brother for another Pole. Poverty also unites people. A kitchen for the poor in Zielona street is his work which has been functioning till today – at that time it was also used by teachers and students. In those conditions bishop Wyszyński was creating Caritas – an excellent organization, very effective at that time, later liquidated by the authorities which were afraid of the impact of the Church through help to people. But it was the whole problem. How much can be said about pastoral actions of bishop Wyszyński! He enlivened everything: the Third Franciscan Order, Sodality of Our Lady, Eucharistic Crusade, Rosary – he created a special Mary’s commission for Rosary. He was the son of an organist, so organists also ‘woke up’, there were various concerts of songs, there were church choirs – everything got enlivened. There were regional rosary congresses in Lublin, in Krasnobród – all this was beautifully developing. And he was the soul of this all.
Certainly, during 2 years and 8 months not everything was done. When I became his successor, I was realizing his previous plans to some extent and, once, he said to me privately: ‘You are doing discreetly what I intended to do’. I think that he meant coronation of Our Lady in Wawolnica. Later we prepared coronation of Our Lady in Janów Lubelski, in Chełm, Our Lady of Kazimierz – all this was his sowing. Surely, I was not equal to his possibilities, but I understood his plans and his spirit. And to my possibilities we were trying to cooperate with God’s grace. We built 401 churches and chapels, which was a real miracle at that time. I said about a big lack of priests. Moreover, there was the Security Office whose purpose was to impede young men to go to the seminary. And, in fact, Our Lady was our chief for vocations. I remember that in the beginning 39 candidates applied for the first year, and in the end there were 74 of them. Today the whole seminary often consists of about 100 clerics. It is Our Lady, it is God’s grace, and we are only tools…
In the end of my memories, I must emphasize that bishop Wyszyński, the later primate was a great pastor and theologian, knowing a lot about the situation in our country and distinguishing with a great pastoral talent. He was an extremely hard-working priest, very close to the man. He was an extraordinary patriot who said: ‘I love Homeland more than my own heart, and if I do something for the Church, I do it for homeland’. And this was the truth. I pray for his beatification. I also pray so that I would live till the beatification which he fully deserves because he was God’s man and was very human.

– The heroism of the virtues of cardinal Wyszyński has already been acknowledged, that is, it is a miracle, so it is very close to the beatification. Priest Archbishop will surely be its witness…

– Let God make so. We have lived till the canonization of John Paul II, and they created an excellent duet with cardinal Wyszyński. Divine Providence gave us two great saints at the times of communism. Everything is God’s grace! During every Holy Mass I pray for beatification of cardinal Stefan Wyszyński. Here, in the room, I have his picture, I bought it once during the exhibition in the cathedral. He is looking at me, engrossed in thoughts. He is surely praying for our nation, because we are taking a difficult exam. Let us pass it as best as possible with God’s help.


"Niedziela" 22/2014

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