“Do Not Grow Bored with Christ:" A Week with the Dominicans in Poland | Anthony E. Clark, Ph.D. | CWR
On a bitterly cold Sunday morning in mid-December I approached the basilica church attached to the Dominican Priory in Krakow’s Old Quarter. The church and priory are named after the Most Holy Trinity, and upon entering I saw a dense crowd of faithful flooding through the three main doors below the remarkable church façade. Fr. Ireneusz Wysokiński, OP, warned me that Masses throughout the day would all be crowded, but I was not prepared for what I encountered—extra chairs had to be set out to accommodate the overflow.
Sunday Masses in the Dominican church run all day, with a brief pause from 3-5:00 pm; the rest of the day is animated with Mass attendees. Even as I walked by other nearby churches I could see large crowds entering and leaving for Mass. The reports I had heard that Poland is a vibrantly Catholic country are true, and the ninety Dominican friars who serve in the Krakow priory are part of the central heartbeat of the city’s Catholic culture. Earlier that morning, Bro. Grzegorz Kuraś, OP, took me into the elegant church sacristy to show me historic vestments with beautiful needlework, painstakingly made by sisters as a gift to God for use in Holy Mass. The liturgy celebrated in Poland is a sumptuous feast for the senses that elevates the soul; a choir of friars intones chants throughout the Mass, and an assembly of Dominican habits surrounds the altar during the words of Consecration in a cloud of incense. No wonder their church is full—they know how to transport one’s heart and mind to God, which is what, as St. Augustine tells us, we were created for.
The long history of the Dominican priests and brothers who live in Krakow is punctuated with some of the world’s most turbulent events: two World Wars, Nazi occupation, and the harsh, anti-Christian Communist invasion of Catholic Poland. Illuminating the dark shadow of these eras is the memory of Poland’s spiritual hero, Karol Józef Wojtyła, or Pope St. John Paul II, whose image is seen in almost every part of Krakow. This holy son of Poland once said, “I kiss the soil as if I placed a kiss on the hands of a mother, for the homeland is our earthly mother,” and this love of his native country is returned to him by the thousands of young Poles I joined for Mass in Krakow’s Dominican church. On my final day in Krakow I reflected on the many countries I have visited; none has left a stronger impression of Catholic devotion and spiritual maturity as Poland, and the flourishing vocations and filled liturgies of the Dominican community there remain, at least in my mind, the best example of the “hermeneutic of continuity” discussed by Pope Benedict XVI.
For an entire week I was enfolded in the Dominican community, joining them for meals, Masses, daily prayers, and even an evening with the brothers at a local pub, where we discussed their observations of Catholic life in America. Comparing Poland, with its history of Nazi and Communist horrors, to America, with its history of economic triumph and materialism, Bro. Grzegorz Kuraś, OP, said that his largest concern for the US is that it is “growing bored with Christ.” “To all Americans,” he remarked, “I would simply say, do not grow bored with Christ.” Perhaps we Americans can learn something from the Dominican’s of Krakow, who are anything but bored with Christ, and their love of God is contagious. I cannot remember a single Mass in their huge basilica that was not filled with faithful, a very different scene than I am accustomed to in my native city.
Fr. Reginald Wiśniowski, OP
In preparation for this report I was introduced to the oldest Dominican priest in Poland, Fr. Reginald Wiśniowski, OP, who is now ninety-four years old, and has lived through Nazi and Communist occupations, and has worn the Dominican habit since 1939.