Student Pastoral Centre – completion of higher education
Fr. IRENEUSZ SKUBIŚ
The Technical University of Czestochowa is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. This is a wonderful anniversary marked by the difficult history of our country but also rich in fruit of the work of many outstanding scientists of this university and its alumni. Today I would like to focus on another aspect connected with this higher school, namely the student pastoral centre that has developed because of this university. Since the student chaplaincy was called into being in 1951 by Bishop Zdzislaw Golinski to ensure pastoral care for students. We should add that it was the Jesuits who started working with students in an informal way before that date.
In 1965 Bishop Stefan Barela of Czestochowa proposed to me – a young priest – to minister to students enrolled in various higher schools in Czestochowa. I must admit that I was afraid of that task. At first, my predecessor Rev. Msg Zdzislaw Wajzner helped me. Since in those communist times it was not easy to work with young people. It was work in secret to a larger extent because of the repressions that the young people who wanted to have closer contacts with the Church experienced. We did not have our own venue, either. In fact, there was the Church of the Name of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Third Avenue, next to the Bishops’ Curia, where Masses could be celebrated but there was no meeting place, and student ministry has many elements of formation. After Sunday Masses and Masses celebrated on weekdays young people waited for me and then we went to the nearby House of Priests Emeritus where the student chaplains lived and we had long talks. However, it was not easy because the old priests wanted quiet, especially in the evening, and our Masses began at 19.15.
Trying to meet the needs of the beloved youth Bishop Stefan Barela agreed to prepare some basement halls in the building of the curia and that is how our centre began. We felt the fatherly friendship of our bishop who used to visit us frequently. But before he could visit us we had built this house of ours with pains. Naturally, we called it ‘The Cellar’. We had a meeting hall, a library and even a chapel with the Blessed Sacrament there. The academic choir held its rehearsals there. We often invited speakers. Such meetings were usually held in the church after Mass but the discussions were conducted in the Cellar. The speakers included the known authorities, including the opposition leaders. And the Secret Services watched them very carefully.
The student centre organised summer events, too. These were hiking camps (in the Tatras or the Sudety Mountains) and camps near the lakes (famous Ogonki near Wegorzewo), raids, etc. Then we organised trips abroad. We felt wonderful together. The characteristic of the community was the family mood and such family relationships have survived until today. Naturally, we realised a concrete programme of pastoral work. The young people could borrow books concerning spiritual growth, which were then difficult to get. But the most important thing was our common prayer, including monthly vigils at Jasna Gora (11/12 night of the month) as well as meetings and talks.
Today I sometimes look through the files of the Institute of National Remembrance. Many of my former students have such files and from time to time they get them and bring them to their former chaplain. I dare to say that although the files have names they actually depict ‘Fr Ireneusz’. Since the students were watched because of what their priest was doing. Therefore, the files tell the story of the student centre and I am astonished what great things we did then. Now all of us can feel satisfaction that we served the righteous cause, faithful to God and Homeland. Of course, as it happened in all environments there were also those who decided to collaborate with the Secret Services but they were exceptions. Those young people loathed informing on others. They realised that we did not do anything wrong in our student centre and wanted to have clear conscience. And the ‘sad men’ harassed us in various ways. I helped the young people find themselves in the difficult situation, stressing that they should not go to the police unless they received written summons and the SB was afraid of that evidence of their wicked work. Needless to say, we knew that the SB officers were watching and tapping us as well as taking pictures during our retreats, pilgrimages or other special occasions but that only built deeper relationships in the community and strengthened its righteousness. The pastoral centre would have not existed if there had been no university. However, because of the above-mentioned circumstances the relationships between the academic staff and the pastoral centre were not strong although there were eminent and courageous academic teachers, too. They also created an atmosphere of support for the pastoral formation, which could be felt in spite of all the problems. Our work assumed a slightly different dimension after the election of Cardinal Karol Wojtyla to papacy. Then we decided to publish, omitting the censorship, the so-called Church Monitor (1978-81), in which we transmitted to those who were interested the news we had heard on the Vatican radio. Let me remind you that we heard the programmes with great difficulty because they were jammed.
Today as a witness of that long period of some peculiar life of students around the University of Czestochowa and their educator I can say that we have educated beautiful youth whose majority passed the exam of their lives. Many have made great carriers, many are businessmen but the student chaplaincy marked each of us in a special way, the way that saves their lives. Fr Karol Wojtyla who also worked with young people understood this role of youth ministry. Therefore, when we, with a group of student chaplains in Poland, had a chance to meet him as the Pope in the Vatican gardens we felt a perfect understanding between us.
Now I have tried to fulfil my new duties zealously. After me, from 1982 the student chaplains were: Fr Marian Duda, from 1989 – Fr Zdzislaw Zgrzebny; from 1998 – Fr Andrzej Przybylski and since 2008 the chaplain has been Fr Marek Bator, but the academic chaplaincy has helped me to find the way to ‘Niedziela’ as a modern and deepened Catholic paper. And I am grateful to God for all the wonderful experiences of my youth in the pastoral work in Czestochowa.