My adventure with Domeyko

Anna Cichoblazinska talks to Prof. Zdzislaw Jan Ryn, the former Polish Ambassador to Chile and Bolivia, and a biographer of Ignacy Domeyko.

ANNA CICHOBLAZINSKA: - You have dealt with the person of Ignacy Domeyko, his life and work, for many years. We got to know the ancestor of Domeyko while reading our national epos; in school we learnt about the connections of Domeyko and Mickiewicz and other Filomaci (student organisation), about Domeyko's participation in the November Uprising and the immigration but why his beautification? We do not know this side of Domeyko's personality...

PROF. ZDZISLAW JAN RYN: - After the death of Ignacy Domeyko (23 January 1889) Santiago de Chile announced national mourning. The funeral, attended by the most outstanding personalities of the Government and the Parliament, organised at state expense, was a great manifestation and it honoured him as a scientist, professor and university rector. The students unharnessed the horses and drew the carriage with Domeyko's coffin to the cathedral. When he was alive people addressed him 'Don Ignacio Domeyko, Gran Sabio Polaco. He was a sage, a Christian and artist. Miguel Amunátegui, the Chilean biographer of Domeyko, wrote, 'His brain is like a temple, on the altar of which God rests, and on the side altars, on the right rests science and on the left rests art'.
Domeyko was a pioneer of what the Holy Father John Paul II dealt with, i.e. connecting science and faith. For ten years efforts have been made to declare him Venerable. Domeyko was an eminent scientist, mathematician, geologist, teacher and organiser but most of all he prayed on the peaks of the Andes. There is much evidence that he died in the opinion of sanctity. He combined excellent creative intelligence with sensitivity and deep spirituality. This was a great figure for Chile but also for Poland. Domeyko would have been an ideal patron of all Poles if he had not left his Homeland. A great patriot, a man of science and faith. One of his sons became a Catholic priest and his grandson is a monk. For millions of those who recognise their Polish background he is a symbol of the Polish immigrant, who could not work for the Homeland and dedicated his life, work and knowledge to his adopted country. For years I have been working on creating a specific lobby for the cause of his beautification.

- And how is this process going on in Chile?

- In 1996 a group of postulators that aims at opening the cause for Domeyko was created in Santiago de Chile. The cause for beautification of Domeyko comes under the Cardinal of Santiago de Chile. Efforts have been made only for ten years. One of the formal conditions of the process was to prepare a detailed biography of Domeyko and a bibliography of his works, i.e. what was written about Domeyko and what he wrote himself. That was my task. I dedicated ten years of Benedictine work in libraries, archives and private collections. I collected materials all over the world. The new book about Domeyko contains a calendar of his life and was written like "The Calendar of the Life of Karol Wojtyla' by Fr Adam Boniecki. This is a kind of biography, which includes the letter writing of Domeyko. The letters contain many features of Domeyko's personality: his scientific achievements, travels, family, spiritual character and religiousness. Three books have been written. The first was published in two languages. The second one contains the world events related to Domeyko in 2002, the year that UNESCO declared as International Year of Ignacy Domeyko. The third biography has just appeared. And the fourth one is being printed. When I completed those books I felt I had fulfilled my task.
My last visit to Chile was to create a group of Chilean personalities. The aim of the group will be to raise funds to translate the two volumes, each contains 800 pages, into Spanish. These are big costs. However, I think that we should find means in Poland and not to beg for Domeyko in the world. But only after these books have been translated and printed the local cardinal in Santiago de Chile, after studying them, can appoint a civil commission and an ecclesiastical commission to examine whether there are no obstacles to declare him Venerable.
Anita Domeyko Alamos, the 104-year-old granddaughter of the scientist cried when I handed her the first copy of the book. She cannot see well, so she stroked the cover and was deeply moved. I am proud of being her friend from the moment I met her in 1991. Since that time she has said good-bye to me as if it was our last meeting. I tell her that I am coming back to Santiago in a few months. And she says she will wait for me. She has waited for 17 years.

- In what ways is Domeyko present in the Chilean culture?

- The expression of Domeyko's presence is about 140 eponyms (names) with his surname. Domeyko Cordillera, Domeyko Cultural Corporation, Pueblo de Domeyko, Domeyko Glazier, numerous museums, societies...UNESCO declared the year 2002 as International Year of Domeyko. During that year 21 books and almost 1,000 articles about Domeyko were published, 30 conferences, including 20 international ones, were organised worldwide. The world got to know that fifty years of Domeyko's presence in Chile left visible marks in science, culture and economy of this country. He transformed hand mining into professional industry. He discovered and described the natural resources and geological structure of this country. He educated many generations of specialists in mining. He published the first textbooks on geology and mineralogy. He was the co-founder and reformer of the Chilean University. Being the University Delegate and then Rector he influenced higher education and schools for 30 years. In Chile he was acknowledged as the father of mining education, the father of astronomy, the advocate of the civil rights of the native Indians, the apostle of science and education.
It is worth knowing that four nations claimed his membership: Polish (Domeyko felt he was Polish), Lithuanian (he was born in Lithuania), Belarusian (his home town Niedzwiadka is in Belarus now) and Chilean (Chile was his adopted country and gave him honorary citizenship). Examining and describing Domeyko's life I reached all the places he exerted strong influence.

- Through your diplomatic service, participation in the Andean trips and scientific visits you have been connected with Latin America in a special way.

- That's right. I spent about 14 years in Latin America. Although my beloved country is Indian Bolivia my biggest bonds are with Chile. I am unable to use all invitations I receive from Chile. I am named by three universities as a Honorary Professor, Honorary Citizen of two cities: La Serena (cultural capital of Chile and twin city of Krakow) and Coquimbo (twin city of Elblag), Honorary Member of the Chilean Institute (Academy of Medicine), which follows the pattern of the French Institute. It is worth mentioning that the Holy Father is Honorary Member of the Academy of Literature at this Institute. I am Honorary Member of the Federation of Andean Mountaineering and Skiing and of several scientific societies: neurology and psychiatry, aerospace and cosmic medicine as well as society of history and geography. In Chile my book 'El dolor tiene mil rostros. Juan Pablo II y los enfermos' (Suffering Has Thousands of Faces. John Paul II and the Sick). I initiated a laboratory of mountain medicine in the Andes in the former gold mine El Indio. Recently I have become Honorary Member of the Peruvian Academy of Health, correspondent member of the Peruvian Geographical Society and what is most valuable to me honorary doctor of Universidad Cientifica del Sur in Lima. Sometimes I have somewhat paradoxical impressions that my bonds with that part of the world are stronger than with Poland.

- So it seems that Latin America has become your second homeland.

- I regard it as my second homeland and I am connected to the Polish immigrants in Latin America in a special way. I am Honorary Member of the Polish Union in Chile, and I contributed to its origin. Similarly, I am a member of the Polish Immigrants' Association in Mendoza. Finally, the Polish environments became integrated and the Union of Polish Associations and Organisations In Latin America (USOPAL) was created and it has been directed by its tireless President Jan Kobylanski from Uruguay. The Polonia in Brazil and Argentina originated before the war, Poles went there 'for bread'. Thousands of ordinary people who cleared the jungle. Currently, there are the second and the third generations of Polish immigrants. They made a fortune, established themselves on a firm financial footing. They identify themselves with Polishness, cultivate Polish language and culture, and have strong bonds with the Polish Catholic mission and the missionaries. I have learnt patriotism from those Poles in Latin America. I did not know what longing for the country meant until I got to know them. I completed the best school of understanding what it meant to be Polish at the farthest ends of the earth.

- Thank you for the conversation.

1. Ignacy Domeyko. Obywatel swiata. Ignacio Domeyko. Ciudadano del Mundo, Ed. Zdzislaw Jan Ryn, Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Jagiellonskiego, Kraków 2002.
2. Ryn Z.J.: Rok Ignacego Domeyki 2002, Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Jagiellonskiego, Kraków 2003.
3. Ryn Z.J.: Ignacy Domeyko. Kalendarium zycia, Wydawnictwo Polskiej Akademii Umiejetnosci, Uniwersytet Jagiellonski, Akademia Gorniczo-Hutnicza, Kraków 2006.
4. Ryn Z.J.: Ignacy Domeyko. Bibliografia, Wydawnictwo Polskiej Akademii Umiejetnosci, Uniwersytet Jagiellonski, Akademia Górniczo-Hutnicza, Kraków 2007.

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