The way home
One can see a new roof of the school in Godynice from a distance; the old school was built during the reign of the tsar. When we approach it we can see an inscription over the door 'Swiatelko' [Little Light]. Inside the house I get to know the tutors who are not employed full-time but are here for good, and I meet Sr Elzbieta, an Ursuline nun, whose determination and endurance in storming heaven, have led to creating 'Swiatelko'. I get to know twenty children with whom nobody would like to exchange his CV.
The first work was a day-care room called 'Swiatelko dzikuska' [Light of loner]. This name, which is slightly shocking, refers to St Urszula Ledochowska, Foundress of Congregation of Ursuline Sisters of Agonizing Heart of Jesus, whose charisma includes youth education. Sister Urszula wrote that contemporary man, especially a young man, felt a burden of 'loner' and at the same time he wanted to be a nobler, more perfect person, he sought ideals and ways to bury 'loner' and become 'a new creation'.
Sr Elzbieta, a nurse by profession, created the day-care room in question. At some stage of her religious life she was walking along the streets of Sieradz and visiting the sick. Strictly speaking, it was the doctors that asked her to visit concrete families and give injections since 'in those houses children will not be given pills in a proper way'. The police knew those families very well because of their frequent carousals, brawls and conflicts with the law. And the victims were first of all the children. It was painful to listen to their confidence: that under pressure of beating and hunger they were forced to steal, that they wore two pairs of trousers so that they would feel 'less pain', that no laundry was done and dirty clothes were burnt in a stove, and that school mates called them 'dirty pigs' and 'stinkers'.
Sr Elzbieta began organizing help: clothes, bread, school equipment. But she quickly understood that was only short-term relief, which did not solve the fundamental problems. That matter was haunting her. The superior of the cloister in Sieradz agreed to create a day-care room in the former catechetical classroom. The room was prepared for 24 kids but on the day of its dedication, 2 February 1991, 46 children turned up.
- I have neither a clear vision how to organize work in such a room nor I have money, Sr Elzbieta says.
- There were children and their needs; rejected children, hurt by their closest families, with their whole beings they call for love, not love expressed by words and declarations, but real, true love. That defined the way and form of help.
Little is needed to get good out of people
She had to ask her superior to enlarge the day-care room. A bathroom was built (with a bath and a washing machine). A place for kitchen was found. At the same time the tutors got to know their charges, they learnt from one another and created a feeling of safety and acceptance. Thanks to help of some laymen the children laboriously began catching up with the school subjects; they were taught hygiene. There was time for work and fun as well as for prayer. The children helped to prepare meals and they went shopping. In summer and during school breaks they took part in excursions. Soon it turned out that little was needed to get good out of the children, awake their talents and show them a way to normal life.
- It is possible to 'bury a loner' in very many cases, Sr Elzbieta says. 'Today a majority of our charges completed high school and some graduated from universities, got married, have jobs. One of them became a priest, and is on missions in Venezuela at the moment. I keep seeing some charges, unfortunately, at the shops selling alcohol. They always bow kindly and, with deeply hidden hope, I carry them in my heart.'
With the help of Saint Urszula
The number of children in the day-care room increased. With time it occurred that some families got worse and worse and there were cases involving limitation of paternal authority.
- I knew I could not let children solve their problems themselves. After all they trusted me, they tried to gain confidence and find sense of life. If I agreed to have them live in an orphanage that would mean another rejection. The only solution was to create a real home for them. But I was afraid of one thing: did I bite off more than I could chew?
The decision was taken after one weak of Ignatian Exercises.
- It was a time of grace for me but it was also a time of inner struggle because it seemed to me that the task was beyond my strengths and possibilities. Finally, I found my way. I said 'Yes' to God whom I saw in the kids.
Further steps: consent of the superiors to create a new work, defining formal and legal foundations of the house, finding a building and finances: all those things were more and more difficult to do. It seemed that at the stage of finding a proper building the idea would fall through since the buildings she saw were not good at all.
Nine years passed from her arrival in Godynice in May 2006, and exactly it was the day she was to see the old school. She saw ruins: the ceilings, plaster, installations were torn off and the windows were broken. It was the children's enthusiasm and the expert's opinion (he said that the walls and basement were strong and the building was worth investing) that took precedence.
I wish such actions were filmed because the story how she strove to get funds and building materials would make a good screenplay. Sr Elzbieta said that she would not do anything without Saint Urszula's help. When the family situation of some children became very dramatic, on 29 May 1998, feast of the Foundress, Sr Elzbieta put the saint's relics into a pocket of her habit and went to see the director of the building company in Sieradz, asking him to begin repairs.
- At that time we did not have a penny but we paid all our bills in scheduled time.
Under our own roof
The way the house was going to function was determined much earlier than 6 January 1999 when Sr Elzbieta arrived with the first group of children. The house was to function without any full time cleaners, cooks and educators. The house was divided into four families, each having a three or four room set with a bathroom.
- I wanted the tutors to take on the responsibilities and roles of parents. In 'List' [Letter] we placed an announcement that we lived in a community, provide accommodation and meals. Instead of salary - pocket money. We gradually received offers of people who accepted those conditions and who wanted to perform the role of loving and caring parents, skilfully leading people to mature, teaching children how to run a house, and first of all teaching them to build their lives on God, his love and Providence.
Our guests often envy us beautifully arranged rooms, a small hall and perfectly arranged environment. The family of 'Swiatelko' afforded a day-care room in a separate building, a yard and playground, orchard, vegetable garden and pond. Even the youngest kids helped in those works as much as they could. They were also lean days. Nobody protested to use coloured jars when there were no glasses. Children's reactions were moving: when there was no money one boy suggested to use the money he received as a gift on the day of his first communion... The relationships between children and their natural parents with whom they were in touch are also important. Children visit them, invite for 'light' celebrations. Sometimes Sr Elzbieta helped a father or mother go to hospital. One mother spent her last six months of life in 'Swiatelko'. Children do not hate their natural parents and they are not hurt although it is no easy to make them assume such an attitude. But peace, joy and renewed relationships give more and therefore, it is worth trying.