God bless you, always watchful!
He tried to fulfil his mission till the end of his life. He did not think about himself. First of all he thought about his Homeland and the Association of Relatives of the Victims of Katyn (Rodzina Katynska) whom he served as a chaplain. Rev. Monsignor Zdzislaw Peszkowski died on 8 October 2007 at the age of 89.
He was always full of energy. Even towards the end of his life he was very active. He took part in many ceremonies, conferences; he met many people. He knew how to tell stories; he was the soul of the party. He travelled a lot. ‘I often learnt about the place of his stay from the media’, says Fr Andrzej Tulej, the neighbour of Fr Peszkowski. The chaplain for the Association of Relatives of the Victims of Katyn did not avoid journalists. He was eager to make appointments with them and give interviews. ‘God bless you, always watchful!, he greeted us in his characteristic way in his flat in the Old Town in Warsaw.
His strength was our strength
The Relatives of the Victims of Katyn treated Fr Peszkowski as their elder brother or father. He was someone very important, someone to whom you could go with a request or a problem. ‘We felt his strength that gave us strength. The gap that is now will be difficult to bridge’, says Andrzej Skapski, the chairman of the Board of the Association, for KAI. ‘For us, for Relatives of the Victims of Katyn, he was the witness of the crimes, those horrible days; someone who was with our fathers to the very end in the camp in Kozielsk. And it was extremely important to us that we have the man who was present when they went to meet their deaths,’ adds Skapski. At the same time he reminds us that Fr Peszkowski spoke about the massacre of Katyn in Great Britain and the United States in those days when one was not allowed to speak about that in Poland. When we could found the Association of Relatives of the Victims of Katyn after 1989, he came to us as a man whose authority was known and he supported us using his authority,’ emphasizes Skapski. The news of the death of Fr Peszkowski moved Poland’s highest authorities, the government and the hierarchs of the Church. ‘He was an outstanding personality and I am very sorry that this man characterised by extraordinary dynamics of Polishness passed away’, said the Primate of Poland Cardinal Jozef Glemp. In turn, Kazimierz Michal Ujazdowski, Minister of Culture and National Heritage, stressed that Fr Peszkowski’s life showed how important the role of the Church in the Polish history was. ‘The merits of Monsignor Peszkowski as a wonderful chaplain for the Polish pro-independence immigrants, completely dedicated to the Relatives of the Victims of Katyn, cannot be overestimated. He had a big priestly heart and was known for his goodness. He fought for the truth and memory of his brothers in arms, killed and murdered on ‘the inhuman land’. We are very much obliged to him for that,’ said Ujazdowski after having heard of Fr Peszkowski’s death.
He miraculously escaped death
Fr Zdzislaw Peszkowski was born in Sanok in 1918. He loved scouting and he entered the School of Cavalry Cadets in Grudziadz. During the war he enlisted in the 20th Cavalry Regiment named after King John III Sobieski in Rzeszow. He became war prisoner in Russia and was in the camp of Kozielsk. ‘I miraculously escaped death in Katyn’, he recollected after years. After the war he entered the Major Seminary at Orchard Lake in the U.S.A. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1954. He studied at the Universities of Wisconsin, Detroit and London. He received Master of Theology degree and Doctor of Philosophy. He lectured pastoral theology and Polish literature. He was the chief chaplain for the Polish Scouting Association outside Poland and moderator of the Ministry to the Sick of Polonia. He returned to Poland in 1994. He was the chaplain for the Association of Relatives of the Victims of Katyn and the Murdered in the East. He did his best to keep the memory of the Murdered in the East. ‘When I became priest I celebrated my first Mass for my colleagues who were murdered in the East. When I returned to Poland I cared for the relatives of those who had been murdered in the East. My aim was that the relatives of the victims stopped being afraid. I gathered the relatives of the victims of Katyn from all Polish towns. I challenged them: build monuments to the victims of Katyn in every town. And they slowly mended their ways. They began speaking about Katyn’, recollected Fr Peszkowski. On another occasion he summarised his life, ‘My life was just one astonishment at the greatness and mercy of God.’
The article was based on my own information and the KAI news.