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From Polish priest to Aussie bishop

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While Bishop Karol Kulczycki SDS was quarantining in an Adelaide hotel, JENNY BRINKWORTH emailed him some questions about his journey from Polish priest to Bishop of the Port Pirie Diocese. <br />

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What motivated you to become a priest – did you pursue any other career/studies before joining the seminary?

After concluding primary school, I decided to go for the lower level of high school just preparing me for a job. I wanted to be a car mechanic. After concluding three years of this school, I decided to go for the higher level of school to allow me to enter university in the future.

During that time, I was around 18 years old and I received an invitation from the religious order called Salvatorians to attend a holiday/retreat at the Baltic Sea. I didn’t want to go there on my own, so I convinced my friend to go with me telling him that no-one is able to make us priests. In that moment of my life if anyone would tell me that I could be a priest in the future I would answer that it will be a joke of the century.

During that retreat a priest asked us to pray silently for 30 minutes at the Blessed Sacrament. I never prayed in my life for that long, so I took some prayer books to fill the time. Traditional prayers took 15 minutes and I had 15 minutes to go in silence. One sentence from the homily came to my heart: ‘What about you, if God calls you to follow Him, what would you do?’ For the first time in my life, the thought appeared in my heart that God may call me to follow Him. I knew that I had to continue my high school for three more years, so I made a deal with God: if that thought about priesthood stays in my heart for the next three years, I will follow Him but if not, I will follow my plans. God won that deal.

Why did you choose to join the Salvatorians? Who are they?

To follow God in religious priesthood was a simple choice for me. During retreats I had a chance to know more about Salvatorians and learned about differences between Religious and diocesan priesthood. Salvatorians were the one which God placed in my life, so I decided to become a Salvatorian.

The Society of the Divine Saviour, commonly known as Salvatorians, was founded by Father Francis Jordan in 1881. The aim of the Society is to make the Saviour more widely known and loved in the world of today.

The founder of the Salvatorians was a man of vision who wanted to open up to as many people as possible to the truth of the Catholic faith “that all may know the goodness and kindness of the Saviour”. He wanted to mobilise priests and lay people for this purpose using every means at their disposal, especially the press.

Fr Jordan first rented rooms at Santa Brigida in the Piazza Farnesse in Rome and set up a printing press. Soon the new group moved to its present location at Via della Conciliazione and quickly expanded into many countries throughout the world.

What did your role as vice-provincial of the Polish province involve?

I supported the provincial and in the case of his absence fulfilled his role. Practically, it was administrative duties participating in many different commissions, attending a lot of meetings and liturgies, visiting Salvatorian communities around the world, coordinating some conferences. During my time in Poland, I was appointed a spiritual director to the Lay Salvatorians.

Was it a surprise to learn you had been appointed Bishop of Port Pirie? What were your immediate thoughts?

It came like lighting in the sunny day – if I can use such expression. I did not expect such an appointment, neither did I desire such ministry. First thought – why me and where is Port Pirie? I have spent over 20 years in Western Australia and know almost every main road in that state but Port Pirie, I’d never heard about it. From the human perspective I should reject it but again I have a little deal with God. In my daily personal prayers I am entrusting myself to Him so that He could work through me. In order to do so I must listen to the order given to me, then He can use me, maybe He is using me already. In the moment of confirming this episcopal appointment this prayer came to my heart.

Have you been to South Australia? And how did you end up in Australia in the first place?

As far as I remember I was only once in Adelaide and it was quite a few years ago. I came to Australia in October 1997. After my priestly ordination in 1994 I was serving in the Salvatorian Vocation Ministry Office but in my heart I felt a call to serve somewhere in the missionary countries. I had not considered Australia as a missionary country, so I had not desired to go there. During that time one of our priests who worked in Australia came for his holiday and showed me some photos of country Australia. So I thought – maybe it is not a missionary country but at least some of it looks to be.

How challenging has it been to be appointed and ordained during the COVID-19 pandemic?

After receiving the official appointment, I realised that despite the COVID-19 restrictions I have to organise dates for my ordination and installation and travel across continents. Initially I thought that I would not be able to so, yet with God’s help and with support from many friends it was possible.

Have you had much contact with Bishop O’Kelly SJ and the people of the diocese yet?

I am very much grateful to Bishop O’Kelly. From the first day of my appointment, he contacted me over the phone with a welcome message from him and the people of Port Pirie. Since day one till today we chat almost every day over the phone. I received also quite a few welcome messages from priests of the Port Pirie Diocese.

 

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