The Southern Cross The Southern Cross

Read the latest edition. Latest edition

Heritage listing for 'young' Polish church


The Catholic Church of St Maximilian Kolbe at Ottoway has become the youngest Catholic church to be listed on the State Heritage Register.

Comments Print article

Built in 1985, the church is the cultural and spiritual hub of the Polish Catholic community. It was named after Auschwitz martyr St Maximilian Kolbe who took the place of another prisoner in a starvation bunker and two weeks later was executed.

The church contains a number of holy relics including facial hair from St Maximilian Kolbe’s beard, original ashes from the crematorium at Auschwitz, a piece of bone belonging to St Faustina Kowalska (author of the image of the Divine Mercy), a blood relic of St John Paul II and a piece of marble stone from the original tomb of St Peter the Apostle.

The South Australian Heritage Council highlighted the architectural design of the church which is modelled on a polish mountain hut and symbolises the safety and shelter offered within its walls.

“The church features prominent stained-glass windows, a notable mosaic behind the altar and several significant relics associated with St Maximilian Kolbe and Auschwitz,” the Council said in its summary of the listing.

“The main stained-glass window above the front entrance directly references Auschwitz, and the mosaic behind the altar depicts the burdens carried by humanity, and references both tragedy and hope.

“Overall, the church stands as a symbol of the cultural and spiritual beliefs of its congregation, many of whom experienced the horror of Auschwitz where more than a million people lost their life.”

The Council also noted the church’s association with prominent Polish-born SA artist Stan Ostoja-Kotkowski AM (deceased) whose design of the altar mosaic reflects his own personal war-time experiences in Germany and his close connection with the Polish community.

The St Maximilian Kolbe Church replaced the 1953 St Joseph the Worker Church after it was destroyed by fire in 1983. St Joseph’s was built to accommodate the growing multicultural Catholic community following the devastation of World War II and Australia’s subsequent post-war immigration policy.

The community worked together to raise money to build the church and had considerable input into its design. The only Polish church built in SA during the wave of immigration from Communist Poland, the congregation of St Maximilian Kolbe is significantly younger than others and remains a vibrant community today.

Fr Marian, who was the priest responsible for the building of church, said it symbolised sacrifice and devotion of the men following Jesus Christ with their own crosses.

“The faithful who are looking at the mosaic on the front wall can identify themselves with the suffering people in the different parts of the world,” he said.

“Every sacrifice of the Holy Mass can bring them awareness that they are not alone but are connected with the paschal mystery of death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

“The Polish community feels this union with God in a particular way because its history is full of pain and separation during the time of war and persecution.

“The building of the church of St Maximilian Maria Kolbe has not only a commemorative aspect for our community but is also a very providential event for all who are looking for consolation in our uncertain and difficult times.”

Fr Marian said when he found a picture of St Maximilian Kolbe amid the ruins of the burnt Church of St Joseph, it confirmed for him that the existence of such a church would “undoubtedly lead the multicultural community of the faithful in Australia to a great awareness and recognition of the person who became the new saint in the Catholic Church”.

“His message of love, sacrifice and forgiveness brings an incredible appeal to our world,” Fr Marian said.

“I was also convinced that the man, Franciszek Gajowniczek, saved by St Maximilian Kolbe from the bunker of hunger in the concentration camp in Auschwitz will be a close figure not only to the parishioners of Ottoway who talked to him in Rome after the Second  World War, but also to others who would attend this church.

“His figure would represent for all of us the idea of hope, peace and salvation in Jesus Christ.”

While the basis of the heritage-listing of the church lay in the commemoration of the sacrificial death of this new martyr of the Catholic Church, Fr Marian also noted the significance of the authentic relics, symbols, pictures, statues and marble cornerstone from the sepulchre of St Peter’s in Rome which were offered by Church Institutions from various countries of the world.

He hoped that the anniversary of the death of St Maximilian Kolbe on August 14 1941 and the consecration of the church on January 26 1986 would be opportunities to celebrate the heritage importance of the church to South Australia.

Additionally, this year the Congregation of the Resurrection Fathers would welcome Bishop Wieslaw Spiewak, of Bermuda Island, who would celebrate Mass on November 11, the national feast of the 100th anniversary of Poland regaining independence.



Show comments Hide comments
Will my comment be published? Read the guidelines.

More News stories

Loading next article