Pope's recognition of Fr. Ignacy Posadzy's heroic virtues is an acknowledgement of Polish contributions around the world
STERLING HEIGHTS — Fr. Jan Michalski, SChr., remembers being a third-year seminarian seeing Fr. Ignacy Posadzy at the Society of Christ’s seminary in Poznan, Poland, and Fr. Posadzy was the stuff of legend.
Fr. Posadzy co-founded the Society of Christ with the Venerable Cardinal August Hlond, archbishop of Poznan and Gniezno and primate of Poland in 1948, and Fr. Posadzy made it a point to visit the congregation’s newest vocations.
“I met him as a young seminarian and even participated in his funeral,” Fr. Michalski, who leads Our Lady of Czestochowa Parish in Sterling Heights, told Detroit Catholic. “I remember the general opinion of him was that he was a very kind and faithful person. He enjoyed increasing the community. He was a shy person, but concerned about how the community developed. Every new vocation was a new joy for him.”
Fr. Posadzy passed away on Jan. 17, 1984, and on Dec. 17, 2022, Pope Francis declared Fr. Posadzy "venerable," recognizing his heroic virtue in organizing the Society of Christ, a religious congregation of the pontifical rite dedicated to serving the religious needs of Polish communities around the world.
“It was a great honor for the congregation, to meet a person who had just become blessed,” Fr. Michalski said. “Every congregation has the desire for the founder, co-founder to become holy. This is a natural thing that takes many years, many priests testifying how he was dedicated to the Church.”
Ignacy Posadzy was born on Feb. 17, 1898, in Szadlowice near Inowroclaw in Poland to Jakub and Katarzyna (Pawlak) Posadzy. He entered the seminary in Poznan in 1917 and was ordained by Bishop W. Kloske in Gniezno, Poland, on Feb. 19, 1921.
The second Polish republic was founded in 1918 in the wake of the end of World War I, but there were many Polish communities outside of the new country’s borders. Fr. Posadzy visited Polish communities in Germany, Denmark and Romania, noting the spiritual needs of the Polish diaspora.
Eventually, Cardinal Hlond asked him to be the general superior of a new congregation that would dedicate itself to serving the spiritual needs of Polish communities around the world.
“In Poland, Cardinal Hlond began to popularize the idea of pastoral care for the Polish emigrants,” Fr. Michalski said. “He visited rich landowners in Wielkopolska and asked them to help the new congregation by providing accommodation and food, unfortunately, to no avail. Countess Aniela Potulicka agreed to give her palace in Potulice near Naklo, and Cardinal Hlond agreed.”
The next day, Aug. 23, 1932, Fr. Posadzy and a group of candidates formed the Society of Christ.
The congregation grew to 20 priests, 86 seminarians, and 200 religious brothers, but the German invasion of Poland in 1939 hindered the congregation’s growth, as the German secret police — the Gestapo — “blacklisted” the Society of Christ for being “too Polish.”
“Fr. Posadzy, as superior general, ordered to disperse so that the confreres could avoid arrest,” Fr. Michalski said. “They continued to study in hiding, and the Sisters of the Sacred Heart provided housing and food. During the war, 43 seminarians were ordained as priests. Some priests worked on the orders of Fr. Posadzy in internment camps for Poles. Others were arrested and imprisoned in concentration camps.”
After the war, the Society of Christ returned to Poznan and renewed its work of preaching to Polish communities across the world.
Initially, the newly established communist government in Poland didn’t allow Poles to leave Poland, but the Society of Christ had a mission in ministering to Polish citizens who were relocated to Western Pomerania and Silesia, territories that used to be German but became part of Poland after World War II and the redrawing maps that saw Poland’s borders shift to the west.
The 1956 “Polish October” saw a few changes in communist Poland, including an easing of issues of passports, allowing the Society of Christ to operate more foreign missions.
The first Society of Christ parish was founded in Calgary, Alberta, in Canada, and the congregation eventually spread from the Atlantic to the Pacific in the United States and Canada, with the main concentration of parishes in the Chicago area, but with two in the Archdiocese of Detroit: Our Lady of Czestochowa and St. Florian Parish in Hamtramck.
“This place (the rectory at Our Lady of Czestochowa) has been the provincial house for maybe 20 years,” Fr. Michalski said. “We now have some 20 churches coast to coast, and the provincial house is now in Lombard, Illinois, in the Diocese of Joliet. We minister not only to the Polish communities but the American parishioners, the other communities in the area.”
Today’s Society of Christ parishes offer Masses in Polish and English and are expected to serve not only the first-, second- and third-generation Polish parishioners, but parishioners of all ethnicities, Fr. Michalski said.
Most Society of Christ vocations come from Poland, but more and more come from Polish communities in Ukraine, Brazil and the United States who want to study in Poland and keep the Polish traditions of the faith in living in historically Polish parishes.
However, more and more Society of Christ parishes are reaching out to the wider community while still preserving the Polish traditions of the parish, but recognizing it is not sustainable to only minister to the Polish diaspora as more and more Polish-Americans assimilate into the wider culture.
“We always from the beginning reach out to the local community,” Fr. Michalski said. “It’s impossible to carry out a Polish apostolate with only caring for the Polish. For example, this parish is typically Polish, so we mostly had Polish Mass and only two English Masses, and the homilies were in Polish and English. But now, we have a lot of Chaldean people moving to the area and coming to church. So we’ll have more English Masses. We still have our roots, but we’re expanding out.”
Fr. Posadzy’s legacy, along with Venerable Cardinal Hlond’s, is the many Polish communities throughout the world that retain their Polish heritage while practicing their faith.
“There is a saying of Society of Christ founder Cardinal Hlond that, ‘Polish souls are dying in exile and they need a Polish priest,’ and that became the life motto of Fr. Posadzy and many young men who have joined this congregation.”
Fr. Michalski hopes news of Fr. Posadzy being declared venerable is a chance for more people to know about Fr. Posadzy’s contributions to the Church and for more Polish Catholics across the world to recognize the unique treasures they offer.
“The Polish have given a great dedication to the Church in the U.S.,” Fr. Michalski said. “Our culture, the nation was established with the Church. The Church is a bedrock in our life, and as Polish Catholics, we recognize the Church is fundamental in our life.”