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Called in the Holy Spirit

The eve of Pentecost on 24 May 1958 – was the day when six young girls: Dorota Seweryn, Joanna Panek, Zuzanna Podlewska, Maria Pełka, Zyta Kocur and Gizela Skop, involved in the Central Office of the Temperance Crusade, in Katowice, decided to start a two-year trial period in the Group of the Immaculate.

How did this decision come about? At the end of 1956, after the return of the Silesian bishops from exile, Fr Francis Blachnicki started to work for the Pastoral Department of the Diocesan Curia in Katowice. At that time, he came to the conclusion that God wanted him to attempt to create a ‘Silesian Niepokalanow’, a vision of which he had long carried within himself. All the external circumstances indicated that the time was opportune to begin this work, and the recovered barrack, owned by the Curia, could serve this work perfectly. Bishop Herbert Bednorz gave his consent to the initiative.

“The Silesian Niepokalanow,” in Father Francis’ mind, was a place where everyone and everything was to be dedicated to the Immaculate and to serve the building up of the Kingdom of God. This clearly defined objective was presented by Father to several young women from Tychy and Rydułtowy, inviting them to collaborate. Some of them interpreted this invitation as a concrete opportunity to try to realise a vocation they had already felt for some time. With joy, therefore, they decided as early as January 1957 to move into the barrack to take up their ministry there.

Fr Blachnicki’s vision was taking more and more concrete forms. First the Catechetical Centre was established, then gradually the Temperance Crusade movement began to form and the barrack became its headquarters.

From the beginning, Father Francis led the spiritual formation of his collaborators, who gradually increased in number. After a while, two groups clearly emerged among them: those who wished to give their entire lives to the service of God in this work, and those who wished to engage in this work on a collaborative basis.

On the eve of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1957, those who had discovered their vocation to give themselves to God and to form the Group, presented their desires in writing to Bishop Herbert Bednorz: For nearly a year now we have been working in common life to realize perfect devotion to the Immaculate in the spirit of  Father Maximilian, and the result of this work has been the decision to give ourselves at the apostolic service of the Church in a lay institute according to the norms of the constitution Provida Mater Ecclesia, in the practice of the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience. Various external and internal circumstances caused this moment to be postponed and come true on 24 May 1958.

We consider this day as the beginning of our community. It was a very important decision for us, with life-long consequences. We also informed our families about it, who took the news with great difficulty, rather not accepting our decision. The two-year formation and the taking of the first promises in the Group of the Immaculate was just a confirmation of this first decision.

Fifty years of duration and development of this community, which finally took the name Institute of the Immaculate Mother of the Church, testifies that this was the Lord’s plan. We participated over the years in all the initiatives that the Holy Spirit stirred up through Father Francis: in the Crusade of Temperance, in the Light-Life Movement with all its richness of ministries… We constituted for Father Francis the closest circle of associates engaging in the spirit of service (diakonia) on which he always wanted to rely. Astonishing are the ways of the Lord! For us it is like an undeserved GIFT. Praise the Lord!

The event of more than fifty years ago is connected for me personally with an internal decision to live in a community of people with whom for a long time, together with Father Francis, we have tried to determine our vocation and place in the Church. All the events and circumstances so far indicated that the Lord wanted us to form the Group of the Immaculate as a lay institute according to the norms of the apostolic constitution Provida Mater Ecclesia. This was a very important decision based on faith in God, whose guidance we had perceived in our lives for a long time. It also entailed important life consequences, including leaving the family home.

For me, it was a new stage of an interesting journey that God had already planned for me a little earlier. When I was 16, I heard a mysterious voice in my heart calling me “to something.” I read this “something” as a vocation to Carmel, because it seemed to me that if I was to follow the Lord, then “go the whole way,” and therefore leave this world and everything I loved. However, it was necessary to continue my high school education and put off any decision for later. Meanwhile, quite unexpectedly there was a change in the life of me and my family, namely the move from Greater Poland to Silesia. This is seemingly nothing unusual. For me, this change meant a lot, because here God’s plan for my life began to concretize. We settled in Tychy, where I first met the “Tychy girls” and then Father Francis. During our first serious conversation, shortly after high school graduation, Father asked me if I would like to consecrate myself to God while remaining in the world, and told me about secular institutes. I replied that I needed to think about it. And… in less than a month after that conversation I found myself in the barrack in Katowice.

There began a journey together – Father Francis and us – a few young girls to whom the Lord gave the grace to set out in faith, in a sense, into the unknown. It was an entrustment not only to the Lord, but also to Father Francis. His entrustment had already been prepared by the Lord through various experiences to completely surrender his life to His plans. When he recognized the time to begin realizing the vision he had long carried within himself, the vision of a Silesian Niepokalanow in imitation of Father Maximilian’s Niepokalanow, in which everything and everyone is utterly devoted to the Immaculate, to serve Christ with Her in building His kingdom, he invited us to join in this experience. This mission of ours was to be aimed at ordinary pastoral work. We had no education or life wisdom, but there was in us youthful enthusiasm, zeal and desire to give our lives to God for this particular cause. And this shared history, enriched by new people and events, continues!

Today – when I look back on this history, I see what a logical sequence of events it was, how amazingly the various significant facts followed one another, beginning with the barrack in Katowice and the Temperance Crusade movement that was formed there, through its liquidation and the unexpected opportunity for us to study in Krakow and Father in Lublin, through the discovery of Kroscienko, and then through all the subsequent stages of the development of our community and the Movement, in the country and abroad, until our “today” in various places and in a variety of ministries.

A rich history it is. It is difficult to describe it. For how to express all the experiences that accompanied each of its stages, how to convey the inner struggles and hardships associated with the pain of growth, with taking up new callings, how to express the many experiences of God’s grace and God’s guidance of each of us, the entire community and the Movement? How to express in words our gratitude to God for His choice and calling, for His faithfulness, love and merciful bending over our misery… How to express it?

It remains to join in the most beautiful words of praise sung to God by the Immaculate – our Mother, Mother of the Church. MAGNIFICAT!!!

Zuzanna Podlewska