Field Ordinary Bishop Józef Guzdek has celebrated Mass in the intentions of alumni who, in the years 1959-1980 were forced into military service in the so-called clerical units. “Today’s ceremony is a gesture of elementary justice to the former soldier-students,” said Bishop Guzdek in the homily. At the end of the Eucharist, National Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz handed commissions to 141 priests. Among them was also the pastor of the parish of St. Constance of Chicago, Fr. Canon Thaddeus Dzieszko.
Bishop Guzdek reminded us in his homily that after the end of World War II Poland was in the sphere of influence of Soviet Russia. – This unfortunate episode also includes the period when alumni seminarians were forced into the ranks of the People’s Army of Poland. The truth about the soldiers-about three thousand, was to be made silent, he said, and even to go into oblivion. According to bp. Guzdek, the martyr’s death, then the beatification of Fr. Jerzy Popiełuszko “broke the code of silence and allowed at least a partial recall of the truth about the persecution of the Polish clergy.” He recalled that Bl. Fr.. Jerzy Popiełuszko served two years of forced military service in the unit in Bartoszyce. The bishop emphasized that the promotion to the first rank of officers of the next group of soldiers-alumni is an opportunity to remind people of this fragment of history: “The authorities at the time wanted to turn you back from the road to the priesthood. They tempted and threatened you, but you proved indomitable. Physical and mental torture and harassment failed to achieve its goals: the forbidding of religious practices and encouragement of betrayal of Christ and the Church in exchange for a promise to study at a secular college and help in obtaining an apartment. ” Bishop Guzdek argued that today’s ceremony was “a gesture of elementary justice towards the group of former soldiers-students. It is also a good opportunity to showcase the guardians of freedom and the apostles of truth. Your pastoral ministry in the confessional, pulpit and catechesis in lecture halls contributed to the internal liberation of many of our compatriots. They later defended freedom and human rights, often paying a very high price,” he said.
At the end of the Mass, Andrzej Duda announced his decision, as the President of the Republic of Poland, the commissioning of the priests as reserve officers, with the documents handed personally by Macierewicz, accompanied by Field Ordinary Bishop Guzdek. “With great joy and emotion, I proudly handed over those commissions that have been waiting for you for many decades. They were waiting for you to be handed over for the time when the Polish army could honestly say that it is Polish, when the Polish state finally says that it is Polish and looks out for Polish interests in fact, “said Minister Macierewicz. According to the defense minister, “there would be no chance of opening the door for the homeland, for God, for Catholic values, for the great transformation that is happening today, should it not be the heroism, suffering and service of former soldiers. There are no words to thank for what you did and suffered during those years,” he added. The Representative Choir Ensemble of the Polish Army sang the “Hymn to the Love of the Homeland”. At the end of the ceremony, Minister Antoni Macierewicz, Bishop Józef Guzdek, the generals of the Polish Army and the former soldiers, placed flowers and candles under the Smolensk plaque next to the entrance to the cathedral.
In the years 1959-80, contrary to the Protocol of the Joint Commission of the Government of the Republic of Poland and the Polish Episcopate, formulated in connection with the Church-State Agreement of April 14, 1950, about 3000 clerics from diocesan and religious seminaries were imprisoned.
There were three units specialized in “reeducating” clerics: in Szczecin-Podjuchach, Gdansk and Opole. Later the unit in Opole was transferred to Brzeg and the unit from Gdansk to Bartoszyce.
During military service, candidates for the priesthood were harassed in various ways: forced to perform heavy, often pointless physical work, religious practices were forbidden, and privates were physically and mentally abused, and encouraged to abandon the seminars in exchange for assistance in finding housing, work and places at secular schools. A small part of the seminarians was broken by a strong indoctrination and did not return after serving in the military for the seminary. The overwhelming majority remained faithful to vocation and perseverance on the road to receiving the sacrament of the priesthood.
The priests who had been forced to perform military service during the seminary studies repeatedly addressed several Polish Presidents, National Defense Ministers, Presidents of the Polish Episcopal Conference and Field Bishops, requesting recognition of the compulsory two-year military service and the commissioning as reserve officers, as was the case for secular college students who normally underwent much shorter military training.
The Field Ordinariate was asked to assist in finding and establishing contact with former clerics, who received answers from 1050 former soldiers. Surveys were sent to the Personnel Department, which collected the documentation and prepared the promotion applications. By the decision of President Andrzej Duda the priests received the rank of second lieutenant of the reserve. However, this does not imply any privileges like for professional officers.