Monsignor Zdzislaw Peszkowski, a Roman Catholic priest from Poland and childhood friend of Pope John Paul II, visited the Xavier campus on Oct. 10. He came to the United States to be part of a prayer service in New York for the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. After the service, he flew to Cincinnati to visit some friends, who included Xavier’s administrative vice president John Kucia.
Kucia met Peszkowski in April while vacationing in Rome. Kucia was in St. Peter’s Square waiting for an audience with the Pope when he began talking to Peszkowski, who was seated two seats down. The two quickly discovered they had common friends in Cincinnati, the Ronald Joseph family and the Jim Gardner family. The Josephs and Gardners are supporters of Xavier, and also are contributors to Peszkowski’s recent effort to recover the remains and build cemeteries for 4,181 Polish military officers who were slaughtered in Russia during WWII.
Peszkowski was one of the Polish military officer captured during World War II, and was imprisoned in a concentration camp in Kozielsk, Russia, along with the others. He, too, was scheduled to shipped from the camp to the Katyn Forest, where all of the executions were performed. He was freed, though, before the last transport out of the camp departed. Only 400 officers in the camp survived.
Of the survivors, Peszkowski is the only one to become a priest. At the end of the war, he began studying at Oxford University in England before attending the Polish Seminary in Orchard Lake, Mich., the University of Wisconsin and the University of Detroit. He earned his bachelor’s degree in theology, master’s of divinity and a doctorate degree in philosophy. In 1954, he consecrated his life to the service of God, teaching pastoral theology, literature and other subjects.
He also felt that part of his calling was to be the spiritual leader for the families of those who were massacred in the Katyn Forest—a place he refers to as Golgatha East. Part of that effort, he says, is the recovery of the bodies.
Peszkowski’s published more than 100 books and articles on theology, literature, philosophy and history, including a recently released book, “Memoirs of a Prisoner of War in Kozielsk.”
In many ways, he says, what happened to the United States on Sept. 11 is not unlike what happened to his country on Sept. 17, 1939 when Russia invaded.
“[The United States is] now a victim of a terrorist act,” he says. “It touched you in such a powerful way. It was the same way with me and Poland. Russia came into Poland like terrorists, nothing else. They came in as so-called friends and just killed people. Three million people were killed. On March 13, 1940, they threw out 40,000 families. It was the biggest terrorist act in the history of mankind.
“I haven’t talked to the Holy Father about his thoughts on what happened in the United States,” he continued, “but his reaction is exactly what I expected. He immediately left everything he was doing and started to pray. Then, the next day, he didn’t allow any sound in the Vatican, none at all, and he ordered candles put in the windows, which is a sign of unity in Poland. In my opinion, he viewed what happened here as something worse than what happened in 1939, which started World War II.”