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St. Stanislaus pilgrims stand atop Mount Gubalowka, above the town of Zakopane, Poland, on Sept. 1. From left are Mary Ann Gridley, Tom Jodlowski, Sharon Saniuk, Deacon Daniel Saniuk, Cathie Dieteman, Pat Dieteman, Steve Sanuik and Melissa Sanuik. COURTESY PHOTO

Paul Pelletier, dressed in a Polish-decorated cape, takes part in a procession at the parish’s centennial Mass Sept. 15. SUSAN SZALEWSKI/STAFF

Poland pilgrimage highlights St. Stanislaus anniversary

Twenty-one people – parishioners and others associated with St. Stanislaus Parish in Omaha – went to Poland, seeking to grow closer to God.

They didn’t journey by themselves on the pilgrimage, part of the parish’s centennial celebration.  The pilgrims brought with them, at least in spirit, parishioners back home, praying at shrines of Polish saints and other holy sites during the Aug. 27 - Sept. 6 trip.

Before they left, the pilgrims had sought intentions to pray for: loved ones, marriage blessings – and those who had died, including many people who helped build the parish into what it is today with their hard work, devotedness and prayers.

Those now deceased parishioners were remembered, along with the other intentions, at Masses in Poland offered by Father William Sanderson, pastor of St. Stanislaus and Holy Ghost parishes in Omaha.

The Masses were celebrated daily, at the shrines of Ss. Stanislaus, Maximilian Kolbe, Faustina, John Paul II, Our Lady of Czestochowa and at other holy sites, and even at hotels.

And back home, the parish continued to remember its generations of faithful parishioners at a 100th anniversary Mass Sept. 15, celebrated by Archbishop George J. Lucas.

“Do you have a sense of the throngs of St. Stanislaus parishioners with us?” he asked during his homily at the Mass.

“That’s more than our imagination,” he said, because they are present with the communion of saints at the Mass.

Generations of St. Stanislaus members celebrated baptisms, first holy Communions, confirmations and marriages at the church. They were unburdened of their sins in confession. And at the end of their lives, they were commended to the Lord there, Archbishop Lucas said.

“You know they are with us here really, and we rejoice.”

NO ORDINARY TRIP

St. Stanislaus is one of the archdiocese’s few remaining ethnic parishes, Father Sanderson said. It’s annual Polish festival draws thousands to its grounds each year for Polish food, music, dancing and more.

With 350 families, the parish is more of an ethnic mixture now. It has an active St. Vincent de Paul conference that helps many people in south Omaha.

This year’s pilgrimage was one of several centennial events. They culminated with the anniversary Mass and a dinner that followed at the Polish Home in Papillion.

Parishioner Nancy Gentleman Schlesiger was one of the 21 pilgrims on the trip. She said she had the chance to connect with her Polish ancestors by meeting with her late mother’s relatives and by having a Mass said for her mother, Catherine Ann (Kawa) Gentleman, one of the group’s special intentions.

“It was amazing, spiritual, strengthening for my soul,” Schlesiger said of the pilgrimage.

She had been to Poland four other times, but this trip was special, she said. “It was important to do this with people from my parish and my pastor.”

It was a chance to spend time away from her obligations back home to pray and reflect, she said, especially after the death of her mother in January.

Tom Jodlowski also had been to Poland before. This was his ninth trip there, but this time the focus was spiritual, not just sight-seeing, he said.

The pilgrims visited the shrine of St. Stanislaus, the site where he was martyred. At the Saint John Paul II Centre, they saw the blood-stained cassock the pope had been wearing when he was shot and many other relics. In Wadowice, where he was born, they saw the font where he was baptized.

‘OF LIKE SPIRITUAL MIND’

The pilgrims packed into a church with hundreds of others to venerate Our Lady of Czestochowa on her feast day, Aug. 26, and honored Mary elsewhere under another title beloved by the Polish, Our Lady of Kalwaria.

At the St. Maximilian shrine, Father Sanderson offered Mass in a chapel built by the saint. As it turned out, the Mass intention was for Jodlowski’s  deceased parents, Louis  and Bernice Jodlowski.

Having the Mass offered for his intention at the shrine of his favorite saint was a nice surprise, Jodlowski said.

The Our Lady of Czestochowa shrine was particularly moving for Schlesiger. “It was so powerful, praying the rosary and singing to our Blessed Mother,” she said.

Their fellow pilgrims also made the trip a blessing, Schlesiger and Jodlowski said.

“It was nice to be with people of like spiritual mind, who could share their faith life,” Jodlowski said.

And seeing the faith alive in Poland also was inspiring, especially in the young people, he said. At the shrines they saw natives who were willing to walk hundreds of miles on a pilgrimage, stay up all night in prayer and dress their best for Mass.

Schlesiger said the Polish have a “fighting spirit” and a deep love for the Blessed Mother, who in turn has protected them.

Father Sanderson said he enjoyed the beauty of Polish churches, particularly a church dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima (whom St. John Paul II credited for saving him from assassination) in Zakopane. He said he was amazed at the “absolutely incredible workmanship” that went into the church, with its “intrinsic carvings” and “magnificent windows.”

In Wadowice, at St. John Paul II’s home parish, the church had frescoes depicting Bible scenes themed according to the pope’s encyclical “Veritas Splendor.”

That grandeur contrasted sharply with the sobering sites connected to the holocaust of World War II, including the Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps and a museum on the Warsaw uprising.

“Heart-wrenching,” is how Father Sanderson described those stops. “We had the sacred and the profane mixed together.”

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