Urgent Appeal 2018

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The Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception urgently request your prayers and financial assistance as we seek to establish a fund to care for the needs of our elderly priests and brothers among us.

For instance, meet Fr. Walter Gurgul, MIC:

Born on Sept. 28, 1930, on a small farm in Belz, Poland, Fr. Walter Gurgul, MIC, had a simple, happy childhood that came to an abrupt end in 1939, when the Soviets invaded Poland.

We recently asked Fr. Gurgul, one of the Marians' cherished seniors who lives and ministers at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy, to share memories of those days that helped to form him into the priest he eventually became.

"The 10th of February 1940 — a day one remembers so well," Fr. Gurgul muttered as he seemed to recall it before his very eyes.

The Gurgul family of eight and their neighbors were among the hundreds of thousands of Poles forced onto freight cars and brought to Siberia following the Soviet invasion. There they were placed into squalid labor camps where at least half of their fellow Poles died from starvation or disease.

"It was bitterly cold," Fr. Gurgul remembered. "And we were constantly reminded that we were 'destined to die here like dogs.' We starved for more than three days at a time."

The Gurguls were given a single room with a bread oven and one bed. His father worked as a haymaker, and his mother carried water. His beloved father eventually fell ill and was sent to a hospital, never to be seen again.

Meanwhile, little Walter attended school Monday through Saturday. He did so well that the KGB began to take note of him. His father's words to him echoed in his ears: "My dear little boy. Child, learn; learn as much as possible. It will be useful and serve you in your life."

Fearful that her son might be taken away by the KGB and without enough money to provide for food, Walter's mother began to hope for an opportunity to escape.

In the summer of 1941, the camp's entire Polish community was gathered by the Soviet authorities. Some thought, "We will be shot on the spot!" To their great surprise, the Poles were told they were being granted their freedom. However, they later overheard those who had a smuggled radio say that on June 22, 1941, Hitler had declared war on Russia, and Stalin wanted to gather the Poles to create a Polish army to fight against the Germans.

On a cold night in November 1941, pulling their children behind them on sleds, Walter's mother and aunt set out on foot to escape, making the more than 18-mile trek through the forests to a railway station.

"Where did they get their strength?" Fr. Gurgul asked. "It was their innate motherly instinct which drove them to that heroism, to save their beloved children."

He added, "I remember the wolves and wild bears. It was bitterly cold and scary."

They hopped upon a train heading south. Arriving in Uzbekistan, they were greeted by the Polish army, who took compassion on them and gave them a hut made out of straw and clay. Walter worked on his hands and knees picking cotton in the fields. The only food they could scrounge up was a rice porridge. Desperate for meat, his mother killed a stray, mangy dog. A few days after that meal, the whole family, save the eldest boy, fell ill with typhoid. Walter witnessed the death of his 2-year-old brother, Bronus, and his 4-year-old sister, Irenka.

After recovering, the remaining members of the family met a Polish officer who recognized their name. "Gurgul? I was in the army with your father in 1939!" He led Bolek, the eldest son, and Walter to the platoons where there were more than 70 young Polish boys. By the end of February 1942, the Polish military announced that they needed to send the young boys abroad.

"We were leaving the East forever," Fr. Gurgul said. "We left behind all misery and hardship. A new chapter of life had begun."

Due to the British Protection Act, Polish survivors could be sent to British colonies. His mother and the youngest children were sent to Kenya, while his eldest brother was sent to Egypt and Walter was sent to Palestine. There he attended grammar school in Nazareth and a Salesian high school in Jerusalem.

In 1947, the British Protection Act expired, and Walter was sent to England where he was reunited with his mother and siblings. He continued his seminary studies, desiring to become a Salesian priest.

One day in 1950, while visiting his mother, he ran into a Polish chaplain who said to him, "Oh, Walter, you're not going to be a Salesian priest, you are going to be a 'Polish' priest."

Meanwhile, Fr. Joseph Jarzebowski, MIC (the Marian who brought the Divine Mercy devotion to America), and a handful of other Marians had just arrived in England and established a novitiate in Hereford. Walter was accepted into the Congregation, arriving on Jan. 19, 1953. He was ordained in Rome on July 4, 1960.

His assignments included teaching and serving as headmaster for the Marians' school in Hereford until its closing in 1986.

Father Gurgul came to the United States in 1997 and has spent the past 20 years serving at the National Shrine and in other Marian ministries. His health now in decline, he spends his days hearing Confessions, joyfully dispensing God's mercy to those who ask for it — and writing his memoirs.

Father Gurgul says, "My advice to all who will listen: One, make your last words of the day an Act of Contrition for anything you might have done to offend God. Two, stay in touch with Our Lady. She brings us to Jesus. Three, always carry a Rosary, wear a scapular, or have a prayercard with you."

Donate now or visit marian.org/urgent for more information.

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Judy - Jun 28, 2018

What a great cause. I do have a suggestion though that might help your financial situation. The salesian sisters offer a program called adopt a sister. People make a donation to their organization and our assigned one of their sisters to pray for them. It is a yearly donation. But it benefits all. The Salesian sisters as well as the donor. Perhaps your organization can have your fryers be adopted by the donors. They can offer their prayers for them