On April 1, 2016 we honored the 150th anniversary of the birth of the First Prime Bishop and Organizer of the Polish National Catholic Church, Franciszek Hodur. On Easter Sunday, April 1, 1866 in the small village of Zarki, Poland, Franciszek Hodur was born into a large and poor family. So much of what he experienced during his years as a child would mirror those families that he would later pastor as priest and eventually bishop of the Polish National Catholic Church.
As a young child Francis Hodur knew the difficulties of poor families. Many within the village of Zarki and throughout the Katowice region worked farming small tracts of land or at the number of coal mines in the area. It was with people such as these that Bishop Hodur would band together with in organizing St. Stanislaus Parish in South Scranton. What is unfortunate though is that because of a lack of information regarding the early life of Bishop Hodur we do not know exactly how these people and events might have affected his upbringing and his later thoughts and actions.
After his early education in Zarki, we know that from the years 1882 to 1889 Franciszek Hodur attended the St. Anne’s Gymnasium a well-known high school in Krakow. This school was also known as the Nowodworski School as it was endowed in 1617 by Bartlomiej Nowodworski, a Polish nobleman. This prestigious school was originally founded by the faculty senate of the Jagiellonian University in the 1500’s. Throughout its history a number of well-known Poles had attended this school. While there Franciszek Hodur was an excellent student ranking in the top ten percent of the 37 graduates. It was also during this time that Franciszek Hodur became friendly with Adam Krzyzanowski, who would eventually become a renowned economist and Jagiellonian University professor.
After graduation Francis Hodur entered the Catholic Seminary which was a part of the Jagiellonian University. There too it would seem that he was a good student. In regards to his religious life there is record that he received tonsure and the minor orders during his first year in the seminary 1890. But we also know that Francis Hodur left the seminary before his ordination to the diaconate. It would seem that there is question as to exactly why he was dismissed from the Seminary. We know that during the years 1891 and 1892 there were many complaints at the seminary regarding the living conditions and the quality of the food. There were also investigations into these matters by the seminary administration. Many of the students refused to eat at the seminary and went elsewhere to obtain their meals. In a paper from Professor Andrzej Halas he cited from a Fr. W. Mis from the seminary, who wrote: when during Lent humble Lenten fare was served, several seminarians revolted and found better food in the city. This was publicized in a humorous publication in Cracow and Bishop Dunajewski, who had charge of the seminary, punished the revolt severely, dismissing its main instigators. Was Francis Hodur among those who were dismissed for this reason? We do not know. But because of a clue in the later writing of Bishop Hodur there also could be other reasons as well.
In later writings Bishop Hodur mentioned that it was during this time in seminary that he became a follower of Fr. Stanislaw Stojalowski, a political activist known as “The People’s Tribune,” who fought for the rights of the ordinary people of Poland. Could this involvement have played a role in his dismissal?
The truth is that we might never know. Research still does continue into the life and ministry of Bishop Hodur and while we might find the answers to many of these questions, there are also many others which may never we answered. But to think about the early life of Bishop Hodur does give us pause though. From his earliest years, he not only lived in difficulty, but was concerned about the difficulties of those around him. From helping to teach his fellow students at St. Anne’s Gymnasium, to his getting involved with Fr. Stanislaw Stojalowski in his seeking rights for the downtrodden, to his trying to raise up the living conditions for his fellow seminarians, Franciszek Hodur knew of God’s love for His people and sought to have them live their lives in accord with this love.
This trajectory of his life would certainly continue when he finally came to Scranton, Pennsylvania and its nearby towns and he began his ministry as a priest. While we must remember that it was the people of Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Parish in South Scranton who first decided to break away from their former parish and build anew to escape oppression and gain their rights as children of God, it was Father Francis Hodur who helped to teach and organize them during his years as assistant there. And later when they were looking for a pastor to lead them, they called on Fr. Hodur, a priest who was already steeped in the ideas of fighting for the rights of God’s people against those who would oppress them.
This is the legacy that we remember as we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of Bishop Hodur in Zarki, Poland. But as we celebrate and honor this occasion, let it not just be a remembering of the past. There is still much that needs to be done. The conflicts are a little different now, but there are conflicts all around us just the same. Our society now tries to tear people away from religious thought and religious action and set them on a secular course. The worship of God is held in low esteem and morals have been redefined. We must not only stand strong in our faith, but, as Franciszek Hodur was from a young age, we must bring up the children around us to care for the faith life and dignity of God’s people. We must stand for the importance of service to others, as well as the importance of faith and prayer.
In order to be inspired for this continuing work of the faith and life within the Polish National Catholic Church, I encourage all Polish National Catholics to read the history of the P.N.C.C., “The Origin and Growth of the Polish National Catholic Church”
written by Rev. Stephen Wlodarski, PH.D. and especially concerning the life and work of Bishop Hodur in “Bishop Hodur: Biographical Essays” by Dr. Joseph Wieczerzak. It is from these two books that the information above was gleaned and within them there is a voluminous amount of interesting and inspiring information. Reading them can lead all Polish National Catholics to a better understanding of the road traveled to organize a Catholic Church which is one, holy, catholic and apostolic in its faith and in its governance in line with the foundations of the apostles and fathers of the early church.
In this church, handed on to us by Bishop Hodur, the many priests and bishops and the early organizers throughout the United States and Poland, each of us has and continues to have a vital role to play. It is a role in listening to the voice of God which calls to His people, in setting a course to follow in the catholic and apostolic faith, and to serving all of God’s people with the respect and dignity that they all deserve as children of God and brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ.
In this we must remember that we cannot sit back and leave the work to others for there are always those who desire to either enslave us or marginalize us. We must stand by the words of the motto given us by Bishop Hodur, “Through Truth, through work and through struggle, we shall overcome.” We have the truth which has been given us in the words of Scripture and the tradition of the apostolic faith. Let us make sure that we continue to hand it down to our children, not only in catechetical classes, but also in how we live our lives and how we stand up for what we believe in against the directions of our culture. We have received the benefits of the work of the past, but it is work that must continue in every generation. The work of past generations will not make the church strong today if we do not take up the banner and continue in the same way that they have. And lastly we know that the struggle still continues. No generation will win the final conflict until the beginning of the age to come, announced by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Until that time it is our lot to struggle, but as told us by Bishop Hodur, we also know that if we continue in the struggle, working as those before us in the truth of the Holy Gospel, then we know that in the name of Jesus Christ, we will overcome. We will share in that joy that is God’s love and God’s way in the world.
In this year as we honor 150 years since the birth of Bishop Francis Hodur, let us continue to build up the kingdom of God as we find it within our holy Polish National Catholic Church.