Poland is practically on the other side of the world from California.
But for a few moments, lying face-down on the floor during his episcopal Ordination Mass Sept. 26, Bishop Slawomir’s Szkredka’s homeland suddenly felt a lot closer as the names of a few fellow countrymen rang out inside the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.
St. Stanislaus, pray for us. St. John Paul the Second, pray for us. St. Faustina Kowalska, pray for us.
The saints Szkredka chose to add to the ordination rite’s traditional Litany of the Saints were reminders of the rich heritage of faith he inherited.
The most recent of the three was John Paul, whose 26 years as pope spanned Szkredka’s late childhood to his first years of priesthood. One of his most cherished memories as a seminarian was serving at a Mass during one of his trips to Poland in the late 1990s.
“He was our national hero in some sense,” said Szkredka. “Everyone was convinced that he was a ‘living saint,’ as we would call him. And I think that’s what impressed me the most, his authenticity, his holiness.”
Father Gustavo Castillo, Szkredka’s friend and fellow professor at St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo, said that growing up with John Paul is something that clearly “inspired him, and you can really see it.”
“I actually call him ‘JP3’,” said Castillo with a grin.
Father Miroslaw “Mirek” Frankowski first met the future bishop 25 years ago, when he would hear confessions at SS. Cyril & Methodius Seminary in Orchard Lake, Michigan, where Szkredka was studying. Frankowski, 51, said their generation of Polish priests was profoundly shaped by the late pope.
“Those who had a vocation in those days, we are all inspired by the teaching, the posture, the personality, the leadership of John Paul,” said Frankowski, now pastor of Our Lady of Bright Mount Church and Shrine to John Paul II in the Mid-City area of Los Angeles. “We all wanted to be like him.”
St. Faustina Kowalska, a Polish religious sister and mystic who died in 1938, also spoke to Szkredka during his youth. He was reading her well-known diary during high school when news broke that she would be declared “blessed.” Szkredka made the trip in 1993 to the Divine Mercy Shrine in Kraków for a ceremony held simultaneously with the beatification Mass in Rome.
“Then later in life I would visit that place quite often, to pray at her tomb and at that shrine,” Szkredka said.
St. Stanislaus was a bishop of Kraków in the 11th century, who was martyred at the hands of Poland’s king for speaking out against immorality and corruption. He is revered as the patron saint of a country that for centuries has often been caught in the middle of political and religious conflicts.
But the saint also has personal connection for Szkredka, sharing a name with his home parish in the city where he grew up, Bielsko-Biała, in a southern, mountainous part of Poland. Frankowski said the area “was always well known for its perseverance in faith.
“He grew up in a very Catholic environment,” he added.
Living under Poland’s Communist regime in the ’70s and ’80s, “we had to be very strong in preserving our faith, because everybody wanted to destroy the faith,” Frankowski said.
Now, Frankowski hopes that Szkredka’s new, more prominent position will get the attention of the estimated 50,000 Poles living in Southern California.
“We are very joyful and we are very hopeful that he will be helping us out, serving us as a Polish community,” said the priest.
Luckily for Szkredka, he’s had more than a few opportunities to stay connected to home since becoming a priest in 2002. During his years of graduate studies in Rome, he was able to visit Poland more frequently, being just a two-hour plane trip away.
Szkredka’s sister, Joanna, described witnessing her brother’s ordination from the front row of the cathedral, along with a few other family members who traveled from Poland, as “amazing.”
“It was a great moment,” she said. “Like a feast for myself.”