The fascinating adventure of priesthood

By Matthew Biddle 

THE priesthood is a “fascinating adventure” for Fr Edmund Budzilowicz, the chaplain to Canberra’s Polish Catholics and a priest of the Society of Christ.

The 57-year-old has spent 20 years of his priesthood in Australia, serving Christ in a Religious Order that seeks to minister to Polish migrants throughout the world.

The Society of Christ was established in Poland in 1932 as part of an effort to provide pastoral care to Poles who had left their home country as a consequence of the First World War.

Fr Edmund says he has learnt a lot through his priesthood, and finds great joy in sharing in the sufferings and happiness of people.

“Jesus teaches me how I, myself a weak person, in need of other people to help me, can assist others,” he says.

“He teaches me how to talk about him, not necessarily through words in a beautiful homily, but by being close to other people.”

Some of the 28 Society of Christ priests who are based in the province of Australia and New Zealand, including Canberra’s Polish chaplain, Fr Edmund Budzilowicz (front row, middle). PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Some of the 28 Society of Christ priests who are based in the province of Australia and New Zealand, including Canberra’s
Polish chaplain, Fr Edmund Budzilowicz (front row, middle). PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Fr Edmund, Fr Przemyslaw Karasiuk, and Fr Stanislaw Lipski are the Society’s representatives in Canberra, where the Order has been present since 1972. Their provincial house, which was opened in 1993, is in Narrabundah.

The first Society of Christ priests to arrive in Australia began their ministry in Sydney in 1958, before spreading to South Australia, Victoria, Queensland, Tasmania and even New Zealand.

Fr Karasiuk, the Society’s provincial superior for Australia and New Zealand, said the Order consists of about 450 priests and brothers.

“Half of them work with the Polish migrants and half of them work in Poland,” he said. “Currently we have 28 priests in the province of Australia and New Zealand.”

Both Fr Edmund and Fr Karasiuk believe their experiences of being altar servers for many years was a crucial part of their vocation to the priesthood.

“If you were an altar server, you had some thoughts of the priesthood,” Fr Karasiuk said. “There was a good tradition that altar servers served during the week, even if possible on a daily basis.”

The example of “good and pious” priests was also important for Fr Edmund, who admits he looked up to his parish priests as heroes whom he aspired to be like.

But it wasn’t until he was 24, having completed two years of compulsory military service, that he heard a strong call to priesthood.

“I went to Czestochowa in Poland for a pilgrimage, and there I felt inside in my heart and my soul, Jesus calling me, ‘Edmund, follow me’,” he explained. “These words were very strong in my heart and I left everything and I went to the seminary.”

Fr Edmund was ordained in 1990, and Fr Karasiuk in 1997. Both spent several years ministering in Poland before deciding to move to Australia to help meet the pastoral needs of Polish migrants here.

They have both spent time in various locations around the country, and say they feel like Australia is their second home.

Fr Karasiuk, who resides at the Polish Catholic Centre in Narrabundah but travels within the province often, said the Society was experiencing a decline in vocations, which he puts down to an increased “spiritual liberalism” within families.

“In my time in the seminary, about 25 years ago, we had between 70 and 100 seminarians,” he said. “Now we only have 32.

“But I think we should not talk about a crisis of vocations, we should talk rather about a crisis of the spiritual life in the families.

“If there is no vibrant spiritual life in the family, there are no vocations. When we have devoted religious people and Catholic families, we have vocations.”

The 45-year-old said that in his experience the visible presence of religious was of great help in promoting vocations.

“When there were a lot of vocations, you could see or notice the religious priest or nun by what they wore,” Fr Karasiuk said. “If you don’t see them, you don’t think about that kind of life.”

Nevertheless, both Fr Karasiuk and Fr Edmund remain hopeful about the Church’s future. And their own journeys within a Religious Order give them a level of belief that others will become workers in Christ’s vineyard.

“Life as a member of the religious community is… ultimately, a mystery for me which I don’t completely understand despite the fact that I am deeply submerged in it,” Fr Edmund says. “And that makes my life a fascinating adventure.”