Sevant of God
Brother Anthony Kowalczyk
Ignatio and Lucia Zuraszek lived in the fertile region of Silesia on a beautiful land that eventually became too small to sustain their growing family.
Thus it was necessary for one of their sons to learn a new skill. Anthony, the sixth of twelve children, was chosen to train as a blacksmith; not because ‘kowalczyk’ meant ‘blacksmith’ but because such qualification would enable him to find work in neighbouring west Germany.
Anthony, who was born on 4th June 1866, was not dismayed by this decision because within his home he had learnt to obey his parents and to serve God.
On reaching working age, Anthony went to the ironworks of industrial Hamburg. It was rough there and he had to contend with constant provocation from his blasphemous and immoral co-workers. They were imbued with materialism and godlessness and Anthony countered their vocal assaults with absolute morality and religious conviction. He was sickened by that atmosphere and, while walking along a street in Hamburg, he fell to his knees and he cried out, “Lord, my God, I believe that You are in Heaven.” It was time to move away.
Anthony left Hamburg not on a train bound for his beloved homeland but on one that headed for Germany’s western city of Catholic Cologne. On arrival he went twice to pray at the tomb of Bl. Adolf Kolping, founder of an association for Catholic workers. Afterwards he walked to the outskirts of this great city and there he found what he longed for: a Catholic family that welcomed him as a son. Mr & Mrs Prummenbaum not only gave him lodging but, as exemplars of righteousness, they also enlightened Anthony and for this he was deeply grateful to them for the remainder of his life.
In this ambience of goodness and faith, facets emerged that led the lady to ask: “Would you like to become a missionary?” - “How can I, I am uneducated and besides I am already 25 years old.” “That does not matter, I know missionaries who are in great need even of rudimentary help”, and so Mrs Prummenbaum accompanied Anthony to a mission centre in nearby Holland... they were Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
Here Anthony assumed life in a community that was intent on following in the footsteps of Christ and the Apostles; a journey that would take him far geographically and in the deepening of virtue and brotherly love. His arrival was a blessing. Here was a man skilled in dealing with iron and machinery - what a windfall! All that he did was excellently done, but from time to time he would call on his superior to remind him that what he really wished for was to be a missionary. Time and again the superior would dismiss him with an amiable “we shall see”. In time a pressing need arose and Anthony embarked on a ship that carried him across the ocean to the missions in north-western Canada.
At last he was at a real mission, stationed north of Edmonton where the Oblates had founded a school for youths who were entrusted to the care of nuns. There was a workshop in which a steam engine generated power for a saw-mill that supplied timber for missions further north. After working there for a year, a serious accident occurred that necessitated the amputation of Anthony’s right forearm, Was this the end of his missionary venture? Not so, for Anthony was endowed with an uncommon ability to draw God’s special graces on himself; additionally he generated great veneration of God in others
Those in charge of the missions continued to look to their humble, hardworking Brother for important functions in their administration. During those years, a school was opened at Edmonton for the training of young future-missionaries. Anthony spent the remainder of his life there until he died when he was 81.
He was an admirable example of a lifestyle humbly, totally and lovingly dedicated to service and, above all, to the intense search of God. He saw to central heating in the house, he assisted the nuns in the kitchen, he bred chickens, he cleaned the sanitation areas, he cultivated vegetables, he sharpened the pupils’ skates and repaired their hockey sticks.
He was always available to the young for a prayer or a word of encouragement; his greatest joy was to watch them develop and persevere. An ex pupil wrote thus about Brother Anthony: “Though he did not enter our classrooms except on rare occasions, as faithful custodian he entered our lives in more ways than one to help mould our character. He used very few words, and these mostly in broken French; he spoke by his actions, by his exemplary conduct. These kept saying to us, ‘Do you want to do the right thing to please God, here’s a true pattern!”
“Me not educated, poor me,
blacksmith of my soul,
me Coadjutor Brother,
me always say YES,
me listen superiors,
me pray Holy Virgin,
me love the good God,
me help Good God, me happy.”
(Spoken in his broken French)
Breton, P.-E., O.M.I., “Blacksmith of God”, Edmonton, 1960.
Assumption OMI Province, “A Pilgrimage to our Past”, Toronto, 1994.