In the Company of Saints
In 1958, a priest by the name of the Reverend Henry M. Malak visited the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago's Motherhouse in Lemont, Illinois, to give a retreat to the members of the Our Lady of Czestochowa Society. He was then asked by the Sisters to lead a series of future retreats and become a retreat master for them. Father Malak agreed to serve as a retreat master and then asked the Sisters for background and historical information on their congregation to learn more about them. He was given a copy of The Chronicle by Mother Mary Theresa Dudzik, the journal writings of their foundress. He was so moved by her writings and life story that he became a great supporter of her cause for sainthood. Thus began a long collaboration between the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago and Father Malak as he helped them pursue the saintly cause of Mother Mary Theresa
Father Henry Malak was born on All Saints' Day, November 1, 1912, in the village of Sadki, Poland. In 1932, he entered the Archdiocesan Seminary in Gniezno, Poland, and was ordained a priest at the Poznan Cathedral in Poznan, Poland, in 1938. "My six years of theological studies in an exceptional seminary had a tremendous impact on me. The very fact that four of my former professors have already won the title, 'Servant of God,' speaks eloquently for itself. Under such professors we not only studied theology, we lived it," Father Malak recalled. The title of 'Servant of God' is the first step a person receives on their way to sainthood. Thus Father Malak was very blessed to be taught by so many brilliant, religious minds in the seminary.
Father Malak also attended lectures at his seminary given by the famous Saint Maximilian Kolbe, who was canonized in 1982 by Pope John Paul II. "In addition, Blessed (now Saint) Maximilian Kolbe lectured frequently in our school, a fact of no small influence upon the minds and souls of the young students," Father Malak recalled. Maximilian Kolbe was a Polish priest and Conventual Franciscan Friar who helped found the Militia Immaculata, a Catholic evangelization movement that encourages intercession to the Virgin Mary for the conversion of sinners. It is still an active organization to this day. Father Kolbe was arrested by the Germans in 1939 and sent to Auschwitz, the concentration camp. When a prisoner escaped the camp, the German guards picked ten prisoners to starve to death in an underground bunker to deter more escape attempts. Father Kolbe decided to sacrifice his life and volunteered to take the place of one of the prisoners who had a wife and family. The guards let the two men switch places and the prisoner lived. It was said that Father Kolbe led the dying group in prayer each day as each one succumbed to starvation. Father Kolbe was the last to survive and then was murdered by the Germans. After World War II, Father Kolbe's story became world-famous and he was declared a 'Servant of God,' which led to his eventual canonization in 1982, by Pope John Paul II. Father Malak highlighted his time and his connection with the famous saint through creativity such as paintings and drawings he made of the two of them together as well as through his writings.
Reverend Henry M. Malak
In the group photo above, which was taken at the seminary that Father Malak attended, Father Malak sits right behind the famous Saint Maximilian Kolbe who was canonized in 1982 by Pope John Paul II.
After his ordination, Father Malak served in Wrzesnia, Poland, and then became a vicar at St. Joseph Parish in Inowroclaw. Just a year later, on September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland, thus starting World War II. Within months, the Germans began the takeover of the country and began arresting people and placing them in concentration camps. Father Malak and other Catholic priests throughout Poland were arrested by the German Gestapo. He was deported to the territory of Gdansk and imprisoned. As the war raged on for the next six years, Father was imprisoned in several camps and then spent the last four years of the war in the infamous Dachau concentration camp in Germany. This was an incredibly difficult time as thousands of people perished in the camp. The camp was liberated by the US Army in April of 1945. Once liberated, Father served as a pastor in Germany and ministered to Polish refugees in camps at Mannheim and Heilbronn in Germany. Father Malak was a very gifted speaker and his Masses were very popular and heavily attended in the refugee camps. He later authored a book about his time during World War II called, Shavelings in Death Camps: A Polish Priest's Memoir of Imprisonment by the Nazis, 1939 - 1945.
Father Malak was imprisoned at Dachau Concentration Camp until it was liberated by the US Army in 1945.
Father Malak was offered a job to be an editor for religious programs for Radio Free Europe in the Polish department, which was run by the famous Polish war hero, journalist, and politician, Jan Nowak-Jezioranski. Father declined the position as he felt it would interfere with his pastoral work in the United States. Jan Nowak-Jezioranski would go on to become one of the most famous Polish broadcasters beloved by many Polish people around the world. He later served as an advisor to both Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996.
Father Malak immigrated to the United States in 1950 to the town of Pulaski, Wisconsin, and joined the Assumption Province of the Franciscan Friars at the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary monastery. He was invested with the habit of the Secular Franciscan Order in 1951 and began work as an editor and writer at Franciscan Publishers where he wrote many articles and was a regular contributor to their Polish language magazine. During this time, he also wrote, produced, and delivered numerous Polish religious broadcasts on radio and television.
Jan Nowak-Jeziorański was a Polish national hero and broadcaster at Radio Free Europe who offered Father Malak a job to produce religious programs.
In 1957, Father Malak was transferred to Christ the King Seminary in West Chicago, Illinois, and continued to write and publish articles. Father also organized religious retreats and guidance to the Polish immigrant community throughout the United States and Canada (nearly 300 retreats in his lifetime). It was through this retreat work that he met the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago. Early on in his encounters with the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago, Father became a big supporter of the cause for sainthood for Mother Mary Theresa. He encouraged the Sisters to interview all who knew her personally, such as family members, friends, and Sisters who lived during her time to give oral testimony about their time with her, which resulted in 116 depositions. He also assisted the Sisters in developing various articles and brochures about Mother M. Theresa's life to share with the public. Eventually, Father wrote a brief biography on her life entitled, The Apostle of Mercy of Chicago which was published in 1961. Not long after, Sister M. Venantia Rec, assisted by Sister M. Jeannette Golojuch, formed the League of Mother Mary Theresa so that information about this saintly cause would be made known to a wider audience. Many people were now inquiring about Mother Mary Theresa Dudzik.
Father Malak developed a quarterly newsletter for the League called, The Apostle of Mercy from Chicago Bulletin, for which he served as the editor. It was produced in both English and Polish and distributed to its members. Besides writing, Father also had a gift for music as he composed a religious hymn dedicated to Mother Mary Theresa. It is still sung during the monthly Beatification Mass.
In 1963, Father Malak was appointed postulator for the cause of beatification for Mother Mary Theresa, by Albert Cardinal Meyer, Archbishop of Chicago. A postulator is one who helps lead and promote the cause of sainthood. One of the first things he did as postulator was to help establish the Mother M. Theresa Museum inside the Walker mansion, the novitiate house on the grounds of the Motherhouse in Lemont. Here artifacts and other historical items from the beginning days of the congregation and personal items of Mother Mary Theresa were put on display. Father Malak took up residency in the Walker mansion and while promoting Mother Mary Theresa's cause, he also ministered to the Sisters. Father also had a gift for photography as he would often take photos around the grounds of the Motherhouse. Sisters remember that when they were novices, Father Malak would photograph them and personally send the photos to their families.
Sister M. Venantia Rec formed the League of Mother Mary Theresa in 1962 with the assistance of Sister Jeannette Golojuch.
'The Apostle of Mercy From Chicago' was a newsletter that shared news about the saintly cause of Mother Mary Theresa.
In 1968, after extensive work, Father Malak and Sister M. Hugoline Czaplinski published The Chronicle by Mother Mary Theresa Dudzik. Each Franciscan Sister of Chicago received a copy of this 172-page spiral book of Mother Mary Theresa's journal writings. Father added document footnotes and some illustrations to accompany the book and Sister Hugoline typed and translated it into English. The book was only available to the Sisters and has never been available to the general public until now. An updated version is currently available for purchase with a new cover and design by Sister Jeanne Marie Toriskie and then copyrighted by the Sisters.
Father Malak continued his work as postulator for the Cause until 1972 and assisted Father Michael Machejek, newly appointed postulator in Rome, with all research, material, and documents associated with the cause. Father Malak was also part of the special tribunal delegated by John Cardinal Cody, the Archbishop of Chicago, that was present during the 1972 exhumation of the remains of the Mother Mary Theresa Dudzik for examination.
Sister Hugoline Czaplinski worked with Father Malak to get 'The Chronicle by Mother Mary Theresa Dudzik' published and distributed to the Sisters and also helped translate it into English.
In 1975, Father Malak published another book about Mother Mary Theresa called, Theresa of Chicago. This biography was more in-depth, detailed, and used a little creative license, dialogue, character examination, and commentary to illustrate her life story and the world struggles and upheaval around her as she started the congregation. The book contains many artistic drawings by Father Malak as well as historic photos. The Franciscan Sisters of Chicago are in the process of republishing this book as well and will offer it for sale at a later date.
Father Malak consistently reported on all the great work he was doing in North America to Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski, the famous Primate of Poland. Known for his stance against communism, the Cardinal is a Polish national hero who is credited for the survival of Polish Christianity during the reign of the communist regime throughout the late 20th Century. Father Malak even organized a Marian convention of Polish Canadians in Ontario in 1957. Thousands of people came to pray for Poland and the Cardinal (who was imprisoned by communists at the time). In 1975, the Cardinal named Father Malak an honorary counselor and said, "The deeds of your life, marked by sacrifice and the cross of prison camp torments and by uncommonly intense and diverse pastoral work, embody and reveal those most wonderful powers which the Heavenly Father calls forth in the human soul when that soul surrenders completely to the love of God's Work." Cardinal Wyszynski, who now has the title of "Venerable," was scheduled to be officially beatified this year, but this great honor has been delayed due to the current pandemic.
'Theresa of Chicago' was published in 1975 and is currently in the process of being republished by the Sisters at a later date.
Father Malak often corresponded with the famous Primate of Poland, Stefan Cardinal Wyszyński, who named Father Malak an honorary counselor in 1975. This photo shows the Cardinal with Pope John Paul II.
Father Malak writes in his office at the Walker mansion which also housed the Mother M. Theresa Museum.
Father Malak remained in Lemont for the rest of his life. In his later years, he ministered to the Sisters and continued to promote the cause of Mother Mary Theresa Dudzik. He passed away on June 19, 1987, and is buried in Our Lady of Victory Cemetery in Lemont. His extraordinary life's journey took him from Poland and the perils of World War II to the peaks of religious inspiration in the United States and Canada. Whether it was through his countless writings or his sermons from the pulpit, Father Malak touched the lives of so many people with his gift of creativity. He was a great asset to the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago for so many years and remained eternally devoted to the saintly cause of Mother Mary Theresa Dudzik. The life journey of this priest connected him to many Polish dignitaries, famous religious, and ultimately to the company of saints.