- May 24, 2013
Priest Augustyn Piórko – martyr for faith
“Behold, [here] I am, coming to do Your will” — these words of Paul the Apostle, written in the picture to commemorate the day of priestly orders and priest’s First Mass, were supposed to be an example for priest deacon Augustyn Piórko.
He wasn’t given a chance to wait till the most important moment in every priest life – priestly orders. April 13, 1942, a month before the ordination, he died a martyred death in Vilnius. He was born 100 years ago – May 25, 1913 in backwater Turniszki, 7 kilometers away from Vilnius in the Parish Church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross of Vilnius Calvary. He was the only son of worthy and devout parents – Barnaba Piórko and Maria Piórko, maiden name Farbotko. His mother desired her son to become a priest and she pried very eagerly for that – how it was mentioned by three already deceased sisters.
When he was 7 years old, bandits broke into his house and killed his father in full view of the whole family. It did not break his mother spirit, she raised and educated Augustin and his three sisters: Jadwiga, Ludwika, Elżbieta by herself.
He graduated from primary school and Sigismund Augustus Junior High School in Vilnius as the best student and, strengthened spiritually in virtues and piety, in 1934 he decided to become a priest.
In September of the same year he went to the Minor Seminary in Warsaw and then after two years he got into Major Seminary. He believed that a vocation to priesthood is a great and definitive grace but nevertheless is a vocation to sainthood, heroic perfection and being an example of great deeds for others.
In contact with people he was serious. Nobody heard him speaking words that could offend someone as well as nobody dared say something indecent in his company.
He was admired for his patience, humility, loving filial relationship with mother, a strong will to work on himself, undying piety and great devotion to God and brother. From an early age till his death he was the enemy of idleness. He loved everyone equally, no-one was left without consolation. This beautiful and truly Christlike way of life was blatantly obvious for everyone who was lucky enough to meet him.
The tragic September of 1939 found him in hometown Vilnius. He couldn’t come back to Warsaw so he continued an education on theological department in Vilnius University. After closing the university by Lithuanian authorities he went to Vilnius St. Joseph Seminary where he was promoted to the deaconship by archbishop R. Jałbrzykowski on March 30, 1941. He studied philosophy and theology with great eagerness. It can be proved by clear and pure Christian teaching implied in his sermons that he was preaching during his deaconship in many churches in Vlnius and surrounding areas. Anytime he appeared in the pulpit, the temple was filled with worshipers who listened to him in silence.
Actions of underground resistance organizations in the Vilnius Region during Nazi occupation gave hope for gaining independence at hand as well as patriotic attitude and evangelistic courage of deacon Augustyn comforted many inhabitants of Vilnius. He and his colleagues were warned by a street beggar about forthcoming arrests of clergymen and professors of the seminary but they belittled the warning. Augustyn even told his mother and sisters about this fact laughing.
March 3, 1942, he was arrested and incarcerated in Lukiškės Prison together with all professors and clergymen of theological college. Tortured, beat and tormented in the Gestapo headquarter, he treated his stay in cell as a retreat of “God’s Will”. When he was escorted to the Gestapo headquarter for questioning, he threw letters in matchboxes addressed to mother and sisters out of windows and prison gate. He wrote them on scraps of paper using very small letters. They were found and delivered by random passers-by.
“…Whatever happened, happened through God’s Will and so will be as the Lord demands. The Lord is with us so nothing bad can happen. We pray to him with faith and trust and we hope that sooner or later we will get our freedom back. Newborn, we learn how to respect, value and love things about which we didn’t even think before…”.
(The letter from prison, March 13, 1942.)
“….I don’t know why I’m here and I don’t know when I will be released but I do hope that one day, or maybe even soon, it will happen. If otherwise – please do not despair but, the way we have done it, trust entirely in God’s Will and bear all surprises with typical of you bravery and heroism. God who can turn even the utmost evil into good, keeps watch over us. We will not sink without trace and even if we be in prison a little longer or they take us away – we will come back one day probably.
It will be the way God planned it for us. So cheer up and let it be like the Lord wills…”.
(The letter from prison, March 9, 1942.)
After the last questioning, they put tortured and unconscious Augustyn in cell where he lay in a fever till the 1st of April 1942, regaining consciousness from time to time. He was transported to Žvėrynas hospital of zymotic diseases and he was watched day and night by armed Gestapo guards. Doctors who couldn’t give the real reason of his agony informed family that he had Typhus, pneumonia and complication of brain fever. The closest family wasn’t allowed to see the dying. He died alone in hospital April 13, 1942, in the age of 28, never regaining consciousness.
The memorial service started on April 14 and turned into a great manifestation of Vilnius inhabitants. Funeral procession, with the attendance of many priests, went through the main streets of the city: from Žvėrynas and Lukiškės streets to the Green Bridge and then Kalvariju street up to Vilnius Calvary. Surprised Germans stopped the traffic. German soldiers and officers who were passing the coffin with the body of dead Augustyn stopped and saluted. After the funeral service in the Church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross in Vilnius Calvary, the coffin with dead was left till morning and after the mass he was interred into the grave near the church.
Time after time I’m wondering why I’m repetitively coming back to this tragic and martyred death of my Uncle. I think, it’s because of my dead mother – Elżbieta Kamińska, the youngest sister of priest Augustyn. She’s the one who from an early age was telling me stories about my Uncle’s life, tragic days of imprisonment, death and funeral. She was emotionally bounded with him as the youngest sister who was born few months after her father’s death and was raised only by her mother. For many years my Mother couldn’t accept the fact that he’s gone.
She couldn’t accepted the fact that he was the only one among arrested priest from Major Seminary who, less than month before the priestly orders, had to make the biggest sacrifice – the sacrifice of life.
According to her memories and the memories of her sisters, relatives and friends, Gucio, as she called him, was a great son and brother, multi-talented, also in the field of art. Among other things, he had an amazing unusual handwriting. He had a great voice too. As a self-taught person he played mandoline and sang beautifully.
In relations with other people he was considered cheerful, happy and friendly. Therefore his openness towards people he was especially popular with children and youth. Conversation with him and his comany gave the sence of phenomenal peace, quiet and happiness. He was very active. He participated in talks, discussins, he exchanged experience and information on every topic. He couldn’t accept the loss of independence by Poland and Poles and in conversations and sermons he supported people in those difficult days. He wasn’t afraid of speaking about winning freedom back, about independent and revived Poland. Everyone liked and admired him for that…
On the 2000th anniversary of Christianity, Pope John Paul II proclaimed priest deacon Augustyn Piórko and other 26 martyrs of The Roman Catholic Metropolitan Archdiocese of Vilnius the Christian martyrs of XX century.
Sunday at 1:30 pm in Vilnius Calvary, there will be a solemn mass on the occasion of 100th birthday of priest deacon Augustyn Piórko.
Tłumaczenie by Sara Howicka w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Sara Howicka within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.