Catholics in Montana have taken up the cause for canonization of a beloved Polish priest, who came to them after years in Nazi prison camps.
Msgr. Joseph Gluszek came to the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings in 1950 – a survivor of the beatings, starvation and inhuman conditions in Nazi prison camps – and served there for more than a half century.
Msgr. Gluszek died two years ago, one month before his 92nd birthday, after 52 years of ministry in Montana. His friends spanned generations. They included the little children, the elderly, as well as Pope John Paul II.
Remarkably, the cause for canonization is a grassroots movement, led by Lester and Teresa Maleszewski. The Maleszewskis were not the monsignor’s good friends, but they respect his life as a servant of God, they told the Great Falls Tribune.
The Maleszewskis are now documenting his life and gathering signatures for a petition to encourage the local bishop to begin examination of Msgr. Gluszek’s holy virtues.
That shouldn’t be too difficult, since many parishioners admired Msgr. Gluszek’s strong faith, kindness and compassion, despite the harsh experiences through which he lived.
Already a priest, the German Gestapo took him prisoner the fourth day of World War II, Sept. 4, 1939, reported the Great Falls Tribune. He was transported in chains into Germany, where he spent time at Dachau, then at a work camp at Mauthausen-Gusen, Austria, and again at Dachau. He had spent 68 months in the camps before U.S. Gen. George Patton and his army arrived to liberate the people, April 29, 1945.
According to Msgr. Gluszek's memoirs, the prisoners were forced to sleep on wet ground, covered by some straw and dead insects. When they finally were offered soap, they refused to wash with it because it was made of the fat of murdered Jewish prisoners.
The prisoners' daily ration of bread was 12 ounces, but in the last two years of the war the ration was cut to 4 or 5 ounces a day.
He recounted that the only time he lost hope during his imprisonment was when he collapsed from weakness, weighing only 82 pounds. A guard told him that he wasn’t worth killing since he would surely die in the next few days anyway.
Another touching story about his wartime experience comes from parish lore. One day at the camp, the priest looked up from his prayers and saw a little girl watching him. When she saw him look at her, she ran away.
Saddened, he turned to the Lord and said: "If I even scare the children, please let me die." His prayer was answered and his faith was restored when the little girl returned with a piece of bread that she pushed through the fence to him.
His kind and loving relationship with children continued when he arrived in Montana, where he would often visit schools and celebrate mass with the children. He kept active even after retirement, visiting the sick and celebrating mass at two Great Falls nursing homes.
The stories of the monsignor’s kindness and service are many. In a message sent to Msgr. Gluszek’s funeral, Pope John Paul II said: "His generosity to all should inspire this community."
It seems that it already has, as parishioners continue to tell of his witness and lay people lead in his cause for canonization.