Among the men studying for the priesthood in the Diocese of Biloxi, Mississippi are two Polish seminarians, both of whom are spending part of their summer training in local parishes.
Adam Urbaniak, 25, is assigned to Sacred Heart Parish in Pascagoula and Piotr Kmiecik, 33, is assigned to Sacred Heart Parish in Dedeaux.
Urbaniak, a native of Gniezno and the youngest of three children born to Kaximiem and Bozena Urbaniak, broke up with his girlfriend of two-and-a-half years to enter the seminary.
"I had a very good pastor who sacrificed himself for people and for God and it was something amazing for me, to sacrifice your life for others," said Urbaniak, who added that he also was influenced by the first Polish-born Pope, Blessed John Paul II, who was beatified in May.
“I remember that I went to take a vacation close to the Baltic Sea and I was still thinking, ‘Should I stay with my girlfriend and create a family or should I go to the seminary to be a priest?’ It was a very hard decision for me, but I remember that I met a very old man at the Baltic Sea and he told me that he had a beautiful family and was a great husband and father, but that his vocation was to be a priest. He was in the seminary and he left the seminary to be with his girlfriend. And he still had this feeling that he had made a mistake. He should have been a priest. I had the same feeling.”
But, unlike the old man by the sea, Urbaniak followed his heart and ended the relationship with his girlfriend to begin building upon his relationship with God.
“God was calling me to the priesthood,” he said.
“I loved my girlfriend very, very much, so it was very difficult. But I decided after that conversation (with the old man) to go to the seminary to see if this is my vocation or not.”-
He broke the news to her the day before he left for the seminary.
“It wasn’t easy for her. It was the same as if I had found another girl,” he said.
“That time was very, very difficult for us.”
However, as the old saying goes, time heals all wounds and, in time, his girlfriend grew to understand and accept his decision.
Urbaniak spent four years in the Polish seminary and is currently in his first year at Saints Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Orchard Lake, Michigan.
Of his decision to study for the Diocese of Biloxi, Urbaniak said, “It was God’s plan.”
Urbaniak had the opportunity to visit several American dioceses, including the Diocese of Memphis and the Diocese of Venice, Fla.
“I wanted to go the Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut, but God’s plan was different,” he said.
“I didn’t go to Bridgeport because I wanted to take a trip to the Diocese of Biloxi.”
During his time in this diocese, Urbaniak spent some time at Holy Family Parish in Pass Christian.
“I met a family there and I spoke with them for several days after each Mass and they told me about their difficulties after Hurricane Katrina,” he said.
“They told me that they didn’t have a house and that they needed priests (in the Diocese of Biloxi). We have a lot of priests in this diocese, but many of them will be retiring soon. That brought to mind my home country of Poland when my pastor was working in Belarus. He told me that he had to close several churches because they didn’t have priests. I didn’t want that to happen here, so I chose this diocese.”
Urbaniak said he is “very happy” in Mississippi and loves the people, and
he has learned a lot from Sacred Heart pastor Father Mike Kelleher.
“Father Mike is an excellent priest,” he said. “Father Mike wants to be with people and that’s what I like, so I’m really happy to be assigned here. It’s a perfect fit.”
Soon, Urbaniak will return to Poland to visit his family. He said it’s been hard being away from his family.
“It was hard to explain my decision to them, especially my mother because she is very, very ill. She has Parkinson’s disease. So, it’s hard on me as well to be far away from her,” he said.
“But, we have a lot of opportunities to speak with our friends and families in different countries. We have Skype, which is what I use. But it can still be difficult, especially during the holiday like Christmas.”
However, Urbaniak said the people here have made it hurt a lot less.
“I really feel like I’m at home,” he said.
“Sacred Heart is like my home parish in Poland and I’m very, very happy here. The people are so, so nice and that’s what makes me feel better.”
Piotr (pronounced Peter) Kmiecik hails from Lindow, which is located in south Poland, very close to Czestochowa.
“Czestochowa is like a spiritual capital of Poland,” he said.
“It is known for the famous Pauline Monastery of Jasna Gora, which is home of the Black Madonna, a very famous painting and shrine to the Virgin Mary.”
Kmiecik is an only child.
“My mother is a widow and shares a house with her sister Anna. Anna has one son also, my cousin Luke, who I love and treat like my younger brother. My mother, Maria, came from a large family – three brothers and three sisters,” he said. “We all stick together in good and bad. We help each other when needed. I thank God each day for such a wonderful family.”
Kmiecik said his childhood was like that of any young boy, describing himself as “fun-loving and sometimes mischievous.”
“Everything changed when I became an altar boy at St. Joseph Church,” he said. “The pastor was a great example to me and I began to think about my future. I remember praying to God for guidance and, each year, the thoughts of priesthood were stronger. I have traveled many roads in this direction. Finally, in 2009, I joined Saints Cyril and Methodius Seminary. I don’t have anyone or anything in particular that influenced my decision. Deep inside I know that God is calling me.”
When he arrived in the United States in 2009 to begin his studies, Kmiecik had not heard of the Diocese of Biloxi. However, after meeting with Father Dennis Carver, diocesan director of vocations, Kmiecik became curious and decided to pay a visit to South Mississippi.
“Holy Family Parish was the first parish I visited. I fell in love with it,” he said. “Choosing Biloxi was easy. The parishioners surrounded me with so much love. Father Carver is wonderful, very open and honest and all of that strengthened my decision. I believe that God has helped me to find my place in Mississippi.
Kmiecik said life in the seminary is very organized.
“There is time for work, time to study, time to pray and time to rest,” he said.
“We seminarians are all different. For some, it’s hard to be so regimented. For me personally, it’s very convenient. I have adapted to it and I love it. I am a very happy seminarian.”
Kmiecik said he truly enjoys being in Mississippi.
“It’s beautiful, sunny and warm. I love warm weather. I also enjoy delicious food. I especially enjoy seafood. It’s good and it’s healthy,” he said.
“Being so close to the Gulf of Mexico helps too. I love to sit at the shore and watch the water, listen to the wind and think about my life.”
But what he enjoys most are the people.
“I love the people,” he said. “They are so kind, open and joyous despite their hard lives and their struggles. I truly hope that one day I will fully share and hopefully help them in their everyday experiences.”
In addition to Urbaniak and Kmiecik, Deacon Bartosz Kunat is also studying for the Diocese of Biloxi.
Kunat, who is assigned to Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Cathedral this summer, will be ordained in December, making him the first Polish priest in the history of the Diocese of Biloxi.
Printed with permission from Gulf Pine Catholic, newspaper for the Diocese of Biloxi, Mississippi.