By Laurie Stiegelmeier
Father Albert Cizewski, ordained a priest in Poland 50 years ago, has experienced parish life in three different countries. Over those years, the Real Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament has given him the strength to carry out his vocation every day.
Early ministry years
It’s difficult for him to say what drew him to the priesthood, but he had been an altar server for many years and met a wonderful priest who was a good example. After eight years of elementary school and four of high school, Father Albert attended six years of seminary in Bialystok, Poland.
“When I went to seminary, I wasn’t sure I would stay—it was always a battle for me. Very often I was told by professors ‘we need priests like you’ because I was always joyful and happy,” he said. “I like to play jokes all the time.”
His seminary study was interrupted for two years when he was drafted into the army. “The Communists tried to destroy the Catholic Church. No priests, no Church,” he said.
And it almost worked—70 seminarians were whittled down to 25 or 26 by ordination. There were only five others ordained with him from his seminary.
“George, a seminarian I knew very well who was also drafted in the army two years, was brutally murdered by Communists. At night when I say my prayers, I always mention St. Theresa, Pope St. John Paul II and George,” he said.
After ordination and serving one parish in Poland, Father Albert studied marriage and family at the University of Warsaw. He said this was the most joyful time for him and affected his vocation the most. He became more appreciative of priesthood because he learned how to work with parishioners, how to communicate and relate to them.
Afterward, he was involved with marriage preparation and served three more parishes in Poland until his bishop was visited by a bishop from Canada.
“Poland had so many priests and my bishop said to me ‘You were in the Army, you’re a strong man, you should go to Canada.’” So, he went to Canada and attended college for three months to learn English. “And you see, I did because I don’t like to give up,” Father Albert said.
Priesthood in the U.S.
Father Albert became a Canadian citizen while serving parishes in Canada from 1984 to 1990. Then, while visiting a Polish priest in Gettysburg, South Dakota, Bishop Dudley arrived. This event led to Father Albert serving the Sioux Falls diocese and becoming an American citizen.
Having lived in and being a citizen of three nations, Father Albert sees spiritual differences among them. Poland is 95 percent Catholic (even Communist leaders secretly baptized their children), and he misses the more solemn atmosphere of processions, Forty Hours Devotion, First Fridays and feast days held each year in every parish.
“More solemn,” he said, “like cemeteries. Here in cemeteries you see just rocks; in Poland you just see crosses.”
“Atmosphere,” he continued. “In Poland a farmer in a field first takes off his hat, sprinkles ground with holy water, takes seed in his hand and takes three steps—for the Holy Trinity—as he scatters it. Only when that is done, he uses his equipment to plant and harvest.”
The greatest challenge during Father Albert’s 50 years as a priest has been coming to a new parish.
“It is kind of a question, will they accept me or not? How will they feel? You are coming and you don’t know anybody,” he said. “At each new parish it is the same.”
However, Father Albert finds his rewards in the smiles, hugs and Mass attendance from his parishioners.
In addition to two sisters, Father Albert still has many relatives in Poland.
“God works in mysterious ways,” he said. “I have cousins in the U.S. because uncles served in Army and couldn’t return to Poland because of Communists, so they settled in the U.S., Canada and England.”
“Generally, I am retired,” Father Albert said. “This is my retirement and I appreciate Bishop Swain who gave me this parish.”
With his only—and very slight—frown he added, “Completely retired…it’s not good.”