The Canadian Saints
BROTHER ANTHONY KOWALCZYK
Br. Anthony was a holy brother who lived in Alberta. His ideal was to live and wear himself out for God and to always walk in the presence of God. And this he did, though he had only one good arm.
Anthony was born on June 4, 1866 in Dzierzanow, Poland. He was the sixth child in a family of twelve. His father and mother were very good Catholics. Anthony was baptized at the Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation in Lutogniew, Poland. And it was at this shrine that Anthony developed his great devotion to Our Lady.
At the age of seven Anthony went to the village school. When he was twelve he prepared himself for his First Holy Communion, which took place in September on the Feast of Our Lady of Consolation.
When Anthony completed his elementary schooling, his parents took him out of school because they needed him to help them on their small farm. The boy helped his parents for three years. Then encouraged by his parents, he was apprenticed to a blacksmith in Krotoszyn.
At the age of twenty-four Anthony went to work in Hamburg, Germany. After his companions found out that he was a Catholic, they abused him with bad language, and when the least problem arose at work they said blasphemous words against the things of God. Poor Anthony was confused, angry and helpless. Being afraid that he too might become like his co-workers, one day he fell to his knees in a public place and shouted to Heaven his faith in God.
All these bad co-workers, abuses and bad language affected poor Anthony and he became quite sick. He felt a terrible pain in his eyes and the doctor told him that he might become blind. On his way home he stopped at a church and knelt before Our Lady’s altar. As he prayed he resigned himself to the holy will of God. He then made the Stations of the Cross and at the sixth station, he felt a physical change and removed the bandage. He could now see! God had cured him and he completed the Stations of the Cross.
Anthony immediately left for the Rhineland, which was a Catholic area in Germany. While looking for a job in Cologne, he made frequent visits to a Franciscan church. During one of these visits he felt an urge to go to Mulheim. There he found work and a room with the Prunnenbaum’s, a Catholic family. When Mrs. Prunnenbaum came to know Anthony better, she told him about her son studying with the Oblates who had missionaries in Africa, Asia and North America. She also said that the Oblates worked amongst the poor and needed help desperately.
At first Anthony thought that he was too old to join the Oblates, but before long he made up his mind to join them. His father refused to let him join the Oblates, but his Confessor told him, “God comes before parents. If God calls you, answer His call!”
Anthony began his novitiate on September 21, 1891 in St. Gulach, Holland. He was an excellent novice. On October 2, 1892 he made his vows of Chastity, Poverty and Obedience. Often when the Superior had a problem, he would ask Br. Anthony to say a few prayers.
On October 26, 1893, Br. Anthony renewed his vows for one year and asked to be sent to the foreign missions. Within a few years, he was appointed to the mission of St. Albert in what is now Alberta, Canada. He sailed for Canada on May 18, 1896 and arrived in Quebec on June 1st. Three days later he continued by train to Edmonton.
Br. Anthony went on to Lac la Biche with his Superior and fourteen other men. They soon reached an area of 300 yards of swampy mud. When the leading wagon became hopelessly stuck in the swamp, Br. Anthony went up to his knees in the mud and after saying a prayer, he guided the way for all eleven wagons to get through the swamp without any trouble.
At Lac la Biche, Br. Anthony worked hard and he spent many hours at prayer. He kept all the machinery in excellent working condition. In short he gave a good example to the whole community.
God gave Br. Anthony a very heavy cross on July 15, 1896. All were busy cutting lumber, when suddenly there was a cry of pain. Poor Br. Anthony was lying on the ground; the power belt had mangled his right hand. When he was able to get up he said, “It is God’s will.”
It took four days for Anthony to reach the hospital in Edmonton and by the time he reached the hospital, gangrene had set in and they had to do immediate surgery. At the hospital there were no drugs to put Anthony to sleep, so he simply held his crucifix while they cut off his bad hand. Anthony was now worried that the Oblates would no longer want him because he only had one good arm. He went to St. Albert to recover and there Fr. Grandin assured him that he was needed now more than ever.
In 1897, Br. Anthony and Br. Moelic were sent to help Fr. Therien at the mission of St. Paul de Métis. The three of them set up a sawmill and a flourmill. For ten years Br. Anthony was engineer, mechanic, and gardener of the struggling mission.
On January 17, 1899, Br. Anthony knelt before Bishop Legal to pronounce his final vows. His offering was now complete he would now be an Oblate Brother for the rest of his life.
To ease the food shortage, the Superior decided that the mission should raise pigs. Hail had destroyed the crops and the pigs were starving. A turnip field lay beyond a field of oats and the Superior told Br. Anthony to take the pigs to the turnip field saying, “Don’t allow a single animal to feed on the oats!” To this, Br. Anthony replied, “But that is impossible Father.” The Superior told the brother to be on his way. Then many people saw a miracle as the pigs followed the brother obediently and did not touch the oats!
The following years were extremely difficult for Br. Anthony. He had too much work to do and finally he was unable to carry on. The Superior refused to give him less work. Br. Anthony insisted but the Superior told him to get out of the room. When Anthony returned to ask forgiveness the Superior replied, “For your penance I forbid you to receive Holy Communion for three months, except on Sundays!” The poor brother was crushed but he obeyed for the next three months.
Br. Anthony was transferred to St. John’s College in Edmonton on October 4, 1911. There he was a blacksmith, laundryman, gardener, bell ringer, sacristan, and he cared for the chickens and other animals.
In 1912, Br. Anthony and a priest travelled to Winnipeg to have his arm fitted with a metal hook. After a few weeks when Anthony could use the hook well, he was given the job of being a janitor as well.
Every September, when the boys returned to school from their holidays, they found that Br. Anthony was a good friend to help them. He would repair a watch, sharpen skates, cut a locker key, or mend their glasses. If the boys felt homesick, he would tell them to say a Hail Mary.
Br. Anthony did his work well for the love of God. He worked hard and he prayed hard. He once told a friend who thought the rule was hard, “I am 72. I find the rule difficult. You must bend and break your will.” He also had a good sense of humour and would often joke with people. And when he was the butt of a joke, he was the first to laugh at himself.
The holy brother truly loved Our Lady and obtained permission from his Superior to build a grotto for Our Lady of Lourdes at St. John’s College. He and other helpers brought stones from a ravine at the edge of the college property. He begged others for donations that he might cement the stones together. When the grotto was completed and blessed, he would say his last prayers of the day before retiring for the night.
As Br. Anthony grew older, his eyesight, strength and memory began to fail. Sometimes he had to spend a few days in the hospital. When he came back home, and regained his strength, he would put on his overalls and sweep the floors. He felt better when he was working.
On September 17, 1945, Br. Anthony did not appear in the chapel, nor did he come for his meal. When somebody went to check on him, poor Br. Anthony was sitting on the edge of his bed. His face was bruised and swollen, and his eyes were blackened and bloodshot. He was rushed to the hospital where he received the last rites. What had happened was that Br. Anthony had been beaten by the devil because he was so holy! After this, his memory failed him more often and he became nervous and upset.
On July 8th, Br. Anthony went to St. Albert for his annual retreat. Two days later he was found paralysed and unable to speak. He was given the last rites and died on July 10, 1947.
Work hard like Br. Anthony who did his work with one hand. Use your hands well for the glory of God. Beg Br. Anthony to help you when things are difficult. And pray that Br. Anthony will be canonized a saint.
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