Blessed GREGORY FRACKOWIAK, SVD – Brother
1911, Lowecice-May 5, 1943, Dresden
Receptionist and Bookbinder
The youngest of our four martyrs was 31 when he was beheaded on May 5, 1943, in the prison of Dresden. Brother Gregory consciously offered his life as a substitute for others. His willingness to claim responsibility for some thing he did not do saved several people (including his brother) from certain imprisonment and death. This heroic gesture makes him similar to another martyr of the same war — St. Maximilian Kolbe, who also gave his life for someone else in the concentration camp at Auschwitz.
Gregory is his religious name. He was born Boleslaw Frackowiak in Lowecice (a small village not far from Poznan). One of twelve children, he grew up in a deeply religious atmosphere. At the age of 18 he entered the SVD novitiate in Gorna Grupa. From the beginning he exhibited great joy in being a missionary Brother. He worked both as a receptionist and as a professional binder in the printing press. Among the people of the area he was remembered as someone with a special sensitivity towards the poor. He had numerous visitors, because he was known for providing something to eat, a warm welcome, and a good word for everyone. Some called him “the friend of the poor.”
His gentleness, simplicity, and deep spirituality were also appreciated by the students of the minor seminary, who enjoyed his presence and sought his advice. His work as a bookbinder in the printing press was acknowledged as exemplary by both lay employees and by the confreres. When Brother Gregory professed his final vows on September 8, 1938, he was deeply convinced that he was offering his life to God for the mission of Christ and of the Church. He had no idea how quickly and how radically he would be expected to live out that commitment.
When World War II began, Brother Gregory was part of the SVD community in Gorna Grupa. When this house was made an internment camp for priests, the brothers were forced to leave. For a while he lived with relatives in Poznan. There he served as the sacristan at St. Martin’s Parish. He also taught catechism to children and even baptized some of the newborn. One day the pastor was arrested by the Gestapo. Since he could no longer safely hide the Blessed Sacrament, Brother Gregory took upon himself the task of distributing it among the faithful. For an entire day and night he and others in the parish knelt in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. Then with great reverence he distributed Holy Communion to those present.
Eventually Brother Gregory was able to find work in a printing press at Jarocin, a small town not far from his home. Like many others, he received and passed on some anti-Nazi material. However, Fr. Paul Kiczka, SVD, advised him to discontinue receiving and passing on these pamphlets, and so he stopped. A year later these activities were discovered by the Gestapo.
A number of people were arrested, and Brother Gregory knew that he was among those wanted. Secretly he again visited Fr. Kiczka, who advised him to hide in Poznan. But Brother Gregory had another idea.
Among those arrested were men who had wives and children. Wouldn’t the others be saved if he took on himself the whole responsibility for this anti-Nazi activity? “May I accept the responsibility for them?” he asked his spiritual director. Fr. Kiczka responded: “If you have the courage and strength. It would mean sacrificing your life.” Gregory made his confession and received Holy Communion. After his thanksgiving he shook his confrere’s hand and said, “Till we meet again — but not on this earth.” He went home, where he was arrested the following day. He “confessed” his crime, and immediately afterwards some of the other suspects were freed. Gregory was transferred from the prison in Jarocin to Poznan and then finally to Dresden, where he was beheaded.
A few hours before his death Gregory wrote to his relatives. A few sentences from that letter reveal his readiness for death: “I am writing to you for the last time in this world. By the time you receive this letter I will no longer be among the living. Today on Wednesday (5.5.1943) at 6:15 PM I will be executed. Please pray for me. It is already one o’clock, and at two o’clock the priest will bring me Jesus. Don’t cry, but pray for my soul. I leave it to you, whether you want to communicate to my mother the manner of my death. I am completely at peace. I greet all of you, and I will wait for you in God’s presence. Please greet all the Missionary Brothers in Bruczkow. After the war bring my cassock there. God bless you. Remain faithful Catholics. Forgive any faults of mine. I’m sorry for my poor mother. May God protect you. Till we see each other in heaven.”
Blessed Gregory Frackowiak was beatified by Pope John Paul II on June 13, 1999, together with three companions from the Society of the Divine Word, as part of a group of 107 Polish martyrs of the Second World War.
SOURCE: Society of the Divine Word