Page 4900 – 4901                                                                           HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY                                                           Wednesday, 31 March 2021

The Hon. G.G. BROCK (Frome) (16:05): Today, I would like to talk about the anniversary of the first Polish chaplain in Australia. On 13 March this year, I attended an event at Polish Hill River to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the first Polish chaplain in Australia, Father Leon Rogalski.

The event was opened by Mr Edward Dudzinski, President of the Federation of Polish Organisations in South Australia, and it also had the great honour of having His Excellency the Hon. Hieu Van Le AC, Governor of South Australia, opening the event. There was also a vast lineup of various members of the churches, including the Most Reverend Patrick O’Regan and Bishop Karol Kulczycki SDS, who has only recently been appointed as new bishop for our region. It was also great to see the member for Waite at the event celebrating this great occasion.

Father Leon Rogalski SJ arrived on 7 March 1870 (the celebration was deferred for 12 months due to COVID-19 restrictions) and was the very first chaplain to the Polish expatriate community and one of the first, and in fact possibly the first, dedicated chaplain in Australia. Father Leon came out as a 40 year old, arriving firstly in Melbourne, having ended his time as a dedicated pastoral care worker in continental Europe, and coming to a land virtually unknown to those living in Europe and other locations across the world at that time. He left his home country to come to Australia not because of a midlife crisis or in search of excitement, like many others who immigrated to this virtually unknown land, but to serve his countrymen in a very strange land across many miles of sea.

Father Leon was born into an impoverished noble family in Poland and, along with many other members of his family, came into the role of serving God. After obtaining his baccalaureate in 1851, he followed in the footsteps of his older brother and entered the seminary, where he served, and for four years studied theology at the University of Lviv. He was ordained as a priest in August 1851. After the outbreak of the Second Italian War of Independence, he became a military chaplain and was sent to north-eastern Italy, where he took care of wounded soldiers in field hospitals.

When it was announced that Father Leon was to be sent to Australia, his community put a petition to the provincial superior to have him kept in the local community, such was the high regard this man was held in by his own parishioners. He had been serving those people because he wanted to serve them; there were no airs and graces about Father Leon at that time. However, the petition did not change the decision of his superiors to send him to this faraway land; in reality, it probably reinforced his superiors’ view of Father Leon, his dedication and the following he had.

Upon his arrival, Father Rogalski established the very first Polish chapel in Australia, St Stanislaus Kostka in Polish Hill River, and hung a painting of the Polish Jesuit saint on its walls. It was from there that Father Rogalski provided pastoral care to generations of Polish, German and Irish migrants, creating a lasting legacy of community and service. In a significant gesture, the Australian Jesuit Provincial, Father Quyen Vu SJ, gifted a reproduction of the original painting of St Stanislaus Kostka to the Polish community on behalf of the Australian Jesuits. Father Brian McCoy, the former Australian Jesuit Provincial, said:

It was only fitting that on this occasion, the celebration of Father Leon Rogalski’s arrival, a copy of this original painting be returned to those who have continued to care for this memorial for the first Polish community in Australia. Although the various speakers spoke of this great achievement, the newly arrived Bishop Karol addressed the crowd in his own Polish language, which was well received by the many Polish descendants in the crowd.

The Clare Valley has a longstanding connection to the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) and the Polish migrant community in Australia. Today, the grounds are home to Sevenhill Cellars, the oldest winery in the Clare Valley; the St Aloysius Church; and a retreat centre, the heart of Jesuit and Ignatian Spirituality Australia (JISA), which offers a range of formation opportunities, including silent retreats.

It was a very moving day that was very well received. I commend the Polish organisation, who are all volunteers. Most of the work was done by people living in Adelaide and Melbourne. The day was a great success after 12 months’ hibernation.