R.I.P. Fr. Andrzej Urbański SDS (1947-2019)

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R.I.P. Fr. Andrzej Urbański SDS (1947-2019)

Fr. Andrew Urbański was born on May 11, 1947 in Rajcza near Żywiec, Poland. He grew up with his brother Józef in pious family of Józef and Maria née Jeleśniańska. His father was a tailor and mother took care of the household. He was baptized on June 26, 1947 in his home parish church in Rajcza. From 1954 to 1961 he attended to the elementary school in Leśna. He continued his education in the high school in Żywiec. Since his third grade he was an exemplary altar boy in his home parish.

A religious atmosphere in his family favored a born religious and missionary vocation of young Andrew. Thanks to his grandmother, who was a benefactor of Salvatorian house in Trzebinia and a participant of Fatima devotions, Andrew met Salvatorian Fathers. Fr. Alfons Ślusarczyk SDS had a great influence on his decision to join the Salvatorians. Fr. Alfons fascinated young Andrew with the work of Father Jordan and missionary ministry of the Salvatorians. Clearly defined motivation to commit himself to God as a Salvatorian missionary was present from the very beginning of the vocation journey of Fr. Andrew. That is why, after graduation from ninth grade of high school, on July 2, 1963 he wrote a petition to be accepted to the Salvatorian novitiate. This paper included well-defined purpose of his future way of life, expressed in following words: I desire to become a priest and a missionary to bring God to all people, who don’t know him yet or who want to know him…

When he received a positive answer for his letter in July 1963, on August 1 he came to the Salvatorian house in Bagno. After spiritual retreat he was accepted into the novitiate of Salvatorian Fathers on August 14, 1963. After a year of novitiate formation, on August 15, 1964, he took his first religious vows and chose Peter as his religious name. Because of the religious reforms of Second Vatican Council he came back to his baptismal name in 1966. He used name “Andrew” until his death. He was moved to religious house in Kraków-Zakrzówek to continue his education in high school from 1964 to 1966. He was persistent in achieving his purpose defined at the beginning of religious life to become a missionary. According to his own words, when he was a seminarian he learned foreign languages – English and Portuguese – by himself. He also read many publications about catholic missions. After graduation from high school in 1966 he was moved to Salvatorian Major Seminary in Bagno, where he started his philosophy and theology studies. After the first year of philosophy, at the time when Catholic Church was greatly persecuted by the communist government in Poland, he was drafted into the army. Despite the objection of religious and seminary leaders, Fr. Andrew was sent to the military unit in Szczecin-Podjuchy. During his two-year military service a young Salvatorian persevered the repressions from communist leaders and he remained faithful to his vocation. He was punished and persecuted for many times by military authorities for defending religious values and demanding participation in the Eucarist. But even in such tough circumstances he did not forget about his vocation. He used his free time for learning foreign languages and for philosophy studies. During his military service he graduated extramural from the second year of philosophy. He came back to the Society in 1969 and was moved to Kraków-Zakrzówek to live with theology seminarians and to study in the Institute of Missionary Fathers in Kraków. Between 1969 and 1973 he continued his religious formation and seminary education in Kraków. In 1970 he tied himself up forever with the apostolic work of Father Jordan by his perpetual vows. His diligence in theology studies was confirmed by very good notes and the award for the best student.

During his seminary formation, on January 11, 1972 he wrote a letter to provincial superior declaring his readiness to go to the mission in Tanzania right after his priestly ordination. He desired to fulfill his missionary vocation there. The opinions of his formators confirm that this was not just a declaration but it was followed by serious attitude of Andrew, who at that time was eager to learn English and German. He was also a great example of perseverance and openness to the community for his confreres. He was ordained for priesthood on June 9, 1973 in the church of Missionary Fathers in Kraków-Stradom by bishop Stanisław Smoleński.

On May 19, 1973 bp Arnold Cotey SDS of Nachingwea diocese in Tanzania and Fr. Paulinus Kramer SDS, the Superior of Tanzania Mission officially invited Fr. Andrew to work in their diocese. But despite of that, the superiors decided to assign newly ordaind Fr. Anrew to the Salvatorian community in Mikołów. From August 31, 1973 he became a vicar and teacher of religious education in the Mother of the Divine Savior Parish in Mikołów. But a year later, seeing his perseverance in achieving his missionary vocation goals, superiors gave him a permission to work in Tanzania. For a short period of time he lived in a Salvatorian house in Trzebnica, helping in parish ministry and waiting for finishing all formal issues for the new assignment. In August 1974 Fr. Andrew went to England for an intense English course. Few months later, on January 1975, the dream of Fr. Andrew came true, when his plane landed in Dar es Salaam airport in Tanzania. He was sent to Swahili language course in Makoko by the Lake Victoria. The Christmas of 1975 he spent in missionary center in Lukuledi, where he was assigned right after he finished his language course. The next step of his self-denying missionary service was in a Catholic parish in Lionja in Nachingwea diocese. Bp Arnold Cotey SDS appointed him to be a diocesan consultor.

In 1977 Fr. Andrew was appointed a master of novitiate in Namiungo. He had a responsible ministry of accepting candidates and formatting local vocations to the Salvatorian Society. As a sign of great commitment in developing Salvatorian mission in Africa and the trust of confreres, he was appointed as a superior of Tanzania Mission in 1981. He run this responsible office for three terms. Thanks to his great involvement and sacrificial work, Salvatorian Fathers started new missions in two other dioceses: Dar es Salaam and Morogoro. Fr. Andrew took actions to bring Salvatorians back for the missionary work in India. He eventually succeeded and in 1990 a Salvatorian formation house was founded in Bangalore – in the year of centennial anniversary of coming first Salvatorians to India sent by Father Jordan. It was his initiative to found the Salvatorian Institute of Philosophy and Theology in Morogoro as the first inter-religious college for local vocations from Tanzania and surrounding countries. The Institute was eventually affiliated to Papal University Urbaniana in Rome.

Enormous diligence and authentic missionary and apostolic spirit of Fr. Andrew were noticed by confreres from many provinces from all around the world. That is why during XV General Chapter of the Salvatorians in Kraków in 1993, he was appointed for a vicar general of the Society. In addition he became a general secretary for the missions. At the time of these functions he cared not only for the growth of existing missions in Congo, Tanzania, India and Taiwan, but he also contributed to establish new foundation in Philippines and to accept the acquisition of the Apostolic Administration in Comoros Islands located by the East coast of Africa coast. With great involvement he also participated in founding new pastoral centers in the countries of former Communist Block. Establishing new Salvatorian communities in Albania and Hungary was his credit. The presence of cardinal Polycarp Pengo from Dar es Salaam in a jubilee of 25th anniversary of Fr. Andrew’s priesthood ordination in his family town in Leśna in 1998, was the confirmation of his great involvement in evangelization of Sub-Saharan Africa. The notable guest from Africa was really grateful for Salvatorian missionary ministry in Tanzania. The Cardinal highlighted the special role of Fr. Andrew in mission development saying: With a special appreciation I think about merits of Fr. Andrew Urbański, who was always able to share the richness of faith with the others, but also he could share his enthusiasm for the apostolic mission. Taking into account establishing Intitute in Morogoro, which was one of many initiatives of Fr. Andrew, he said: That is why I recognize establishing our Tanzanian seminary center as one of the most precious gifts given to the Church in Tanzania. It is worthy to mention that Fr. Andrew’s authentic love for Africa and his great merits in spiritual, cultural and intellectual growth of the citizens of Tanzania were noticed and appreciated by the lay authorities of the country. As a confirmation of this it should be mentioned, that the president of Tanzania, Mr. Benjamin Mkapa, two times visited Leśna. In 2003 he came personally to Poland to express his gratitude for the missionary ministry of the Salvatorians. In 2013 he participated in a jubilee of 40th anniversary of priesthood ordination of Fr. Andrew in his family town.

In 1999, during the XVI General Chapter of the Salvatorians in Graz, Austria, on July 30, 1999, the capitulars elected Fr. Andrew Urbański for the office of General Superior of the Salvatorians. He was the second Polish Salvatorian in this noble function and at same time he was the first general, who served for 19 years as a missionary in Africa. He run this office for two terms – from 1999 to 2013. At that time he started many initiatives for the growth of the Society of the Divine Savior. He was an active supporter of the International Historical Commission of Salvatorians and the beatification process of Father Jordan. Thanks to his involvement and support, the works over publishing Positio were intensified. The works of Postulation Office were also quicken.

During his ministry as the General Superior he always followed the apostolic spirit and a charism of Father Jordan. He actively sought for the expansion of the Society and vocation promotion. He really cared for the support and growth of new missions in Asia, Slovakia and Mexico.

After finishing his ministry in Rome he came back to Poland. For the first year he lived in his family town for a sabbatical year and cured his health. In 2014 he came back to his beloved Tanzania, where he wanted to work as pastoral minister. But in 2016 he decided to go back to Poland because of deteriorating health. The Provincial Council assigned him to the Salvatorian community in Bielsko-Biała as a resident. He worked as pastoral help in local parish and he was a chaplain in the hospice.

Apart from the merits mentioned above, Fr. Andrew Urbański will remain in our memory as greatly kind and joyful person. The confreres working with him on the missions treated him like concerned father and generous friend. He did not only speak about the missionary idea of Father Jordan, but he really lived according to it every day. During many meetings, he explained to the Salvatorian seminarians in Bagno, that there were many places in the world, where people wait for Jesus’ Gospel and their ministry.

Fr. Ander Urbanski died suddenly on March 15, 2019 in Bagamoyo, Tanzania. That place is symbolic, because the name of this seaport means literally “broken heart”. In the past, from that place the ships with African slaves were departing to different Arab countries. And in the same way, as these poor people saw their beloved land for the last time in their lives, for Fr. Andrew it was a place of the last glance on his beloved Africa on his way to the house of the Father.

Fr. Andrew Urbański ended his earthly pilgrimage in 72nd year of his life, in 55th year of religious life and in 46th year of priesthood.
Ks. Ireneusz Kiełbasa SDS