A wretched year came to a sorrowful end when Father Maciej Zięba, OP, died in his native Wrocław, Poland, on December 31. The birthplace of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Wrocław was also the home of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, who grew up there as Edith Stein when the city was known as Breslau. Unlike those great Christian witnesses, Maciej Zięba was not a martyr; but he, too, gave his life for Christ and the Church, and he bore more than his share of suffering in doing so.
His life was dramatically changed by John Paul II’s first pilgrimage to Poland in June 1979. Hearing the pope’s eloquent summons to Poles to reject the communist culture of the lie by reclaiming the truth about themselves as a nation, the young university student of physics thought, “We might have to live and die under communism. But I can live without being a liar.” Opportunities to act on that determination multiplied when the Solidarity movement was born in the fall of 1980. Maciej Zięba quickly became involved and worked with Tadeusz Mazowiecki (who would become contemporary Poland’s first non-communist prime minister in 1989) on Tygodnik Solidarność, one of the movement’s principal publications.
In those turbulent years Zięba also heard a vocational call to religious life and the priesthood. Entering the Polish province of the Order of Preachers in 1981, he was ordained in 1987. Eleven years later he was elected provincial, and under his leadership the Polish Dominicans became one of the most dynamic religious communities in the post-conciliar Church. While he was very much a public personality, intensely involved in cultural, political, and ecclesiastical debates, Father Zięba understood himself first and foremost as a vowed religious and a priest – one who knew that the cloistered Dominican sisters whose contemplative vocation he nurtured were (as he once put it) the “spiritual reactor core” of the Polish Dominican province.
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