Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski and Cardinal Karol Wojtyla
My work as Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee on Migration involved many different groups of people. One group was the large number of priests from Poland who were entering the United States on tourist visas and who would remain uninvited by any bishop or diocese. During the Communist regime in Poland after the Second World War a large number of polish people emigrated from Poland to Latin America, Australia, the United States and other countries. Polish priests obtained permission from the Communist regime to go for a five year period to minister to those Polish emigres wherever they were. After the five years were up they were to return to Poland but some of the Polish priests decided to come to the United States on tourist visas. Their purpose was not tourism but to find work in some diocese in the United States. In canon law they were called vagi, wanderers. Canon law frowns on a priest being a vagus he must belong to a diocese either by incardination or by contract.
Some bishops who were short of priests welcomed them and followed canonical procedures to incorporate them in their dioceses. But frequently the priests had difficulties because the administration of the Church in the United States is highly centralized in the chancery office; most dioceses in the world do not have chancery offices, the bishop simply runs the diocese from his residence. Some of these polish priests were not able to easily adapt to the strong centralization of American dioceses.
I conceived the idea of offering these priests an opportunity to take a short course in American pastoral procedures at The Catholic University of America and thus minimize the possibility of conflict. I contacted the University officials and they were eager to devise such a program that would run for just a couple of months. I took the plan to the General Meeting of the USCCB in November, 1977 and presented it to the bishops for approval; they approved it.
The minutes of the General Meeting were routinely sent to Rome and there someone must have called the attention of the Polish Episcopal Conference to our plan. In May, 1978 I received a letter from Poland signed by both Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski, Archbishop of Warsaw, Primate of Poland and President of the Polish Episcopal Conference and Karol Cardinal Wojtyla, Archbishop of Krakow and Chairman of the Polish Episcopal Conference Committee on Migration. The letter is shown here:
By pure coincidence the Pontifical Commission for Migration and People on the Move, to which I had been appointed a Consultor on March 10, 1978, had called for an international conference to be held in Berlin in the first two weeks of September 1978 to study the problem of the Turkish guest workers in Germany and the President of the Congregation nominated me to attend the conference. I wrote back to the two cardinals in Poland and told them that I would be happy to visit Poland after the conference in Berlin. They agreed to the timing of my visit.
On September 19 I flew to Warsaw from Berlin and was met by a priest from the office of Cardinal Wyszynski and was taken to stay at the Nuntiature of the Holy See which was vacant because the Holy See and the Communist government of Poland did not have diplomatic relations, however there were some nuns there who were the housekeepers for the Nunciature. The next day I began a series of meetings with Cardinal Wyszynski and his staff. These continued for a week combined with some sightseeing in Warsaw guided by a priest from the Polish Episcopal Conference.
On September 26 the priest drove me to the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa where we spent the night in the monastery of the Pauline Fathers.
On the morning of September 28 I celebrated Mass at the altar of the image of Our Lady of Czestochowa. After the Mass I was in the sacristy taking off my vestments when a Pauline father who had been stationed at the Shrine of Our Lady in Doylestown, Pennsylvania came up to me in a state of agitation and said in broken English, “Bishop, isn’t it terrible, Our Holy Father is dead!” I was puzzled because I had been to the funeral of Pope Paul VI twenty-eight days earlier and my first thought was, news travels slowly in Poland. I said to the priest, “Yes, father, I know, I was at his funeral.” He replied, “No, Bishop I am not talking about Pope Paul VI, I am talking about Pope John Paul I, he died this morning!”
Shocked, I proceeded to have breakfast and leave with my priest-driver for Krakow. We arrived at Krakow a couple of hours later and a nun opened the door of the Cardinal’s residence and told me that I was expected. She showed me into the parlor and a few minutes later the Cardinal came in and I shook his hand and said, “Your Eminence, I am in a state of shock over the death of our Holy Father.” He replied, “Welcome Bishop Gracida, yes, it is a great loss to the Church.” Little did I know that I had just spoken with the man who in 18 more days would become Pope John Paul II and in 2014 would be proclaimed a Saint by Pope Francis.
I remained with the Cardinal for two days. We talked about the Polish priests in the United States and the program I had devised for their introduction in the pastoral administration of parishes. At meals he wanted to talk a lot about my experiences in World War II. He inquired about which cities I had bombed. I was happy to be able to tell him that I had not dropped any bombs on Poland. He was fascinated by the fact that I was now a private pilot with my own little airplane. Since he had visted the United States several times, he wanted to know where I flew it in the United States. Present at the table for all of the meals was Father Stanislaw Dziwisz who would later himself become the Cardinal Archbishop of Krakow.
My stay with the Cardinal was cut short by the realization that we both had to go to Rome. I had to go to a Plenary meeting of the Pontifical Commission for Migration and People on the Move and the Cardinal had to go for the funeral of Pope John Paul I and stay for the Conclave. We flew separately to Rome. When I arrived in Rome I discovered that the meeting of the Commission had been canceled so I decided to stay for the funeral which was to be held on October 4. Before we left Krakow the Cardinal had inquired as to where I would be staying in Rome. I told him that I always stayed at the Casa Internationale del Clero close to the Pantheon. The next day after we arrived in Rome a Polish priest called me and said that the Cardinal was inviting me to come to lunch at the Polish Seminary where we could continue our discussions that had been interrupted in Krakow. I went to the Seminary and met with the Cardinal. I had lunch with the Cardinal in the Seminary Refectory where the Cardinal introduced me to everyone as “The Pilot Bishop from the United States.” After the funeral I flew back to Tallahassee.
On October 16 I had a luncheon meeting of the priests in the Tallahassee Deanery outside my home on the terrace by the swimming pool, During the lunch, one of my pastors, Father Edward Dzsinkiewiz told a Polish joke and everyone laughed. In mock seriousness I rapped my bishop’s ring on the table and said, “There will be no more telling of Polish jokes, Father Ed, because as far as we know the next Pope may be Polish!” At that moment Monsignor Kerr, my Vicar General, came out on the terrace and heard what I had just said. He had been listening to his car radio as he drove to my residence and so he said, “But Bishop, the new Pope is Polish I just heard the news on my car radio.” I thought he was joking and so I said to him, “No, Monsignor, don’t encourage priests to tell Polish jokes.” He said, “But Bishop, it is true.” In disbelief I asked what was the new pope’s name. He stuttered as he tried to pronounce the name Wojtyla. I was stunned! I had not expected, along with the rest of the world, that the Cardinal of Krakow would become Pope John Paul II.
In 1978 the Federal Aviation Administration banned the use of leaded gasoline as fuel in the aviation industry. My Cessna Skyland 182 had a Continental engine that was built to burn leaded gasoline. I began to learn about pilots being killed when their Continental engines burned a cylinder in flight and they crashed. I decided to trade my Cessna in on a new 182 with a new engine that would run on unleaded fuel. I scanned the ads and decided to investigate an offer of a 182 in Raleigh, North Carolina. I flew to Raleigh and was just about to trade in my Cessna 182 on a new 182 when dealer said, ” I can sell you that Mooney 231 over there for the same price.”
I said, “No way!” He said, “Really, it is brand new and I can let you have it for the same price you would pay me for the new Cessna 182.” He added, “Come on I will give you a test flight in it.” So we took off in the Mooney and I fell in love with the plane. I spent the next day being checked out as a pilot on the Mooney and then I bought it and few back to Tallahassee. My Mooney 231AZ was like a Porsch to me. It was one hot little airplane. I loved it even though I knew that if I had flow in the Mooney through those thunder storms I would not have survived; there is a huge difference between a low wing airplane and a high wing airplane in terms of safety.