‘From deathstyle to lifestyle’: Ancient religious order resurrected to promote a Culture of Life
“God bless you” I blurted out in English. “I’m from Canada, I work in Pro-Life… and where I’m from we don’t see the likes of you very often! What order are you?” The one whom I identified as a type of leader among them (whose name, I was later to learn, was Lukasz Preising) acknowledged my greeting and replied in a somewhat halting English: “We are a new order – the Order of the Holy Ghost – and our purpose is to promote a Culture of Life.”
The feeling of unreality hit me again. Youthful, cassocked, and constituted with the aim of promoting a culture of Life? What is this? I was basically waiting for the buzz of the alarm clock to wake me back up to my disenchanted post-modern Canadian reality.
But the sound of the alarm never came. I stood there with my mouth open and finally snapped out of it when I noticed the young men subtly and politely attempting to withdraw. “Can I interview you guys?” I asked. An interview was set with two of the seminarians, for the next day.
We were to meet again in the square before repairing to a café. Lukasz (Luke) Preising and Jan Plottke arrived at the appointed time. The cassocks were gone, alas, replaced by more conventional clergyman attire, but both nonetheless conserved that glow which young men wearing Roman collars seem to emanate.
Having made our way to a café and settled at our table, Lukasz began recounting in earnest his story. “We are a new community, a new Order in the Church. We are trying to renew the Order of the Holy Ghost, which started at the end of the 12th century.” Indeed, the Order of the Holy Ghost is an ancient medieval order founded by Blessed Guy de Montpellier in the Provence region of France. It was founded to help the sick and needy, and for its day was avant-garde for enlisting lay people to do some of the charitable work. The Order, eventually established by Pope Innocent III, was mainly known for its Europe-wide network of hospitals. With time, the male side of the order dwindled and eventually fused with the medical establishment, while a female branch of the order exists to this day.
But the order also founded other institutions, like schools where the children of the poor were instructed. “They gave them spiritual, human education, to make people grow,” Preising explained.
And in a foreshadowing of the pro-life charism it was to have in the 21st century, the 13th century Order had also been cutting edge in the pro-life domain, its hospital in Rome being the first fitted with what are today called “Dropboxes” (then it was called a “foundling wheel”), and what Preising calls “windows of Life”, which are safety deposit boxes for babies, where mothers can anonymously entrust their child to the care of others.
“This order spread all over the world – there were over 1000 religious” Preising said. However, for a host of complicated reasons, the 19th century saw the order disappear completely. Preising has a supernatural reason for their disappearance: “They were not loyal to their original charism.”
The Holy Ghost had not spoken his last word, however. In the middle of the 20th century, one man, Kazimierz Krucz, having read a book about the order, felt a call from God to resurrect it. A friar at the time, he eventually became a priest. Seeking discernment, he prayed often, in the parish where he worked, before a statue of a pregnant Mother Mary.
Unfortunately for the Polish priest, from the mid-century well into the late 80s, his country was under the thumb of totalitarian regimes: first the Nazis, then the Communists. It is no surprise, then, that his dream of resurrecting the Order of the Holy Ghost would only begin to materialize in the early 1990s, at the end of his life.
Meanwhile, Krucz’s parish, situated in the northern city of Gdansk, had become a pro-life destination. “It was a sanctuary for the protection of life, for single mothers to come and be helped to raise their child. There was a window of life (dropbox) there as well. The renewal of the Order of the Holy Ghost therefore began there, in Gdansk.” Preising recounted. The location had even received a visit from Pope St. John Paul II in 1999.
Nearing his death in 1998, Krucz began again to talk about the re-founding of the Holy Spirit Order. The parish had many vocations in the form of young seminarians. One of these, Wieslaw (Wesley) Wisniewski felt a calling to help found the order. This young man, who would soon take over as parish priest at the pro-life sanctuary, would eventually become the Order of the Holy Ghost’s first superior.