Video: Saints among us (literally)

Walking with the Saints - a display of 1st class relics

Mila Glodava didn’t settle for a regular college term project. With the help of her pastor, Father Andrew Kemberling, she decided to put on a display of relics for the whole archdiocese in her parish, St. Vincent de Paul in Denver.

Glodava just received her Master’s of Arts in Theology last May. For her final class, Church and Modernity, she was required to do a project showcasing all that she had learned throughout her course of study. She decided to use the lives of various saints to illustrate Church history. She approached her pastor about the project, since he helped her develop her devotion to relics and saints. Together, they created a display of relics and hagiographies that walked viewers through the history of the Church. The display took place Nov. 7-9 at St. Vincent de Paul parish.

DENVER, CO, NOVEMBER 2015: St. Francis Cabrini Relic on Display at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary. (Photo by Andrew Wright)

A relic and picture of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini

“Because my course was about Church history, I decided to feature the saints during their time in history,” Glodava said. “It is so amazing to learn about how the Church started, the challenges it faced from persecutions of the early Christians and their subsequent martyrdom.”

DENVER, CO, NOVEMBER 2015: St Gemma Galgani Relic on Display at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary. (Photo by Andrew Wright)

A relic and photos of St. Gemma Galgani

The display also included modern favorites, such as St. Gemma Galgani and Glodava’s personal favorite, St. Therese of Lisieux. She said she hoped the display would encourage others to have devotions to the saints.

“I hope people will learn from saints on how to be holy. They are a great model for us to imitate,” Glodava said.

DENVER, CO, NOVEMBER 2015: Fr. Andrew Kemberling stands near St Polycarp relic on Display at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary. (Photo by Andrew Wright)

Fr. Andrew Kemberling with a relic and picture of St. Polycarp

It was fitting that Glodava was able to work with Father Kemberling, as he helped her begin her devotion to relics when he was at St. Thomas More in  Englewood. Father Kemberling managed to collect nearly 60 first class relics. He continued collecting at St. Vincent de Paul. In fact, Father Kemberling has made rescuing relics something of a personal apostolate.

“My whole approach has been to rescue relics that are in danger of being profaned,” Father Kemberling said. “This is one of those prayers that we as Catholics think is important: To venerate the saints.”

Relics glossary

DENVER, CO, NOVEMBER 2015: S. Ambrosii Ep Relic on Display at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary. (Photo by Andrew Wright)

A first class relic of St. Ambrose

Relic: A physical object to increase devotion to a Holy person or place.

First class: An actual piece of the person or place (ie, a bone fragment of a saint or a fragment of the True Cross)

Second class: Something that was important to the saint and that they touched (usually frequently). This can include clothes, rosaries, etc.

Third class: Something that has touched a first or second class relic, or has touched the shrine of the saint.

Reliquary: A beautiful display for a relic. These are often made out of precious metals and artfully wrought. They resemble a tiny monstrance (the thing that holds the Eucharist in Adoration).

Hagiography: A writing on the life of the saint.


Special: Click here to see a flip book explaining the lives of all the saints in the display!


COMING UP: Moral courage and the many cultures of death

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CRACOW. Thanks to the pandemic, it’s been two years since I was last in Cracow, where for three decades I’ve done extensive research and taught great students while forming friendships with many remarkable people. It was wonderful to be back in one of the world’s greatest cities, and soon after I arrived in late June, I took a long walk to see what had changed. The first major difference I noticed was that the plaza in front of the central railway station (named for my late friend Jan Nowak-Jeziorański, a World War II courier for the Polish Home Army and the man from whom the future John Paul II got real news via Radio Free Europe’s Polish service) has a new, strikingly modern memorial, dedicated to the memory of Colonel Ryszard Kukliński.

That name is not well-known throughout a western world that has largely forgotten the meaning and lessons of the Cold War. But if Jan Nowak-Jeziorański was right when he spoke about the Polish colonel in the mid-1990s, Ryszard Kuklinski was a genuine hero of the long, twilight struggle against communist totalitarianism — the man who helped prevent a bloody Soviet invasion of Poland to crush the nascent Solidarity movement.

An accomplished officer in the communist-era Polish Army, Ryszard Kukliński began to doubt the truth of what he had been told about the West when, as a member of an international commission, he met American military men in Vietnam in the mid-1960s. His doubts about communism and its purposes intensified by orders of magnitude in 1968, when the brutal Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia ground the Prague Spring to dust under the treads of Soviet tanks, and in 1970, when the Polish army shot Polish workers during labor strife. Privy to some of the Warsaw Pact’s most confidential strategic plans, he became convinced that, if the Cold War turned hot and the east bloc attacked the West, the Soviets would sacrifice Poland as retaliatory western tactical nuclear strikes hit the second wave of Warsaw Pact troops pushing west. So, in 1972, Kukliński, risking his life and his family’s safety, offered his services to the United States and for the next nine years was the West’s most important intelligence asset behind the iron curtain.

His greatest service to Poland and the cause of freedom came in the later months of 1980. Thanks to his efforts, the United States knew the entire order-of-battle the Soviet Union had organized to stamp out Solidarity, which had held its first formal congress in September 1980. With that information, and working in concert with the incoming Reagan administration, outgoing national security adviser Zbigniew Brzeziński, with the help of the AFL-CIO’s Lane Kirkland, was able to organize a comprehensive western response to a potential Soviet invasion of Poland: an international economic blockade that would have severely damaged the already-staggering Soviet economy. Faced with economic ruin, the Soviet leadership backed down and the Warsaw Pact divisions that had surrounded Poland withdrew.

Colonel Kukliński and his family were exfiltrated to the West; two of his sons later died under dubious circumstances that may have involved Russian retribution, and Kukliński lived out his life under an assumed name in the United States, dying in 2004. There was public controversy when he returned to his native Poland for a 1998 visit, with some charging that he had violated his officer’s oath by working for American intelligence for a decade. John Paul II, through various intermediaries, quietly passed the word that Kukliński was to be regarded in Poland as a national hero. Zbigniew Brzeziński, who held the exact same view, put it brilliantly, in a comment that appears on the Kukliński Memorial in Cracow: Colonel Kukliński was “the first Polish officer in NATO.” 

Communism was a distinctive form of the culture of death, for the effort to create “Homo Sovieticus” was a lethal assault on souls. Colonel Ryszard Kukliński took a courageous stand against that particular culture of death, knowing as he did that freedom is never cost-free: freedom lived nobly always requires sacrifice. His example should be pondered by Catholic citizens and Catholic public officials throughout the West today, who are called to resist, with similar moral courage and effect, that form of the culture of death that masquerades as the ideology of “choice.” May we and our elected officials be as principled and brave as the Polish officer who took what John Paul II described at the United Nations in 1995 as the “the risk of freedom.”