At home in the parish
Fr Leon Czechowicz
The nuns at Good Samaritan Convent School at Gawler and brothers at Christian Brothers College in the city also provided an influence, however, on reflection Fr Leon said it was his Polish refugee parents who impacted his decision to become a priest.
Their Catholic faith was central throughout their lives, giving them enormous strength when they escaped to Germany at the end of the World War II as they feared living under Russian occupation for a second time.
Together with their three children they found their way to Australia in the early 1950s and settled in to life in a modest home in Gawler.
When their son decided to join the seminary they were delighted… but it was hard going for a kid straight out of school.
“I used to dread going back after holidays,” Fr Leon recalled.
“I’d always get a sinking feeling in my stomach because the seminary, like it or not, was like a boarding school, a semi-gaol. But once you were back in there and got back into the routine of life it was okay.
“I loved sport and loved the day off where we would go off into the hills with a picnic lunch, often to Morialta Gorge…. it was a chance to appreciate the beauty of nature, the uniqueness of the Australian bushland.”
When he was ordained on July 8 1967 there were four other seminarians by his side and it was all a “bit of a blur”, although he was ably supported by a throng of friends, well-wishers and a very proud family.
He began to learn the ropes of being a priest through his early work at the Elizabeth North, Glenelg and Dulwich parishes and in 1972 was appointed the coordinator of religious education in Catholic schools. As much as he enjoyed the work, it wasn’t until 1984 that he really felt his “calling”, with his first appointment as a parish priest in the “marvellous” country parish of Birdwood.
“I always longed to go back to parish life. I enjoyed my parish ministry as a young priest in Elizabeth because there were so many young people there at that time and it was a great opportunity to mingle and to be able to have some influence in bringing spirituality to them.
“In city parishes your work as a priest comes in on you – you’re called on all the time for different responsibilities, tasks and needs. In the country I had the luxury of creating my own work as a priest. I could go out and visit, go out and be part of the local community,” he said.
After six “wonderful” years he spent a short time in the Salisbury parish before a sabbatical year of study at the Gregorian University in Rome. With a new found appreciation of the Italian culture, an appointment to the Hectorville parish was a perfect fit on his return. He then spent time at the Virginia parish and, in what was a full circle, returned as parish priest to Elizabeth North.
“It was a nostalgic return as there were many people who were there from my original time as a young priest. There was also some sadness as many things had changed and especially the many people who had died over those 32 years.”
For the past 10 years he has been parish priest at the Clearview/Kilburn parish, working alongside those helping refugees in the area.
An important adjunct to his work as a priest was 30 years’ service as a chaplain to the Army Reserve, where he joined the troops on their training exercises once or twice a year and paraded with them every fortnight at the Keswick base.
“To be out in the Australian bush on training exercises with the men of the different units that I served, I found to be a truly rewarding and fulfilling time as I was able to assist those who were facing personal or religious difficulties. Even though I am too old now to be in the Army, it’s still a good experience to meet friends from the old Army Reserve days.”