This family photo was taken during Christmas 2005. Grandma died the next month, January 17, 2006. In June Jaga wanted to help with taking care of her ailing father. We thought that this would be a great opportunity for the kids to study at a Polish school for a year and learn the language. I had to take care of things at home and followed in December. We lived in Poland until August 2007 and again during the Summer of 2008. I taught Business English and Negotiations in the Spring semesters of 2007 and 2008 at a Polish college that specialized in English. Grandma is flanked by Jaga (48) and Paul (67). Behind from left to right are John-Paul (16), Joseph (8), Stephanie (14), and Naomi (11).
Our kids have adapted beautifully to Poland and doing very well with the very difficult and grammatically complicated (much more so than Spanish) Polish language. Evidence? They have Polish friends with whom they have sleepovers. Last year (2007) John-Paul had a girl friend. He took her to their school’s equivalent to the American prom.
My first thought was: There goes any possibility of the priesthood. But on second thought: if he indeed has a vocation and that's strictly between him and God, the Lord will take care of it and of course, that's his choice. Parents have no right to pressure their children into a career choice. I think young men should have a relationship with a girl or girls before making a firm decision on the priesthood. They'll be better priests that way. Pope John Paul had a female friend before making his decision and she remained a friend until he died. He's more advanced socially than I was at his age. Since then, they broke up, but are still friends.
The boys like Stephanie. Last year (2007) she turned sweet 16 with a nice surprise party to celebrate it. Here she's on her school's basketball team which won the Kielce city (250,000 population) championship. Since scholastic basketball is primitive here, she dominates like a female Michael Jordan in scoring over 20 points/game which is over 80% of her team's offense. After Easter, for better competition, she and John-Paul joined a basketball club of mostly boys and a couple of girls.
A boy was pursuing Stephanie and while Jaga & I were taking a walk we saw her on a busy boulevard on the back of a motor scooter. So she had a boy friend for a while. Stefcia's great in bucking the culture and wearing modest clothes while ignoring the comments and showing the example. She's convinced that a girl can dress modestly and still look beautiful although finding modest clothes takes some effort, including finding clothes on the internet. Stephanie thinks that she has made better friends here than in the United States. Naomi, as little sister three years younger, looks at her every move with great interest and mixes well with John-Paul's and Stephanie's friends.
Joseph is big on chess and was on his school's chess team. He's good at it and made the regional tournament for his age group and did well. At that early age they have chess tournaments. He's getting good at soccer in playing against Polish competition. Naomi mixes very well, making friends easily. John-Paul and Stephanie went with their parish chapter of the international ecumenical Christian youth group, “Taize” to Paris-France for their international meeting and to another one in Zagreb-Croatia, where they stayed with a family for five days over New Year’s Day. In May they went with their classes to Zakopanie, the Alps of Poland for five days as a field trip. The kids don’t like museums, but I'm making them go to the several we have in Kielce.
Academically, I wasn't satisfied with our children in Poland. Their Polish is good for everyday conversation, but Polish in the classroom is at a much higher level.. There's a lot they didn't understand and reading is difficult for them. Homework takes longer than in the U.S. since they often have to use a dictionary. Furthermore, they didn't have the same motivation as they would have in the States because they thought that their grades didn't count for anything. The teachers were easier on them and didn't push them as the rest. And our kids took advantage of that. I would have preferred that the teachers push our kids the same as the rest instead of treating them as guests and prima donnas. We're proud of our kids for their spirituality, especially John-Paul and Stephanie. They go to daily mass on their own and remind us about praying the daily rosary at home. Naomi and Joseph, however, need prodding.
A month after returning to the States in August of last year (2007), my father-in-law died. Jaga took care of him for over a year. He survived both the Nazis and Communism. As a young man during World War II, the Nazi occupiers forced him to work on a farm in Germany. After being mistreated by the farmer he had to work for, he slugged him and escaped to work on another farm. About five years ago, the German Government gave him a few thousand dollars in compensation as part of a larger program.
Somehow he supported his family during the difficult fifties and sixties. During the severe housing shortage at the time, his family had to live in what is the kitchen of his current eight room house. Little by little, they bought out the rest of the house and rented them out as required by law. Eventually the housimng shortage allievated and the renters moved out.
This summer (2008) and last we participated in two 15 day family retreats as part of the OAZA program. It was fun, prayer, and deepening the faith through daily Mass, homilies, devotions, discussion groups, Bible studies. In addition, we took short trips in Poland. The dollar is weaker than ever and that makes travel very expensive. I always wanted to be an altar boy as a kid, but never was chosen because I didn't belong to the parish of the Catholic school I attended. So my aspiration was fulfilled as the men and boys take turns being altar servers. I'm also a lector at our parish church back home. So is Jaga, but she really shines when she reads in Polish here. The community life and fellowship is great. John-Paul, Stephanie, and Naomi take care of the kids, also a great experience.
Back in the U.S. for the 2007-08 school year after 14 months in Poland, both Stephanie (then 16) as a sophomore and John-Paul as a senior both played varsity basketball for their South Gallia High School. Playing also for the JV team, Stephanie scored 20 points in a game. At the same time she takes all of her courses at the University of Rio Grande as John-Paul had been doing in his three previous high school years. Ohio's PSO program simultaneously gives college credit and high school credits for the same college course. Both did beautifully. This past year (07-08), John-Paul made all A's and Stephanie only one B (it turned out to be the only one in four years of high school/PSO). Since the State of Ohio mandates a variety of courses for high school courses, John-Paul did not have a particular major as such, but at 19 did receive both a high school diploma and an Associate Degree in General Studies.
At Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, he'll major in Math or Chemistry and perhaps a minor in Theology. It turned out that upon coming home, John-Paul received a letter from Ave Maria University (near Naples, Florida) offering him a full tuition scholarship. So instead of going north, we made an about face and headed for Florida.
Naomi (then 13) had enough of home schooling and entered Junior High (7th Grade) at Gallia Academy. She was in the choral group and is blossoming as a student with all A's.
Since we were concerned about socialization, we put our rather shy Joseph (then 10) in the 5th Grade. He also made all A's. He was the free style champion for eight year olds for West Virginia and Ohio, but he got tired of all that training and gave it up for now. He played soccer, basketball, and baseball in the kids' leagues. To the consternation of this transplanted Pittsburgher, he's a big Chicago Cub fan. After dishing out all that money, it's about time they win something. At least Joseph admits to being a Pittsburgh Steeler fan.
My cousin, Fr. Thomas Loya, who married Jaga and me in the Catholic Byzantine Rite is gaining an international reputation as an expert on the "Theology of the Body". He speaks all over the United States and has appeared two or three times on EWTN, the international Catholic cable channel. You can hear him on-line at www.relevantradio.com on Thursday mornings 7-8 am (CST) and at 11:30 am EST on EWTN Radio accessible on www.ewtn.com. You can also hear his archived Light of East programs on the website, www.byzantinecatholic.com. His brother Greg just announced that he will be studying to become a deacon while working full time and maintaining a beautiful family of 8 kids.
Our address while in Poland (early March through the middle of August (2008) is as follows:
Kielce, Poland 25-302
Phone from the United States: 011-48-41-341-5755. 011 is international access, 48 is the area code for Poland, and 41 is the area code for Kielce. Almost certainly the person who answers will speak English. Another alternative is my daughter Stephanie's cell phone in Poland, but that would be expensive. It is 011-48-78-194-4275. Via computer (www.yahoo.com) and a speaker-microphone headset, one can call here for 2.4 cents per minute. We can call the USA for one cent per minute, cheaper than calling outside of our immediate area within the state of Ohio. My e-mail address is email@example.com.
If any of you will be in Europe between March and August (2008), stop over and see us. We’d love to see you. It’s not the Hilton, but you can be our houseguests and stay in our guest room in the old but large 8 room house that Dźiadek (Grandpa) Gajda left for his family. Let us stay in touch and keep each other in our prayers. God bless.