I want to solve some of your curiosity about the background of the photo of me with nuns (a virtual anomaly, I know), and reach out with an invitation to support relief efforts in Ukraine.
This is actually a fairly lengthy story, which began in 1998 when I was teaching at Charles University in Prague as part of a Fulbright fellowship.
In an effort to uncover information on a great grandfather, who moved to the U.S. from Poland in the late nineteenth century, we found through a chance reference in a letter that he had a sister who was a nun in Przemyśl in eastern Poland. With some help from a Polish student, we contacted a random convent, asked if they knew of a Jadwiga Kulesc. They in turn had us contact their main home near Warsaw, from whom we learned that she had actually founded their entire, worldwide order: the Missionary Sisters of St. Benedict. Invited to stay at the convent, we all became good friends, learning about her connections to us all, and how this woman had (defying priests’ orders) founded the order in 1918 as a home for World War I orphans.
What’s more amazing is that we were the only living relatives they had ever located! Much followed.
Don Hedrick with some of the Missionary Sisters of St. Benedict, in Lutsk, Ukraine, 2006.
In 2006 they invited me on a pilgrimage to where she founded the orphanage, and I went with a busload of nuns to Lutsk (an amazing roadtrip!) in Ukraine, for a memorial mass and celebration– I assigned to cut the ribbon for her memorial plaque.
In 2018 we were invited to an even more historic event—the hundred year Jubilee at the main convent for the founding. They had me speak at the service (after the Archbishop of Poland)—a short statement they had me read about the meaning of “thanks.” I was overwhelmed. We were like royalty, but more like family, with two of their members in the U.S. recently attending the funeral of a niece of mine.
They are the sweetest and warmest group I have ever known, kidding around all the time. But with the current disasters, I contacted their New York home, and found that they are extremely concerned as I am with what is happening in Ukraine, where they have ten homes. They said they could certainly use the funding I offered to help with from my family. (If you would like to help, too, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
The sad but hopeful irony of the story is that they will now be repeating the kindness of their founder one hundred years ago—taking in and helping those in dire needs now throughout Ukraine. I expect they will be overwhelmed.
— Don Hedrick, Professor