In an hour or so a man who has spent his life as a missionary working for the Church and serving her poor, Fr. Brian Kolodiejchuk, M.C., will be addressing our students as part of the Aquinas Center for Theological Renewal’s annual conference.
The photo of him with Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta and soon-to-be-canonized John Paul II speaks volumes.
Mother Teresa asked Fr. Brian, and Fr. Joseph Langford and Fr. Gary Duckworth, to start her order of priests, the Missionaries of Charity Fathers. They started out in the Bronx and in June 1988, they moved their seminary and community to Tijuana, Mexico. I moved in with the MC Fathers in November 1988 and the area where the men lived was as impoverished as any place in the world. There were no electricity, running water, or roads. Housing was primitive and consisted of blue plastic sheets and scrap wood. The Fathers lived in a trailer and then as they grew, a concrete block house. When it rained, the area around la colonia turned into a mud bowl. Mother Teresa often would visit the families in the neighborhood and marvel at how such abject poverty could be a short car drive away from La Jolla, California and its Pacific Ocean vistas and legendary opulence.
But it was there in the middle of nowhere, where migrants seeking to enter the U.S. congregated (and often were victimized) that the Lord led Fr. Brian to serve. Mother Teresa then handpicked Fr. Brian to open her first home in Russia. He had been ordained in the Ukrainian Catholic Church and so he was a natural fit for this assignment. I remember going to a San Diego mall to buy Fr. Brian the basic supplies he would need before he went behind the Iron Curtain to minister to the nuns of Mother Teresa living there.
It was January 1989 and Fr. Brian just celebrated the 25th anniversary of that trip. Much has happened since his time in the then-Soviet Union. He now is superior general of the MC Fathers and travels the world to the homes of his priests and seminarians. He somehow finds time to direct the Mother Teresa Center, and with Sister M. Ozana, MC, oversees the use of Mother Teresa’s name and protects her legacy. He had served as the postulator of Mother Teresa’s cause for beatification so he knows the real Mother Teresa from the pop caricature some promote.
Today Theology Chairman Dr. Roger Nutt will present Fr. Brian with the Ex Corde Ecclesiae Medal in recognition of his many years of dedicated service to the Church and in honor of his best-selling book, Come Be My Light, which has evangelized Catholics and non-Catholics alike. I hope if you are in the area you can come – but I recommend you get there early if you want a seat.
Fr. Brian will celebrate 30 years of priesthood next year. He will accept this medal today even though I know he has the same attitude toward worldly acclaim that Mother Teresa had.
He indeed is one of her children, and he knows well what she knew well: That the reward for following Jesus is Love itself, and everlasting life with God, in the company of Our Lady and all of the saints - including his friend Mother Teresa and the poor entrusted to her Missionaries of Charity nuns and priests.