The Rev. Francizek J. Okroy, 91, associate pastor at east-side church

September 21, 2006|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,sun reporter

The Rev. Francizek J. Okroy, who had been an associate pastor at East Baltimore's Holy Rosary Roman Catholic Church for more than three decades, died of a cerebral hemorrhage Friday at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He was 91.

Born and raised in Kartuzy, Poland, Father Okroy entered law school at the University of Warsaw in the early 1930s. But after a year, he left to attend warrant officers school and was later assigned to the marine unit of the Polish army's Batalion Morski.

In 1937, he joined the Society of Christ and had completed two years of seminary when Germany invaded Poland on Sept. 1, 1939.

Father Okroy immediately returned to his former army unit, which was engaged in fighting German air and infantry forces near Gdynia, a port city on the Baltic Sea. After Polish forces surrendered Sept. 19, he was sent to a prisoner of war camp and finally to the Dachau concentration camp.

"An estimated 2,000 priests, Poles, Germans and French, were imprisoned there," said a profile of Father Okroy prepared by Holy Rosary on the occasion of his 90th birthday. "According to Father Okroy, 800 Polish priests died in Dachau. Hardy and resolute, he struggled to retain his strength and dignity throughout the four years and ten months of hell. His faith never wavered."

A 1982 article in The Sun on Father Okroy said: "He will never forget the date that he and fellow prisoners who were still alive were liberated by the Americans: April 23, 1945. His number was 13262. `Don't thank me, thank God,' the [liberating] American general said.'"

After the war, he entered the Gregorian University in Rome, where he earned a doctorate in sacred theology and was ordained in 1948.

The priest became secretary to Polish Archbishop Joseph Gawlina in Rome and was the American and Canadian provincial -- administrative head -- of his religious order.

In 1970, Father Okroy became regional superior of Our Lady of Queen of Poland Province in the U.S. and Canada before being assigned to Holy Rosary as an assistant in 1973.

"While he was in Rome, he got to know and chauffeured Karol Wojytla, who later became Pope John Paul II. When he [then-Cardinal Wojytla] visited Holy Rosary in 1976, they were certainly not strangers, having known each other years earlier in Rome," the Rev. Richard Philiposki, Holy Rosary's pastor, said yesterday.

Since 1993, Father Okroy had been a priest in residence at Holy Rosary.

"He was a fixture here for more than 30 years and died with his boots on. He was going to hear confessions when he was stricken," Father Philiposki said. "He was a very faithful priest who was still offering daily early morning Masses, conducting funerals and baptisms and hearing confessions."

Father Okroy was a founder of the Polish Heritage Association of Maryland and had been its chaplain for the last 32 years. He was chaplain for the Polish War Veterans of World War II and had been a member of the National Katyn Memorial Committee.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. tomorrow at his church, at Chester and Bank streets.

He is survived by a sister, Irena Zbychorska of Kartuzy.

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