Father Jan Grotkowski greets visitors with a ready smile and a quick laugh. The personable priest moved to Canada in 2007 after 18 years as a priest in Poland. “I was 44 at the time, and I didn’t know if I’d be able to work in a different country, different language, different cultural understanding. I thought maybe after a few months I’d go back to Poland. But thanks be to God I’m here six years and I’m happy here.”
As a member of the Salvatorians – Order of the Divine Saviour – his mission is to keep the seminary in Poland open. Father Jan explains that because his education was free, he now must send money back to help another young person to study. He chose Canada over Australia, as it’s easier to visit his two sisters and brother in Poland.
After 10 months at Halifax’s St. Mary’s Basilica as assistant priest, he moved to St Anthony’s in Dartmouth which, for 20 years, has also included the Polish Mission. As well as being accountable to two congregations, Father Jan has organized community outreach providing food and clothing to those in need. “I see spirit here. We are doing what we can.”
He studied Russian and English in school but says he arrived with poor language skills. “Even now I’m not happy or satisfied. For me it is my tools, my work. I want to understand fluently.” Father Jan applied for his permanent residency and becamean Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia student. He took Communication for Work and Business and Pronunciation at Work. “The classroom lessons were intensive which helped me use English in a variety of situations. Conversation in front of the class was not difficult but I was afraid to use right grammar, right tense and right words. Sometimes people laughed and I didn’t have a clue what I said!”
Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia was a godsend. “I’m blessed; I know now after five years how much they helped. It was hard to prepare for the lessons, but now I see it was good,” says Father Jan. Speaking Polish regularly is affecting his progress learning English, so he plans to study further.
Life here is busy and active – he skis, swims and bikes. “If I’m not happy I would be back in Poland. I feel at home. I’m building my future here.” An instant community may make it easier for Father Jan than for other new immigrants, but he doesn’t take friendship for granted. “You should still work hard for your friends even if you have people around.”
He holds Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia close to his heart. “People from outside are looking for someone to trust. If you give them trust you give them everything – like a piece of wood in the middle of the ocean. It’s their hope for the future.”