Missionary bishop of Papua New Guinea leaves a legacy

Bishop Raymond Kalisz, 1927-2010

Kalisz,_Ray_09_for_web_obitMost Rev. Raymond Kalisz SVD, bishop emeritus of the Diocese of Wewak (Papua New Guinea), died on Sunday, Dec. 12 in Evanston, Ill., at the age of 83.

"Ray Kalisz was the quintessential missionary priest," said Rev. Mark Weber SVD, provincial superior of the Society of the Divine Word Chicago Province, where Bishop Kalisz studied as a young man and returned to live in 2004.

"When asked, he’d tell the story of his first day in Papua New Guinea," Father Weber, who has lived at Techny with Bishop Kalisz for the past six years. "The Divine Word Missionary who met him in Wewak took him to visit a prison and then to a school where indigenous people were learning Pidgin English so they could serve as liaisons between their villages and the central government. Other cultures and people fascinated Ray. He cherished his 53 years in Papua New Guinea."

The Vatican established the Diocese of Wewak in 1952. Bishop Kalisz served as the diocese’s second bishop—following his friend and mentor Archbishop Leo Arkfeld, SVD.

Born in Melvindale, Mich., in 1927, Raymond Kalisz was the ninth of John and Agnes (nee Ruskewicz) Kalisz’s 11 children. He entered Divine Word Seminary in East Troy, Wis., in 1941 and became a Divine Word Missionary in 1947. In school, he was known for his blazing fastball on the baseball field and his unfailing cheerfulness.

After completing philosophy and theological studies at St. Mary’s Seminary at Techny, he was ordained to the priesthood in 1954. While awaiting his first overseas missionary assignment, then-Father Kalisz worked at St. Elizabeth, one of Chicago’s oldest African-American parishes.

In 1955, the Society of the Divine Word assigned the young Kalisz to Indonesia, but because of unrest in that country, he and others were unable to obtain visas. Instead, the religious order’s leaders sent him to his first choice of missions—Papua New Guinea, a country made up of more than 600 islands in the South Pacific. The main island lies about 100 miles (160 km) north of Australia.

During his first five years on the world’s second largest non-continental island, he worked among the people in the rainforests. Of the Torembi parish, where he was assigned, he once wrote: "It included all the villages within 20 miles from each bank of the Sepik River. The parish included over 50 villages each with a church, a school and a catechist. That is quite a challenge for any missionary to look after."

Since the area had no roads, the young priest had to travel by foot and canoe. For his own organizational purposes, he divided his territory into five regions and thought of each region as a circuit. "It took two weeks to make the circuit, walking about ten miles between each of the ten villages of the area," he wrote. "On arrival, I would hear confessions, say the rosary with the people, eat food that the people gave to me and talk with the men in the evening in the haus tambaran (spirit house)." The next day at dawn, he would again hear confessions, celebrate Mass, have breakfast, visit the local catechist and school staff, and begin that day’s journey to the next village.

"It was tough going, but I loved it," wrote Bishop Kalisz, who had a gentle, ready smile and a quiet nature.

In 1958, he accepted the position of rector at St. John’s Seminary on Kairiru Island in the Bismarck Sea about 12 miles (20 km) off the coast of Wewak. For 18 years, he helped to educate young Papua New Guinean men for the priesthood.

In 1976, he became vicar general of the Diocese of Wewak, and in 1980, Pope John Paul II appointed him as its bishop. Father Weber added, "Through his leadership as a circuit priest, educator and bishop, Ray Kalisz left a legacy for the Catholics of Papua New Guinea—nurturing and training leaders from among their own sons and daughters."

Bishop Kalisz is survived by two sisters, Martha Szymanski and Sr. Jeannine (Anna) Kalisz OP, and three brothers, Joseph, Adam and John.

A visitation will be held Thursday, Dec. 16, at 6 p.m., followed by a wake service at 7 p.m. at the Chapel of the Holy Spirit in the Techny Towers Conference and Retreat Center. His Eminence Francis Cardinal George will preside at Bishop Kalisz’s wake.

Divine Word Residence rector, Father Adam MacDonald will be the main celebrant of the bishop’s funeral Mass, on Friday, Dec. 17, at 11 a.m. in the Chapel of the Holy Spirit. Bishop Kalisz will be interned in St. Mary Cemetery, Techny, Ill. Techny Towers Conference and Retreat Center is located at 2001 Waukegan Rd., Techny (Northbrook), Ill.

Before his passing, Bishop Kalisz requested that memorial gifts through the Divine Word Missionaries be directed to his beloved Papua New Guinea. In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be made in the name of Bishop Raymond Kalisz and sent to the Divine Word Missionaries, P.O. Box 6000, Techny, IL 60082.

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