Affinity for the marginalized led priest to serve in three countries


Divine Word Father Paul Nadolny, 68, an advocate for the poor in Mozambique and Mexico, died on June 12 at Techny, Ill., after a battle with cancer.

“Paul was a quiet man, but when he needed to speak out, he didn’t hesitate,” said Father Ed Peklo SVD, rector of the Divine Word East Troy Community in Wisconsin. “He was committed to the Scriptures and was willing to take on any challenge to serve the people.”

Born in Waukesha, Wis., in 1954, Paul Nadolny was the second of John and Elizabeth (nee Steinwand) Nadolny’s seven children.

Although three of his four brothers attended Divine Word schools, he did not become a seminarian until his late 20s. In 1977, he graduated from University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point with a bachelor’s degree in Forestry and worked in the field before joining the Peace Corps.

Stationed in Guatemala for three years, he served the Quiche people who are descended from the Mayans. During this time, he fully realized that he was called to be a missionary priest.

When his commitment with the Peace Corps ended in 1983, he entered the Divine Word Associates Program and professed vows in 1984.

As a seminarian, he studied at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago and volunteered at St. Procopius parish in the city’s Pilsen neighborhood before being ordained to the priesthood in 1989.

Father Nadolny’s first assignment as a priest was in Chiapas, Mexico, where he served indigenous people. As associate pastor of San Fernando de Guadalupe parish in mountainous Salto de Agua, he ministered to 20,000 people in about 70 small villages.

Many of his parishioners were of Mayan descent and economically disenfranchised. Through San Fernando parish, he helped to organize a food cooperative, a fund for prescription medicine and student scholarships made possible by American donors.

In the 1990s, Father Nadolny campaigned to raised awareness of the Mexican government’s unjust treatment of indigenous people in the southeastern state of Chiapas.

During his time in Chiapas, indigenous farmers rose in rebellion against wealthy landowners. Government officials stated that they believed that Catholic priests encouraged the revolt. Although an avowed pacifist, Father Nadolny was one of the priests who received death threats.

In 1994, Most Rev. Samuel Ruiz Garcia, bishop of San Cristobal de Las Casas, asked Father Nadolny to represent him on a speaking tour in the United States. Bishop Ruiz said he felt he could not leave Mexico while mediating peace talks between the government and the indigenous Zapatista National Liberation Army.

While in the United States to foster a partnership with a Wisconsin parish in 1995, Father Nadolny learned that the Mexican government refused to renew his visa.

He led a letter-writing campaign to Congress, asking that American politicians support the peace process in Chiapas and acknowledge the poor living conditions of the Mayan people.

After a year of hoping to return to Mexico, his superiors encouraged him to learn Portuguese in Brazil in preparation for his next assignment—a new mission. Father Henry Barlage SVD, superior general at the time, asked him to consider going to Mozambique.

In 1999, Father Nadolny became one of the first Divine Word Missionaries to serve in the southeastern African nation. He worked among the Zulu, Makua and Bantu peoples.

During his 20 years in Mozambique, Father Nadolny served as mission superior for two three-year terms. He emphasized family and youth ministries, as well as improving health facilities and educational opportunities in the nation where only 50 percent of the population is literate.

In 2019, Father Nadolny moved back to Techny for cancer treatment. He is survived by four brothers (James, Joseph, David and Stephan Nadolny), two sisters (Ann Luckey and Mary Garrity) and many nieces and nephews.

Father Nadolny’s visitation will be at the Chapel of the Holy Spirit in Techny Towers at 9 a.m. on Saturday, June 18, followed by a funeral Mass at 10:30 a.m. He will be buried at St. Mary’s Cemetery at Techny.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations for the care of retired missionaries may be sent to The Rector, Divine Word Residence, 1901 Waukegan Road, P.O. Box 6000, Techny, IL 60082-6000.

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