Last farewell to Mgr Tadeusz Kukla, long-time Rector of the Polish Catholic Mission in England

Monsignor Tadeusz Kukła, much-loved former university chaplain and Rector of the Polish Catholic Mission in England and Wales, died in Tarnów, southeast Poland on Friday, 8 September 2023, the Feast of the Birthday of Our Lady. He was 83 years old.

Born on 22 February 1940, in Łukowa, the son of Franciszek and Maria née Barwacz, Tadeusz Kukla studied at the school and seminary in Tarnow. He was ordained priest in 1964 by the Bishop of Tarnów, Jerzy Ablewicz. For the first two years he worked in two parishes in his home diocese – Muszyna and in Nowy Sacz. Then in 1966 he was sent to study in the Institute Catholique and the Sorbonne in Paris, then Munich and Munster where he also engaged in pastoral work among the Poles in Germany.

Mgr Kukla came to England in 1974, when Cardinal Wladyslaw Rubin appointed him as a chaplain to Polish students in London and England. For the next 28 years, he accompanied his flock through some dramatic times – from the clampdown on the Solidarity movement, the election of Pope John Paul II, the collapse of the Iron Curtain and the arrival of Poland in the EU.

The beginnings were not easy. Fr Kukla began his work in More House University Chaplaincy in the Cromwell Road where he spent six years. In 1980 he moved to a hostel which belonged to the Polish Sisters of the Resurrection, Ennismore Gardens where he worked for eight years. He proved to be an energetic and caring priest and established a lively chaplaincy, earning a reputation as a sociable, kind and deeply spiritual man, with a great understanding of young Poles.

His Chaplaincy became a meeting place not just for students, but for all young Poles arriving in London.

Marie Blachut wrote in the Polish newspaper Gazeta Niedzielna in 2002: „It was not an ordinary parish with a church and established buildings. In some sense it was a symbol of the Church of Christ on earth – with the parishioners 'still on the road’ – in transit. Some were here for a long time. Some just passing through. Mgr Kukla offered a refuge and pastoral care to them all. Fr Tadeusz was always available to his parishioners, and gave all types of assistance – spiritual support, financial help, advice, a listening ear and above all celebrating Mass and the Sacraments.”

Fr Tadeusz organised many social evenings and meetings – visits by celebrities and trips to the movies and skiing holidays. Marie wrote: „Fr Tadeusz loved being around people and people loved being around him. He was like a good father who can listen, strengthen and sustain.”

Late Lili Pohlman and Mgr Tadeusz Kukla at Ognisko Polskie in Londynko. Photo: British Poles

The student community were very sad to see Mgr Kukla leave them in 2002, when he was asked to take on the national role as Rector of the Polish Catholic Mission in England and Wales. Balancing the different needs of the older Polish migrants who came here during World War Two; with those of the next two waves of migrants was a very complex and demanding responsibility.

When he began his job as rector, Mgr Kukla referred to the parable of the workers in the vineyard as a model for the priorities of the Polish Catholic Mission. While the commitment to the Polish community was important, he pointed out that the most important thing was for „each of us to cling to God’s Commandments, guarding a life of prayer, especially the Mass each Sunday; to try to live in sanctifying grace. This is important because only in this way we are truly Catholic.”

The arrival of many Poles in the UK after their country joined the European Union, revived Polish parishes, stimulated them to a deeper religious life, and led to the establishment of new communities offering pastoral care across the UK. Mgr Kukla organised Polish Masses each week in churches around the country, and brought Polish priests, mainly from the diocese of Tarnow, to serve the rapidly expanding Polish congregations.

During his time as Rector he also organised several major Masses and events.

On 4 July, 2003 Mgr Kukla organised a solemn Mass celebrated in Westminster Cathedral to mark the 60th anniversary of the death of General Wladyslaw Sikorski who died in a plane crash in Gibraltar.

On 18 October, 2003, the 25th anniversary of the pontificate of John Paul II was marked with a special Mass in Westminster Cathedral presided over by Bishop Ryszard Karpinski, a delegate of the Polish Episcopal Conference for Pastoral Emigration worldwide.

80th birthday of Tadeusz Kukla at the Brompton Oratory. Photo: British Poles

On 11 April, 2005, the Polish community gathered together to mourn the death of Pope John Paul II and prayed for his soul in a solemn Mass in the Brompton Oratory, presided over by Mgr Kukla, with more than 70 Polish priests.

On the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, 2 May 2005, Mass was celebrated in the Brompton Oratory, lead by Polish Primate Jozef Glemp, and on 13 October, 2007, Poles gathered in Westminster Cathedral to celebrate the memory of General Wladyslaw Anders, in a Mass concelebrated by Military Bishop Tadeusz Ploski, (who died on 10 April 2010 in the catastrophic plane crash in Smolensk).

The 90th anniversary of Polish independence was celebrated in Westminster Cathedral in November 2008. The main celebrant was Cardinal Jozef Glemp, with Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Archbishop Wesoly of Warsaw and numerous priests. After Mass, there was a procession to Trafalgar Square where thousands of Poles gathered to hear speeches and sing Polish songs.

Mgr Kukla also carried out major improvements to the headquarters of the Polish Mission, church, halls and presbytery in Devonia Road, Islington.

In February 2010, Mgr Kukla officially retired as Rector of the Polish Catholic Mission to England and Wales, after eight years in the role.

In 2012, he was awarded the Order of Polonia Restituta (Order Odrodzenia Polski) by the President of Poland, for his services to the Polish community. In 2014 he concelebrated Mass at the Canonisation of St John Paul II.

Mgr Tadeusz Kukla with George Byczynski, editor-in-chief of the British Poles

After stepping down from his role as Rector, Mgr Kukla led a very active retirement, often assisting in Polish Catholic Mission parishes in Brighton, Crawley, Eastbourne, Tunbridge Wells and Hastings. As a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre he was involved with charitable projects with Christians in the Holy Land. Mgr Kukla celebrated Mass for the Religious Sisters of Mary Immaculate in Southwell Gardens. Many of his old parishioners kept in touch with him. He told ICN: „These days I’m blessing the marriages of children I baptised.”

Mgr Kukla also found time to study Spanish. On visits to Rome he stayed in Rome at Casa Santa Marta, where on two occasions, he had the chance to concelebrate Mass with the Holy Father and chat with him afterwards in Spanish.

After returning to Poland in 2022, he lived in the St Joseph House of Priests of the Tarnów Diocese.


Author: Josephine Siedlecka

Images: British Poles

Cover photo: ksiądz Krzysztof Ciebień

The article was published at the Independent Catholic News.

From the editor: the funeral of Mgr Tadeusz Kukla took place at the parish church in Łukowa on Thursday 14 September at 1pm. after which his body was laid to rest in the local cemetery.

The memorial service will take place at The London Brompton Oratory on Saturday, 28 October 2023, at 11.00am.





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