Father Henry Tomaszewski, MIC, was born on January 18, 1914, in Żyrardów, Poland, to the parents Walenty and Antonina, neé Apczyńska. His father died during the Polish-Russian War of 1920. Since his father’s death, young Henry, along with his brother Romuald and his sister Maria, was brought up by their mother alone. Upon completing elementary and middle school, he attended the Major School of Commerce in Warsaw for three years. In 1937, he entered the Congregation of Marian Fathers.
He made his first vows on August 8, 1938, at the monastery in Skórzec. While in the novitiate, he met and kept in his memory the remembrance of Blessed Fr. Antoni Leszczewicz, who entered our Congregation, being already a priest and a missionary in Harbin, China. Father Henry was permanently impressed by his humility and willingness to assist, with which he waited at table on his much younger fellow-novices.
After making his first vows, Henryk was sent to the Vilnius Seminary and he began his studies at the Stefan Batory University. However, shortly after, he was transferred to the Seminary in Kaunas, and then to Mariampole and Druya. The time of his seminary studies proved to be the most difficult one for him because of WWII.
Precisely during the war struggles, while still being a seminarian, Henryk received the grace of witnessing a heroic action of two Marian priests: George Kaszyra and Anthony Leszczewicz, who were elevated to the altars in 1999. The Druya House Superior sent Henryk to Rosica to warn the above-named priests of approaching danger and to persuade them to leave the area. Those priests sent the messenger back to Druya, which saved his life, but they remained with the local people and on February 16-17, 1943, suffered a martyr death. Father Henryk’s description of their martyrdom based upon his own recollections and testimonials of other people contributed to the beatification process of the Marian Martyrs.
On February 7, 1944, Henryk made his perpetual vows in Vilnius, and 20 days later he was ordained to the priesthood in Mariampole, by Archbishop Romuald Jałbrzykowski. After ordination, Fr. Henryk continued his studies, which he concluded by defending his Master’s these in 1946. Later he worked as a vicar and a catechist in several Marian parishes, staying the longest in Druya and Warsaw, but primarily as an educator in the Marian College in Bielany.
Leaving Poland, Fr. Tomaszewski went to England, where he continued his work as an educator in Fawley Court for some time. Then he went to Portugal, and finally, in December of 1965, arrived in Brazil as one of the first Marian missionaries. He was the fourth member of the first Polish missionary team there.
Father Henry worked in the first Marian missionary parish in Brazil, in a town called Nossa Senhora da Gloria, State of Sergipe. In 1968, when the parish was closed, he came to Curitiba, State of Parana; and shortly after went further south – to the State Rio Grande do Sul, where he took over a parish in Barra do Ribeiro and remained there until 1969. In September of 1969, Fr. Henryk began a difficult pastoral ministry in the River Ribeira Valley, on the border betweeen the States of Parana and Sao Paulo. First, he served in two parishes: Riberia in the State of Sao Paulo and Adrianopolis in the State of Parana. Although his residence was in Ribeira, he built a beautiful parish hall in Adrianopolis. During the time of his pastoral labors in the parish of Ribeira, he succeeded in building more than 10 new chapels, restored the main church building and saved it from complete ruin, and rebuilt the devastated presbytery.
On January 17, 1988, Fr. Henryk was transferred from Ribeira to Adrianopolis, where he took over the duties of a pastor, which he fulfilled for the next five years in spite of his advanced age of 74. In total, Fr. Henryk gave 22 years of his life to working in the River Ribeira Valley – the poorest and most spiritually and materially neglected region. Through his service to the local people, which he fulfilled with zeal and love, he brought the Word of God closer and fostered material progress.
Then, after five years of service, on March 18, 1993, Fr. Henryk was transferred to the Diocese of Guarapuava and named the administrator of a chapel at the power plant in Segredo. He spent next five years of his life there, among the plant employees and their families.
In 1998 Fr. Henryk had to go to a hospital because of his failing health. On his return from the hospital, he was transferred to Barra Santa Salete as a resident at the novitiate. Another significant period in his life was the year 1999. With the beginning of this year Fr. Henryk was transferred to the Provincial House in Curitiba, where he had easier access to specialized medical care and was helped by the students of the Major Seminary. In June of that year he went to Poland for the last time. There he participated in the Marians’ meeting with the Holy Father in Licheń and the jubilee of the 50th anniversary of the Marians in Licheń, of which he was the first pastor. Finally, on June 13, 1999, in Warsaw, he took part in beatification of the Marian Martyrs – Frs. George Kaszyra and Anthony Leszczewicz, two confreres with whom he worked and whose martyrdom he witnessed.
In the beginning Fr. Henryk took care of himself in his illness. He celebrated Holy Mass, always recited the breviary in Latin, played solitare… As time went by, his state worsened: he was only able to concelebrate Mass, and he experienced growing memory problems and difficulties in walking… Shortly a need for constant supervision appeared, especially at night, which was managed through the dedication and zeal of the Marian Seminarians.
In the beginning of 2001 Fr. Henryk was not able to celebrate Mass or to walk on his own. Thanks to a dedicated care given by Fr. Edmund Grabowski, M.I.C., the Seminary Rector, students, and Sisters of The Divine Mercy, in 2002-2003 his health improved so much that he was able to go on short walks and participate in some of the bigger events. Although his ailments caused by age and illness made him loose his patience at times, he soon was able to restore his temper, when singing carols or other religious songs.
This year Fr. Henryk celebrated his 90th birthday and, on February 27th – his 60th anniversary of ordination to priesthood. Meanwhile his health became so poor that he couldn’t leave his room, being completely dependent of others in his needs. On June 15th he was hospitalized with serious heart and lung insufficiency. Father Henryk finished his life in this world on the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul.
During his life he was a publicist, a chronicler, and an avid reader, especially of history books. He had a talent for describing facts or events. He wrote down testimonies about the martyrdom of Blesseds Anthony and George in a book Martyrs from Rosica and prepared an account on the martyrdom of Fr. Eugeniusz Kulesza, M.I.C., also. He translated from Belarussian into Polish a book by Fr. Hermanowicz China, Siberia, Moscow, and from French – The heaven stronger than we are, by Wilhelm Hünermann. He was the author of many letters describing his missionary work in Brazil. Those letters were compiled by Fr. Stanisław Kurlandzki, M.I.C. into a book entitled Missionary adventures.
Father Henryk was an educator of children and youth – for many years he worked at the Bielany school, then in Fawley Court (England). Being a pilgrim avidly loving travel, he used his vacation time for visiting Marian shrines. He was incredibly hospitable and possessed a good sense of humor. Indefatigable in his pastoral and construction work, he was concerned about the sick and the poor in his parish and frequently organized charitable help for them.
Father Henryk Tomaszewski is the first Marian Missionary who died and was buried in Brazil, in the Marian cemetery at the Merciful Jesus Shrine. He received from God a grace of being well prepared for his death: purified through suffering and the holy sacraments, he went to meet the Lord, whom he tried to serve faithfully during his earthly pilgrimage, in the company of the Apostles Peter and Paul.