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Our Lady of Czestochowa obtains relic of St. John Paul II after praying for teen’s recovery

Posted By May 8, 2014 | 1:04 pm | Featured Article #4
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By Tanya Connor

WORCESTER – Members of Our Lady of Czestochowa Parish venerated a relic of St. John Paul II before and after his canonization. The parish received the relic thanks to Pope John Paul II’s secretary, their parish priests, the bishop, and a sick teenager the parish was praying for.
That teenager, Sylvia Chojnowska, is well again and preparing to graduate from St. Mary’s High School this month.
In April 2012 Sylvia was confirmed at Our Lady of Czestochowa. It was one of the last things she would remember for awhile.
On April 23, she wasn’t acting like herself, and was taken to the emergency room, according to her and her sister, Agnes Chojnowska, a 25-year-old with a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience from Northeastern University, who hopes to study neurology or oncology.
They found out that Sylvia had ovarian cancer, encephalitis and problems with her heart rate, blood pressure and memory, her sister said. She said the encephalitis and medication given her to make her comfortable made her unaware of her situation until the middle of June.
In May, the parish’s associate pastor, Father Ryszard W. Polek, led parishioners in a novena to Blessed John Paul II for Sylvia.
“I seriously give thanks to Almighty God, through the intercession of John Paul II” for her recovery, her pastor, Father Thaddeus X. Stachura, said this week. “To this day I still marvel at it. You had to know this girl to know how bad (off) she was.”
He also credited Father Polek.
“He’s really a holy priest,” he said. “I never thought to have a novena to John Paul II.”
Father Polek said his friend Father Grzegorz Trabka suggested the novena. Father Trabka had helped at St. Joseph Basilica in Webster and St. Rose of Lima Parish in Northborough when in the United States, and is now pastor of a parish in Poland named for St. John Paul II, he said.
Father Polek said he included the novena in the parish’s daily May devotions. For nine of those days, he added a prayer seeking Blessed John Paul II’s intercession for Sylvia, and an “Our Father,” “Hail Mary,” “Glory Be” and “Blessed John Paul II, pray for us.” Even after the novena ended, he included Sylvia when he listed intentions for the May devotions.
On Memorial Day, her sister said, “We received a phone call in the middle of the night to rush over to the ICU: her heart had stopped and they were trying to revive her for about 45 minutes.” She said they would get a couple of heartbeats, then her heart would stop again.
Their mother, who stayed with Sylvia every night, called the family, she said. After their father got to her bedside at UMass Memorial Medical Center – University Campus, he called Father Polek.
“I went to anoint her,” Father Polek said. “On the way back I was thinking about what I would say at her funeral.”
“My dad went to Mass every morning,” Sylvia’s sister said. “If we couldn’t get to Mass, we prayed at the chapel at UMass or in Sylvia’s room.” She said family surrounding Sylvia included their brother, aunt, uncle and grandfather from the area, and three cousins who came in from elsewhere.
By the end of June, Sylvia woke up, she said. She didn’t remember what had happened. She learned a tumor had been removed from her ovary and she had had two cardiac arrests and received chemotherapy and a pacemaker.
Since a respirator tube prevented her from speaking, her family bought her an iPad to communicate with, she said. Later she had a tracheostomy which created an opening to her windpipe, which could be capped for her to speak. Still later the trach tube and a feeding tube were removed.
She was sent to Franciscan Hospital for Children in Brighton for rehabilitation, returned to UMass for removal of the affected ovary, then returned to Franciscan for more rehabilitation. There her family brought presents and cake for her 16th birthday, Aug. 19, 2012.
“I never really wanted a big party,” Sylvia said. “I was just happy that I was healthy – and that my family came.    A couple days later the doctors told me I could leave that hospital and continue in outpatient therapy. I went home. All my neighbors made signs.” (Welcome home ones.)
A couple weeks later she was discharged from outpatient therapy, she said.
“Even though they said I was good, I didn’t feel ready to handle high school, so I decided to take on home schooling,” she said. “I had to transfer to South High and they provided me with home schooling. I had a teacher who would come in three or four days a week. After a year of that, I decided I wanted to come back here to St. Mary’s for my senior year.”
She expects to graduate May 22, then head to Regis College to study psychology.
“I’m hoping to become a child-life specialist,” who gives hospitalized young people things to do and seeks to ensure they do not get depressed, she said.
“She’s doing great now,” her sister said. “She’s been cancer-free since she left UMass” in August 2012, and the heart trouble and encephalitis are gone.
“I attribute it to a lot of prayer and amazing doctors and nurses at UMass,” she continued. “The nurses decorated the room: they made paper flowers. They were very good to us. That helped a lot.”
Father Polek said he believes Blessed John Paul II interceded for Sylvia. He said he asked Bishop McManus for a letter to take to Krakow, requesting a first class relic to use for a novena in thanksgiving.
He took the letter to Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, Archbishop of Krakow, who had been Pope John Paul II’s secretary. The cardinal told Father Polek he received many letters reporting graces received through Blessed John Paul II’s intercession, but not all request a relic.
When Cardinal Dziwisz learned that Father Polek was from a Polish parish in the Worcester Diocese and that his bishop and pastor were requesting the relic, “he gave the relic to me right away,” Father Polek said. (Cardinal Dziwisz is to visit St. Joseph Basilica in Webster on May 20.)
Bishop McManus had said he would like to come to Our Lady of Czestochowa for the presentation of the relic, Father Polek said. This was done Oct. 21, 2012, during a 40 hours devotion, which included eucharistic adoration, vespers, a homily by the bishop and veneration of the relic. Bishop McManus met Sylvia and her parents then.
Asked what this occasion was like for her, Sylvia said it was hard to put into words.
“All this happened because of me,” she said. “I don’t want to make it sound like I take full credit for it. I guess I just felt special.”
Father Polek told her if it wasn’t for her, he wouldn’t have sought the relic.
He said he always encourages people to thank God for the graces they receive, and thanksgiving for Sylvia’s healing was included in parish prayers.
Soon after the presentation of the relic, the parish tried for several months to hold a monthly novena to Blessed John Paul II on Sundays before the Polish Mass, but that didn’t work, Father Polek said.
So he included Blessed John Paul II in a novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, a Polish tradition parishioners requested after returning from a pilgrimage with him last September. They had seen the Blessed Mother’s icon in Rome.
The next month, the parish began holding the novena in Polish to Our Lady of Perpetual Help and Blessed John Paul II from 7 to 8 p.m. each Wednesday from October through June, Father Polek said. They offer additional prayers for John Paul II’s intercession the third Wednesday of each month, since he was elected pope the middle of the month – Oct. 16, 1978. That week they also venerate his relic – the relic they have because of Sylvia.