Poland Embraces Fulton Sheen’s Enduring Legacy

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by Anita Carey  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  December 5, 2018   

First Polish translation of Life of Christ published

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POLAND (ChurchMilitant.com) - Although Venerable Abp. Fulton Sheen has been gone since 1979, his works are still new and powerful influences to Catholics around the world. 

Jan J. Franczak has just completed a Polish translation of Venerable Abp. Futon Sheen's work, Life of Christ. This is the 28th book Franczak has translated, and his other translations include: Letters to a Young Catholic by George Weigel, The Soul of a Lion: The Life of Dietrich von Hildebrand by Alice von Hildebrand, Angels and Demons, The JourneyPrayer for Beginners and Three Approaches to Abortion by Peter Kreeft.

Franczak studied Polish philology at the University of Wrocław, Poland and has a master's degree in Polish literature. He studied English in the United Kingdom and in Ireland and taught English as a freelance teacher. Franczak now works as a translator for several Polish Catholic magazines and has recently been working for PCh24.pl Polonia Christiana and has even translated several Vortex episodes that are of special interest to Polish Catholics.

Church Militant spoke with Franczak about his latest translation and how the Polish people feel about Venerable Abp. Fulton J. Sheen's work.

Church Militant: How well known is Abp. Sheen in Poland?

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Jan J. Franczak

Jan Franczak: I think Abp. Fulton Sheen's popularity in Poland is a new thing. Personally, I know some people in Poland who are fans of his work. His first book wasn't translated until 2014, which is quite late, considering his popularity in the United States and him being a Catholic celebrity of sorts — in a positive sense of the word — in the 20th century.

One reason for his late popularity in Poland is that his life was during the time of Communism in Poland and Central Europe. His books just weren't available either in English or in Polish.

His popularity is growing, and each year there are new Polish versions of his books available. For example, just before Christmas this year, The True Meaning of Christmas has been published.

CM: How many of Abp. Sheen's books have been translated into Polish? 

JF: So far, about 16 books by Abp. Sheen have been translated into Polish by various translators. Preface to Religion, the first one of his works available in Polish, has been translated into Polish by two different translators.

There are several translators who have helped to make Abp. Sheen's work available, and Izabella Parowicz has done the most translations so far. She has also published a lengthy article about him. The list of Fulton Sheen's books available in Polish and their translators is available on the Polish site for Abp. Fulton J. Sheen.

CM: How did you learn about Abp. Fulton Sheen's works?

JF: I knew a little about him but not much. I was aware that he had been an important figure among the American Catholic hierarchy and a popular writer and host of TV programs.

When I became interested in Michael Voris' programs, I realized that one of his inspirations was Abp. Sheen. I noticed that Life of Christ seemed to be his favorite one or at least it was available in the Church Militant shop and also recommended by Church Militant. For some reason, I got more and more curious about it, and finally, after reading some excerpts, I decided to buy it and that's how it started.


CM: Have his television programs been broadcast in Poland? 

JF: Some of his television programs are available with Polish subtitles on YouTube. I don't watch TV so I'm not aware of any Polish TV channel broadcasting his programs and I think no one has done it yet. A Polish version of EWTN, EWTN Polska, has just started broadcasting in October and their broadcast will include Abp. Sheen's programs.

CM: You mentioned that this was a good time to bring to light Abp. Sheen's work in Poland? Why?

JF: I think that's a good time to bring to light Life of Christ in particular as it's one of his most important works. With Abp. Sheen's growing popularity, it shouldn't go unnoticed.

In general, the clarity of his thought, his sense of humor, his wit are the qualities that could be helpful at a time of confusion. I think that this is what we're experiencing right now in Poland. There are different attempts to undermine the role of the Catholic Church, and we need an intelligent defense of her teaching, of the teachings of Christ. I believe that Abp. Sheen, a man who converted so many people, including some ex-Communists, could be of help here.

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Poland's Rosay to the Borders in October 2017 

CM: Has there been any notable changes after the Rosary to the Borders? 

JF: For sure, that initiative helped many people realize that we need to fight for our faith. There is one thing we've been able to notice: that Poland has become an example to lots of Catholics around the world. There have already been similar initiatives in various countries, e.g. in Ireland, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, the USA … and I hope that some other countries will join us and follow suit.

The Rosary to the Borders helped many Catholics in Poland to see the strength of our Polish Catholicism and realize that we're still a Catholic nation. 

On the other hand, it seems to me that different attacks against the Church and the Faith have increased. There have been some actions by feminists, for example, including spraying graffiti on Church buildings and protesting in front of them, demanding their right to abortion and so on, but my impression is that these protests have not been very popular recently.

But these attacks keep coming from different directions. An anticlerical movie made by an atheist turned out to be a box office hit after its premiere in September. And to my surprise, even some priests have praised that film, although it was criticized by most of the Catholic media outlets.

CM: Is the Faith increasing in Poland? 

JF: It's hard to say if the Faith is increasing in Poland. I guess that all the Catholics around the world should pray for Poland and our nation as the attacks keep increasing. I wouldn't like my country to follow Ireland and Canada in their decline. On the contrary, I would like sister Faustina's words about "the spark from Poland" come true. Some say that St. Pope John Paul II was the spark sister Faustina had mentioned but some think that the Rosary to the Borders might be the spark that "will come forth."

CM: Are the bishops doing good work and are keeping faithful to the Church's teachings? 

JF: Yes and no. For example, they defend the right to life of every human being, especially the most vulnerable ones — the unborn. The conservative government in Poland keeps postponing any action to protect the unborn, even though a proper bill is waiting. Their thinking is in terms of the next election, forgetting that "we must obey God rather than men." Our bishops are clear in their stance, they're expecting the government take action and change the law.

On the other hand, during the last local elections, one of the prominent Catholic candidates said that he supported in vitro fertilization and that his attitude to the issue was the same as our episcopate. I don't remember the spokesman of the Conference of Polish Bishops saying anything in protest nor do I remember any bishop or cardinal correcting that candidate. I don't understand that — such a situation leads to confusion. That is especially in case of Catholics who don't know their faith very well. Seeing no reaction from the bishops might lead them to think that in vitro is OK.

CM: You translated Abp. Sheen's Life of Christ, why did you choose that book? 

JF: As I mentioned, I was inspired by Michael Voris. When I finally got my own copy of the book and started reading it, I realized that it was an excellent piece of Catholic apologetics. And I saw that nobody had translated it into Polish. I hadn't even read the full book when I suggested it to my publisher, Wydawnictwo AA. Piotr Zarębski, with whom I've been working for many years now, took my recommendation seriously. And here we are — a beautiful, hardcover book with illustrations by Gustav Dore — an ideal gift for Christmas and excellent read and nourishment for intellect and spirit.

I wish our priests had explained that at our religious instruction lessons as clearly as Fulton Sheen.

CM: How did Abp. Sheen's explanation of Christ's life differ from other works that have been done?  

JF: I think that the book can be read by both Catholics and people who are not Christians. A Catholic can find here arguments to defend his faith, for example, on the divinity of Christ — the famous argument that Jesus was either God or a liar. A non-Catholic should be able to understand why Jesus Christ was not just one of the great teachers like Socrates or Confucius and why He was special, why we believe that He was not just a man but also God himself who came to this world to die for our sins.

I think that his book is both for refined readers who know something about theology and for such readers who don't know very much about theology or apologetics but would like to deepen their faith. I think this book can satisfy both sorts of such readers.

As for me, as someone who studied literature, I was amazed not only by the clarity of Abp. Sheen's thought but also by his references to other authors and such geniuses as Shakespeare, metaphysical poets and so on. One of them I actually discovered quite recently was one that he referred to: the great poet, Robert Southwell, who also happened to be a Jesuit, a martyr and a Catholic saint. Thanks to Abp. Sheen and his Life of Christ, I was also able to find out Caryll Houselander's writing, an English 20th-century mystic. 

One of the most important passages in the book is the one that describes Jesus' meeting with the Samaritan woman at the well. It seems to be particularly popular with liberal Catholics who claim that Christ did not condemn her but accepted her. They don't see that Our Lord started his conversation with her based on the thing common to both of them, water, and gradually moved to spiritual matters making her realize her sinfulness leading to her repentance and conversion to become one of the first Christians. That seems to be a model for Sheen's approach to non-Catholics.

But of course, the most important thing in his book is the explanation of the uniqueness of Christ's life. The only man who was born, not to live, but to die and "the only Person ever pre-announced." My wife, who was the editor of this book, even noted that, saying: "I wish our priests had explained that at our religious instruction lessons as clearly as Fulton Sheen." And I agree with her.

CM: How long did it take you to do the translation? 

JF: I took me about a year. It was a difficult time for me and my family because my mum passed away on June 23rd last year, just before my birthday and just before her wedding anniversary, on the Feast of the Sacred Heart. I dedicated my translation to her memory. I wish she could see this beautiful book.

CM: How difficult is the translation process? Are English and Polish very different? 

JF: I think this book was, in a way, fun to translate because it was so intellectually and spiritually stimulating. Of course. there were some difficulties. English and Polish are different languages and they have different grammar. There are lots of words from Latin in both languages but sometimes, they can be false friends. 

I was pressed for time, and I was aware that the book was an important one — maybe one of the most important I have translated so far. There were some difficulties, too. At a certain point, I had to halt working on the translation because it turned out that there were some copyright problems that appeared suddenly. As far as I know, another company was claiming the copyrights to the book, but they were resolved very quickly.  

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CM: Did you have help, either materially or spiritually? 

JF: Yes, first of all from my wife, Boguslawa. She was excellent editing and proofreading my translation and being very patient. She also translated one poem in the book. If not for her I wouldn't have been able to finish it on time. She is very thorough and hard working.

Some people helped me in some difficult fragments of the text where I was not quite sure if I correctly understood the author's idea. I also asked Michael Voris and Christine Niles for help and I got some help from my American friend here in Poland.

I think that there were some difficulties, but a lot of people helped to overcome them. I even asked some folks at Church Militant for prayer. And I think some people over here in Poland prayed for the good outcome.

Of course, I'm glad that Wydawnictwo AA decided to publish this book and trust me. Many thanks to Mr. Piotr Zarębski but also to the owners of Wydawnictwo AA.

CM: Will you translate other books by Abp. Sheen? Which one(s) and why? 

JF: I wish I could translate Abp. Sheen's Treasure in Clay. It's one of the best autobiographies I have ever read. It's absolutely insightful, very funny in some parts, both entertaining and wise. There are some pages dedicated to Poland, too. I was positively surprised by Abp. Sheen's realistic approach to the fate of Poland and Central Europe with the advances of the Soviet Army, and that was at the time when most people were enthusiastic about the Soviet Union!

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