By the rivers of Babylon there we sat and wept, remembering Zion…there our captors asked us for the words of a song ….But how could we sing a song of the LORD in a foreign land?Psalms 137, 1, 3-4
Our beloved Mother Amabilis Debicka entered into eternal life on July 16, 2020. I am reposting this, after numerous requests.
The SS came for them during recess. An entire class of eighth grade girls from Puck [put͡sk], Poland., abducted. And taken into Germany.
Among them was Ursula.
The transport seemed to take forever, and yet they dreaded its arrival. The Polish girls had been kidnapped for slave labor. The cruel fate of slaves awaited them: years of servile work in a foreign land.
They were taken first to a potato farm. Young Ursula Debicka [Dem-BEET-ska], born in 1926, had never known such hardship. She was a treasured daughter and sister. She was cherished. The menacing danger facing her suddenly was a shock to the security she had formerly known; the meanness around her was in sharp contrast to her sunny disposition.
Ursula’s father, Stanislaw, was a schoolteacher and former Polish military officer; her mother Jadwiga, a devout housewife. Her brothers, Kazimierz and Antony, who like all brothers teased her mercilessly, loved her dearly and doted on her. Where had those days gone?
The close-knit family had been dispersed. Ursula found herself displaced from all that was familiar, a slave near Berlin. Her father had already been hauled away to incarceration in a concentration camp for Polish intellectuals. Her brothers were taken to dig ditches. They would survive the war, but one was terribly injured, the other displaced. Their mother at home endured another kind of torture: the agony of not knowing. These were truly terrible days on earth. But God was faithful. He always is.
The potato season ended. Ursula and the other girls were taken at market by farmers for slave labor. Reduced though she was to a commodity of cheap merchandise, still the devout Ursula remained strong in the face of hatred. She put her trust in Almighty God that He would not abandon or forsake her.
Ursula was chosen by a severe SS man and his wife. They had no children of their own and intended to adopt her and make a fine German lady of her.
There was even the pretense of an adoption proceeding.
Stanislaw Debicki was asked if he would give up his daughter. He was even promised release if he would do so.
“Mr. Debicki,” the SS man had said to him, “you have many children. Surely you will not mind if we adopt your daughter?”
She learned that her father had replied that he loved all his children and would part with none of them. His courageous refusal changed nothing of Ursula’s plight. But his response had changed everything.
For the young Polish girl who had been abducted and enslaved, and who was now living in quiet desperation amid strangers, her father’s response was unequivocally that he would not disown her. Neither would God. The news changed Ursula. The SS man and his wife must have perceived this as well, because from then on they treated Ursula with contempt as a slave.
They had tried to force Ursula to forget who she was and where she had come from. Perhaps nowhere was this more poignant than in the arranged music classes. Ursula had always loved music, but how could she sing and play in exile? Could any strain of notes give her joy apart from her beloved Poland and her family?
And yet despite her breaking heart, she played. She offered a canticle in exile. Her musical training would be used later. Nothing is wasted in the plan of God.
Despite her breaking heart, she played. She offered a canticle in exile.
There began to be rumors that the war would soon be coming to an end. It was then that Ursula made a decision: she would escape. She would put herself at risk, but she put an even greater trust in God, as she followed an inner inspiration that compelled her forward. Gathering her faith and her courage, with her Polish companion, she set forth walking.
And Ursula walked. She walked deliberately. Fearlessly. She was ingenious, pretending to be casually window-shopping. To any onlooker she simply appeared to be some fine German young lady out for a stroll with her servant. But Ursula was actually fleeing the country. Fleeing for her very life.
She walked by daylight and through towns and cities. When night fell and the Nazis let the dogs out, she sought shelter by hiding in barns. She found food where she could, but the conditions were terrible.
And yet, by the grace of God and by war’s end, at age eighteen, Ursula had somehow made it back to Poland and her family.
The hunger, privation and the elements had, however, taken their toll. In flight, Ursula had contracted tuberculosis. She would need to undergo a period of convalescence in a tubercular sanitorium.
It was during her recovery there that Ursula met a nurse who had once been a postulant in a religious community in far-off Krakow. The nurse told her patient about her brief but positive experience with the Sister Servants of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. She encouraged Ursula to think about becoming a Sister there. Something within Ursula stirred, it was her vocational grace and call to destiny.
With the same resolute step with which she had set her feet on the way back from Germany to Poland, Ursula set her feet squarely upon the path to religious life.
She followed this next inner inspiration, seeking to offer herself to the service of God. This time her departure from family was voluntarily, as she left behind all things to follow Christ. She would not be taken by force this time, except by sheer force of Love.
She would not be taken by force this time, except by sheer force of Love.
The God who had protected her in a foreign land among her enemies, would surely lead her and provide for her in the convent. She would sing a different canticle, the canticle of love as the spouse of Christ.
It was not an easy time to enter religious life. Poland had entered another dark era of persecution under occupation by Communist Russia. There were even trials awaiting her arrival at the convent door.
When Ursula came to Krakow to the Motherhouse of the Congregation she was surprised to be treated at first with some suspicion and rigorous interrogation about her motives and place of origin.
It was later explained to her by a religious she knew in Krakow that her coming from the region of Gdansk was highly suspect because the Mother General of the Sacred Heart Sisters was then being imprisoned by Communist authorities in Gdansk. The Sisters were fearful that perhaps this young woman had been sent by the Communists to infiltrate and spy on the community. Just who was this Ursula Debicka? What would become of her?
Certainly the Sisters in Krakow that day could never have imagined the caliber of the person before them or the mission she would fulfill in their Congregation. God was sending them a woman of uncommon strength and courage, a woman whose song had been sung in exile, and who could bring the fruit of that experience to the world for the glory of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Ursula was received into their ranks in religious life and was given the religious name “Amabilis,” a name derived from a title of the Blessed Virgin, meaning “Mother of fair love.”
Sister Amabilis received formation, made her vows and became an organist in Poland. She was quite happy and busy in the daily rounds of playing organ and singing Masses and funerals. But God had other plans in mind for this religious.
Her superiors quickly recognized in Sister Amabilis the qualities of nature and grace that would serve well a newly opened foundation in the United States. So, in 1961, a sacrifice was asked of Sister Amabilis Debicka: to leave her homeland and people once again, this time to go to Erie, Pennsylvania in America. There on American soil she would undertake to fulfill the Congregation’s mission to extend the Kingdom of Love of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.
It was a painful departure. Shortly before leaving her beloved Poland, this photo was taken of Sister Amabilis. Also before departure, she went to receive the blessing of a young Auxiliary Bishop in Krakow, named Karol Wojtyla.
She arrived and commenced a lifetime of service in America. The Lord would eventually direct the Sisters to settle more permanently in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, Pennsylvania. There Mother Amabilis Debicka became everything to the fledgling American foundation: first vocation promoter, first local superior, first formator, and, in 1986, first Provincial Superior in America, an office she held for a decade. She accepted the first American candidates, formed and educated them, sent them out on mission and has already even buried two of those she received.
Mother Amabilis Debicka became everything to the fledgling American foundation: first vocation promoter, first local superior, first formator, and, in 1986, first Provincial Superior in America, an office she held for a decade. She accepted the first candidates, formed and educated them, sent them out on mission and has already even buried two of those she received.
It is also worthy of note that during Mother Amabilis’ long tenure in leadership in her Congregation in America, the Church was blessed with a Polish Pope.
The Congregation of Sister Servants of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus had been founded in Krakow, Poland in 1894 by St. Joseph Sebastian Pelczar and Blessed Klara Szczesna. Among the varied works of the Congregation was the Sisters’ service in Church offices and institutions.
In 1978 some Sisters of the Congregation were working in Krakow as secretaries and household staff for the brilliant and zealous Metropolitan Archbishop Karol Wojtyla. In October of that year, this Cardinal was elected to the papacy. Pope John Paul II took members of his Krakow staff with him to serve at the Vatican. While for the most part the sacrificial service of these Sisters was largely hidden from the eyes of the world, there was always a closeness of the Congregation to the Polish Pope, owing to its origin in Krakow and close collaboration with the Polish Pope in Rome.
Mother occasionally visited the Sisters in Rome and kept in touch with them. One year, Mother Amabilis arranged to send something to the Sisters at the Vatican, an envelope of some importance, sent via an American priest visiting Rome, Msgr. Francis Callaghan of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Mother stressed to the Monsignor the “grave importance” of the necessity to hand-deliver it to none other than Sr. Tobiana Sobodka herself, the local superior of the Sisters working in the papal household. Monsignor took the mission as his sacred honor and made a point to do so during his trip. The priest had much difficulty convincing the Swiss Guards that it couldn’t simply be mailed; he doggedly waited for hours until another religious could happen past and call up to Sr. Tobiana. But the envelope was delivered, and the Vatican Sisters received enough money from Mother Amabilis to purchase many golden roses to grace the Pope’s chapel on his birthday! Monsignor Callaghan spoke of his mission to the Vatican for many homilies to come, and Pope John Paul II was quite surprised at the array, asking the Sisters who was responsible. They told him that Mother Amabilis was behind it.
Truth be told, Mother Amabilis was behind a good many things, because she was loving and zealous. Not only did Mother pray and serve in community as a superior, formation director, and truly a holy strategist to further the community’s interests, Mother also worked hard in the apostolate as a kindergarten teacher, organist and sodality director. Besides prayer and apostolic work, formation classes and the myriad of demands of charity, Mother also kept the books for the Sisters, handled financial records and transactions, and still found time and energy to to raise funds and send aid and supplies to her beloved Poland, locked into poverty under Communist oppression.
In a word, Mother Amabilis Debicka has prayed much and worked hard for the glory of the Heart of Jesus! Now in her 90’s, she has entered more and more into the apostolate of prayer and suffering, so needed today. The Sisters are truly blessed to still have Mother with them. Her sufferings, her smile, her presence, betrays a silent song that ascends still to heaven. Mother is still singing, singing as she did by the rivers of Babylon during the terrible war, singing now her beautiful canticle of love and spiritual joy in the exile of this life.
In eternity, Mother will take up the next psalm (cf. Ps. 138) that immediately follows the sad story of exile (cf. Psalm 137):
I thank you, Lord, with all my heart; in the presence of the angels – to you I sing….I praise your name for your mercy and faithfulness….On the day I cried out, you answered; you strengthened my spirit.
Though I walk in the midst of dangers, you guard my life when my enemies rage. You stretch out your hand; your right hand saves me. The LORD is with me to the end. LORD, your mercy endures forever. Never forsake the work of your hands!Psalm 138: 1, 2b, 3, 7, 8.