When I was a Franciscan novice, there was a retired bishop, Rembert Kowalski, who lived in the novitiate community. As a young Franciscan priest, he volunteered to serve in the missions in China. He was assigned to work in Wuhang, China, in 1925. Eventually, he was selected to be bishop of Wuchang, China.
When the Japanese invaded China, they imprisoned Bishop Kowalski because he was an American. He suffered nearly three years in a Japanese POW camp, mostly in solitary confinement. After the defeat of the Japanese in August, 1945, Bishop Kowalski went right back to his ministry. However, his freedom lasted only until 1949 when the Communist Revolution took control.
Bishop Kowalski was imprisoned again. For twenty-eight months he endured all sorts of hardship, starvation, and disease. When he was half-dead the Communist government dumped the bishop at a closed border crossing into Hong Kong territory. In time Bishop Kowalski recuperated from his ordeal and eventually regained enough strength to travel. He was repatriated to the United States in 1953—his first time home since 1925 when he was first assigned to the mission in China.
Just seeing the bishop, I often wondered how he had been so strong in the face of such adversities. Clearly, his greatest concern was for the Church in China. For example, as a penitential practice, Bishop Kowalski would not eat meat (though before I became a novice, the bishop’s doctor ordered him to eat some meat every day for the sake of his health and strength). Because he disliked liver, the bishop decided to eat steamed liver with no spice or onions every day except Friday. Just serving the sick-looking greenish stuff to him at the table was nauseating for most of us novices.
Bishop Kowalski was very devoted to Mary and to praying the rosary for the conversion of all Chinese Communists. He vowed to return to China, but it never happened. He did travel around the states. He gave talks; he celebrated confirmations and ordinations; and he promoted devotion to Mary until his health failed him in the late sixties.
When Bishop Kowalski presided over the confirmation of Catholics, he distributed little holy cards as a reminder of confirmation. He always asked the ones attending the Rite of Confirmation to pray for the imprisoned Church of China. Bishop Kowalski’s cards included little words of advice:
Talk less, listen more.
Watch TV less, think more.
Ride less, walk more.
Sit less, kneel more.
Rest less, work more.
Self less, others more.
Hate less, love more.
Eat Less, live longer.