Brother Anthony Kowalczyk was manning a sawmill in Alberta in 1897 when his right arm got caught in the power belt. the mangled limb was gangrenous by the time he reached a doctor several days later, and only amputation would save his life. “Give me my crucifix,” Brother Anthony said when he learned they had no anesthesia. “that will be enough.” He endured the operation without uttering a word.
Kowalczyk was born into a large Catholic family in dzierżanów, Poland. He apprenticed with a blacksmith and later plied his trade in Germany, where he encountered the Missionary oblates of Mary immaculate. He joined the order as a brother, eager to work in the foreign missions. in 1896, Brother Anthony was sent to a school in northeast Alberta to serve the indigenous Cree and Métis peoples. After his accident, he worked as mechanic and gardener at the mission of st. Paul de Métis.
Transferred in 1911 to Collège saint-Jean in Edmonton, Brother Anthony served the rest of his life there as a maintenance man, performing the humble tasks of blacksmith, janitor and laundryman. He also tended the garden and took care of livestock. though he never mastered French, the Polish brother became a beloved figure among the students.
He was always available to repair their hockey sticks, sharpen their skates and offer them encouragement. He often urged the boys to pray an “Ave” (which earned him the nickname “Brother Ave”) and was known to drop to his knees to pray a Hail Mary at any difficulty. He was fond of pointing to his prosthesis with its steel hook and saying, “this is a grace.” the first Polish oblate to come to Canada, Brother Anthony Kowalczyk died July 10, 1947. He is buried in St. Albert Alberta. He was declared Venerable in 2014.
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