Court stops exhumation of Divine Mercy priest

Father Jozef Jarzebowski

Father Jozef Jarzebowski

Plans to exhume the body of a Polish priest from the grounds of the church of the Blessed Virgin Mary & St Ann at Fawley Court, a former community and retreat centre in Henley-on-Thames,  have been blocked by a High Court injunction.

The Congregation of Marian Fathers, who have been in charge of the property since 1953,  planned to move the remains of Father Jozef Jarzebowski from the property which reported to be on the market for £22 million.

But the exhumation licence has been suspended,  pending a judicial review sought by campaigners who hope the centre can be saved for the Polish community.

Fr Jozef, who died in 1964, was a leading figure in the Polish emigree community. During World War Two  he was imprisoned in a Russian labour camp. While there he made a promise that if he survived he  would set up shrines to Divine Mercy. After the war he kept this promise and brought the Cult of Divine Mercy from Poland to the West under the guidance of  Fr Michael Sopocko, the Personal Confessor of St Faustyna herself. A writer and poet, he established a Polish museum, a library and School for boys at Fawley Court.

During the Communist regime in Poland he organised the largest meetings of Free Poles every Whit Sunday, on the largest piece of ‘Free Poland’ in Europe.

A spokeswoman said: “During his lifetime, Fr Jozef would point out the spot where he  wanted to be buried. To go against his wishes now dishonours his memory. His life is an inspirational example of what can be achieved. Fr Jozef's achievements were underpinned by British people who helped and supported him over the years.”

She added that the news was even more “incredible” because the Marian Fathers' website names  Fr Josef as someone who may be a candidate for beatification.

“Trying to erase Fawley Court from the map of Catholic Britain and applying to exhume his body can only undermine his achievements,” she said.

The church was  listed as Grade II by English Heritage on 28 September last year.  Designed by the architect Wladyslaw Jarosz under the patronage of Prince Stanislaw Albrecht Radziwill it is a striking modern building, constructed in a style reminiscent of a Polish mountain chalet. With walls covered in brass plates, the church is the only Shrine of Divine Mercy in Britain.

One of the reasons given for the listing,  by Ian Dunlop of the Department of Culture, Media & Sport was that it is: "of special historic interest to the Polish Roman Catholic Community and which has associations with the Polish Royal Family as the resting place of Prince Radziwill and which was built as a memorial to his mother, Princess Lubomirska".

Share this story