Robert Kisala SVD
In 1987, Father Edward Konkol SVD was given permission by then provincial superior of the Polish Province, Father Konrad Keler SVD, to begin work with homeless youth in the city of Bialystok in eastern Poland. Many of the youth were addicted to drugs or alcohol, and some were suffering from HIV/AIDS. At that time, problems like addiction and the presence of HIV/AIDS were largely ignored or covered up by Polish society, but in a short time, Fr. Konkol was able to gather twenty volunteers, many ex-addicts themselves. They called themselves “weeds,” because that was how they were seen by society. Eventually, through their efforts, a detoxification center was opened at Choroszcza Hospital in the city, and in 1991, they were able to organize as a nongovernmental organization (NGO), called Droga, which in Polish means “Way.”
From this small beginning, Droga’s activities have grown over the years. Already in 1988, a vacation center was established in Jastarnia, on the Baltic Sea. It is a place where children of alcohol- and drug-addicted families can be sent to escape from their environment. Every year more than 560 children benefit from the center. In 1993, the city of Bialystok gave Droga an abandoned house. It was renovated and is now used as a place where children and their families can come for treatment together. The center, called Nasz Dom or “Our Home,” targets the whole family and has a seventy-five percent rate of recovery. In 1997, another center called Etap or “Stage” was established for addicted youth as well as those who have run into trouble with the law. Last year 9,500 young people were treated at the center, often referred by the police or courts. In 2000, Droga began to solicit donations of food, furniture, clothes, and other items, which are distributed to poor families in the city.
In 2008, a job referral center was founded. About one hundred people a year are able to gain employment because of the help they receive at the center. An orphanage, called Angels’ Home, was established in 2010, and it is presently home to twenty-five children between the ages of five and eighteen. Droga also supplies twelve scholarships every year to those who want to train to be social workers. In addition to its generous benefactors, Droga is also able to obtain funds for some of its projects from the local government as well as from the European Union. Droga has about twenty employees and over two hundred volunteers, many of whom have benefited from Droga’s programs themselves. Bialystok has a large Orthodox population (about 30 percent), and many of Droga’s collaborators are Orthodox or do not profess any religion. Prayer is very much a part of Droga’s life however. Each day, the employees and volunteers join in the prayer for Divine Mercy and every Sunday the group gathers for Mass.
There are about a dozen Divine Word Missionaries living in the community in Bialystok. The apostolate of Divine Word Missionaries in Bialystok has grown over the years, and it now includes a parish established there several years ago. During my recent short visit to Poland, Fr. Keler accompanied me to Bialystok, saying that he himself had not been back there since he finished his service as provincial in 1992. I could tell that he was very proud of what had begun under his leadership.
Robert Kisala SVD, a Chicago native, became a Divine Word Missionary in 1981 and was ordained in 1985. Father Kisala served in Japan for many years before his election to the General Council in Rome. He is currently vice superior general.
Divine Word Missionaries Magazine, Vol. LVII No. 1 Winter 2014, issued quarterly.