The dragon and the Polish priest who loved storytelling

01 Oct 2008

By The Record

Fr Tomasz Bujakowski OFM, chaplain to the Polish community, remembers his 10-year relationship with Fr Boleslaw Smok OFM, who died on September 22.

Fr Boleslaw Smok.

AS a retiree, Fr Boleslaw Smok was free of the daily obligations of the priest and the pastoral duties, yet always maintained a deep interest in the activities around the Church and the Polish community in Australia.
For as long as he could, even almost until his 90th birthday,  he actively participated in helping with pastoral work though he was not obliged to do so. Many will recall his 7pm Sunday Mass with its long but always well-prepared sermon. His confessional sittings, though at times somewhat loud due to his poor hearing, were characteristic of the latter years of his life with his smile and peaceful disposition.
He was grateful every time someone visited him. On many occasions he would, with a sense of humour, remind those who traipsed through our house, “yesterday you didn’t say goodbye to me”. This wasn’t a reminder as such, but rather to start a conversation; the smile on his face left no doubt as to his intentions. Many people who came to our house, whether for meetings, film nights or rehearsals, sooner or later directed their steps to the affectionately named  “Dragon’s Den” either to say hello or to say goodbye. This was the name we gave to his room. Fr Boleslaw’s surname “Smok” literally means dragon in Polish. 
In Polish lore, dragons have a special place, especially in Krakow. Legend has it that under the historic castle, Vavel, a ferocious seven-headed dragon lived who terrorised the local population. He was eventually subdued and killed by a clever cobbler who gave the dragon a carefully prepared meal of a lamb stuffed with explosives.
The Dragon’s Den is still there to this day as a reminder of those events. The dragon, while ferocious in the story, is now seen as a warmly received icon of Krakow. Our “dragon” was of a more gentle type whose only fire like tendencies was a distinct liking for extra spicy pizza.
He loved to talk, tell stories and also to listen to other people’s stories. Often at times he would lift the spirits of those who were sad. To people he particularly liked, especially ladies, he gave nicknames like “Ladybird”, “Pin”, “Squirrel”, “Adasiowe”, “Stefanowe” and many others.
These names usually referred to characteristics of that person that were particular descriptive of that individual to Father Boleslaw.
He shared with others everything he had. Rarely did anyone depart from seeing him not endowed with a chocolate or sandwich or something else. Other times there would also be a glass or so of vodka, made according to secret recipe known to him and which became widely known as “Smokovka”.
He loved celebrating anniversaries; no doubt some will remember his successive jubilees, particularly the memorable celebration of his 90th birthday, for which we all went to the nearby Chinese restaurant. A group of grownups, youth and children unknowingly to Fr Boleslaw decorated the entry hall on the first floor of our house.
And you should have seen it. An army net, filled with balloons bearing his name and 90th birthday, was suspended from the ceiling. Over the doorway to his room in large letters in Latin was written ‘SPELUNCA DRAGONIS’ which means Dragon’s den. On returning, Fr   Smok was greatly surprised and deeply moved by the gesture, to the extent that he left the decorations up for several weeks.
His 91st birthday was more subdued, but we still had a surprise for him, our “Granddad”, as we often called him. It was a composite photo, a photo of Fr Tomasz sitting on his motorbike to which we digitally attached the face of Fr Smok.
When this was publicly presented to him as a framed photo, Fr Smok at first could not remember the occasion and during the celebrations he asked me: “When did I sit on your motorbike?” but then it clicked and he quipped: “I’ll have to take away your computers”.
The Rosary was his companion on his last journey. In his room he had lots of books, but the most used was The Bible for Everyday, which he read during his daily prayers despite his deteriorating eyesight in the latter years.
He would pray for the Holy Father, the bishops and priests. He rejoiced in the good things of the Church.
Cancer came as an unexpected thief. In June 2007 he fell in the shower and was taken to hospital. Subsequent tests revealed a mark on his lung. He took this news calmly.