Sometimes it seems as if we are not the right person for the job. We lack the necessary skills and temperament. But our shortcomings can serve us. They require us to rely on the Lord, and they keep us humble. When embracing the mission God has for us, humility and trust are the necessary ingredients.
How far-reaching will our particular mission be? What souls will be touched? We may not know until we reach Heaven. Such was the case of a rather unknown layman, Jan Tyranowski.
Wartime Mission of Jan Tyranowski
As priests were carted off by the Gestapo during the occupation of Poland in World War II, Jan Tyranowski, a tailor by trade, reluctantly stepped into unknown territory. He was asked to form and advise a group of young men, creating a youth ministry team for the young people of the parish. “Living Rosary” prayer groups were born from the undertaking. These groups, led by Tyranowski and his team members, provided the sorely needed spiritual, emotional, and practical support to young Poles through prayer, fellowship, and practicing the works of mercy.
At first glance, one might dismiss Jan Tyranowski, thinking the shy tailor would not be suited for youth ministry. In his rather reclusive lifestyle, he did not deal much with people. Jan was not at all attracted to the youth — the idea of speaking to them terrified him. Initially, they were wary of him as well; many of the young people of his parish thought he was peculiar.
Well, he was a mystic and that can qualify one as “peculiar.” And he was rather eccentric and quite intense. But he was also devoted to the Virgin Mary and a student of Carmelite spirituality. Indeed, Jan possessed something very real and very needed — a connection with the Divine. This simple tailor was a gift from God to the Polish youth whose future was being torn from them by the Nazi war machine.
When Jan protested, he was told, “Do not be afraid, the Lord will help you.” The Lord blessed his efforts, and Jan was able clandestinely to bring together the team leaders and implement the Living Rosary groups that served as a lifeline for the young people suffering under the Nazi occupation.
Those involved had many close calls. Youth groups of any kind, especially those that promoted a Polish identity, of which Catholicism was central, were targeted by the Gestapo. Tyranowski’s apartment was once raided during a Living Rosary gathering. We do not know what this soft-spoken man said to the Germans, but they left.
Jan continued to mentor his team of Living Rosary group leaders, adjusting his approach to suit each one personally. Karol Wojtyla, who would later become Pope John Paul II, was one of the team and a Living Rosary group leader.
At this time, Karol was in his early twenties with not one living family member, and Jan Tyranowski helped fill the painful void. He was not only a mentor to young Karol but also a spiritual director, friend, and father figure. Karol blossomed under the guidance of the shy layman, soaking up all that Jan had to share. Later, as Pope John Paul II, he would say of Jan:
He disclosed to me the riches of his inner life, of his mystical life. . . . In his words, in his spirituality and in the example of a life given to God alone, he represented a new world that I did not yet know. I saw the beauty of a soul opened up by grace.
The number of young adults involved in the Living Rosary groups cannot be determined for certain; there were a few hundred at the most. But the simple tailor had a gift for nurturing souls. Out of those brave young people, eleven vocations were realized, Karol Wojtyla’s among them.
Possibly Jan Tyranowski’s most important God-given task at this particular time was his contribution to the spiritual formation of young Karol Wojtyla. We can follow this unlikely youth leader’s influence all the way through John Paul’s papacy. This simple mystic-tailor’s yes to God is still bearing spiritual fruit today.
None of us knows to what extent our actions will impact others. John Paul II explains that because of the Incarnation, we are connected with all mankind, living and dead. Our actions go beyond space and time. Saying yes to God has a power beyond our imaginings, as Saint John Paul II tells us:
Human acts go beyond their immediate surroundings and the social or political perimeter. Every human act passed through Jesus Christ and via him reaches others to the ends of the world. . . . By taking my human nature, he [Jesus] has put me in communication with the totality of the universe, visible and invisible, of the living and the dead, and the violence which I think I am committing in the shadows makes a distant unknown angel shudder. But the smallest merit acquired through this grace will also go to the most unprovided, who without knowing me awaits my good will, whether he is conscious or quite ignorant of this spiritual reversibility, which makes the poor man the permanent creditor of the rich. Since the Incarnation, human acts have infinite repercussions.