Father Joe and his great niece Joan, dancing on her wedding day, October 22, 1977.
By: Joan Isenbarger
Great Niece of Father Joseph Walijewski
As a child in the late 1960s, I remember visiting my great Aunt Alice and Uncle Charlie (brother of Fr. Joe) Walijewski’s home in Grand Rapids, Mich. Many family members would gather due to the fact that their siblings, Fr. Joe and Sister Noel, both working as missionaries in foreign lands, were in the states for a visit. While most of the adults were inside socializing, I recall the two of them being outside playing baseball with us kids. This is one memory that has always stuck with me. I thought they were pretty cool and thinking they seemed like real people! Fr. Joe always made us feel comfortable and loved by his good-humored personality whenever we were fortunate enough to be around him. He always had a special gift with children.
As I grew into my early high school years, Fr. Joe’s journey continued to touch my heart. I believe he made an impression on me by his real life stories that he shared. It was always so apparent that he loved his mission in life. I would write to him every Easter and Christmas, just to keep in touch. I never really expected him to reply, knowing how busy he was taking care of the needs of others, but on occasion he would drop me a quick note. I once was told that he never liked to write letters so I felt quite blessed when I received mine. From that time on I continued to write to him throughout my adult life.
Father Joe, Mary Walijewski (Fr. Joe’s mother) and his sister, Sister Noel. Taken in Grand Rapids
Michigan in the early 1960s.
On October 22, 1977, Father Joe generously traveled from Peru to Michigan to perform my wedding ceremony in a Catholic church to a non-Catholic man who rarely attended church. Over the years Fr. Joe’s presence resonated with my husband and me as we raised our two daughters. Additionally, I believe Fr. Joe had an impact on my husband becoming Catholic after attending Mass with us for many years. Last but not least, on April 11, 2013, the seventh anniversary of Father Joe’s death, my first grandchild Isabella was born!
So as Father Joe continued to be a Servant of God in other parts of the country, his works were also bearing fruit in the United States, and in particular in our family.
I applaud everyone who is involved with the mission of the Father Joseph Walijewski Legacy Guild. You are doing wondrous deeds to preserve Fr. Joe’s legacy. However, I already know that in God’s eyes “Father Joseph Walijewski” has already been blessed into sainthood.
A few anecdotes from the family: A memory from Rosemary, a niece: During a visit to my home, I asked Fr. Joe what he preferred for breakfast; naming pancakes, sausage, eggs, toast and hash browns. He replied “YES” with his childlike grin followed by an explanation that his cook didn’t prepare these foods for him in Peru. Needless to say he enjoyed his wholesome breakfast!
Another memory shared by his deceased sister (relayed to Rosemary): When back in the U.S., Fr. Joe would sometimes forget that the rules of the road here were different than driving in the jungle. While traveling back to Wisconsin from Michigan, his car would be loaded to the brim with donated clothes to be shipped to Peru and his foot would be heavy. With these traveling traits, Fr. Joe was becoming quite a favorite subject of the State Police.