A Reverent Evening at Madonna University

1There is a longstanding history between the Orchard Lake Schools and Madonna University.  Our founder, Fr. Józef Dąbrowski, had a special connection with the Felician order of sisters from Poland, just as the roots of the Polish Seminary (which would later become the Orchard Lake Schools), were being established in Detroit, Michigan.  In later years, there was a branch of the Madonna University campus located on the grounds of the Orchard Lake Schools.

Because of these ties between our organizations, we were thrilled when Chris Seguin, Chair of the Art Department, approached us in July of 2015 to inquire about the possibility of having Forbidden Art at Madonna.  As plans progressed, the Center for Catholic Studies and Interfaith Dialogue Co-Directors Sr. Nancy Marie Jamroz, CSSF, and Deepinder Uppal Singh, formed a core planning team.  The success of this partnership would not have been made possible without the great cooperation between the Madonna University and Polish Mission teams.

Click here to see photos from the event!

On the evening of January 28th, 2016, the day after the 71st anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau (and International Holocaust Remembrance Day),  guests began arriving in the parking lot behind the Franciscan Center at Madonna University in anticipation of the moving exhibit they were about to see.  The Forbidden Art exhibit had been set up in the Sister Mary Danatha Gathering Area by JJ Przewozniak for a few weeks prior, on display for students studying or walking by between classes.

Each example of art, showcased in wooden panels and illuminated by soft blue light, silently glowed as over 300 guests started to arrive.  There was a steady rise in conversation throughout the Gathering Area, but as guests reflected upon the art, an underlying respectful silence and somber tone could e observed.  The gathered community included a delegation from the Orchard Lake Schools including Vice Chancellor Anthony Koterba and Msgr. Frank Koper, community leaders, and representatives of religious communities, like Sheri Schiff of the American Jewish Committee, and Bishop David Stecholz, D.D.

On the upper floor of the Gathering Area, select works by Jan Komski and Marcin Chumiecki were displayed.  The complete series of these works, loaned from the collections of The Polish Mission, are on display outside the Madonna University Library in the Main Academic building.

4218Jan Komski was a Catholic Pole who survived the terror of internment at the Auschwitz death camp, and later created a considerable series of drawings and paintings, following nearly five years of imprisonment by the Nazi German authorities.  After the war, he immigrated to the United States and had established a career at the Washington Post.  The Polish Mission’s twelve-piece Komski collection is the only collection of his holocaust-themed work outside of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum.  The photo series by Polish Mission director Marcin Chumiecki, originally shot for National Geographic in 2009, captures unseen details and revealing perspectives on the current state of the Auschwitz site.  Several images were taken with a custom built infrared camera, and many were taken in the evening, offering viewers rare glimpses of the Memorial today.

After about an hour and a half of discussion and exhibit viewing, guests were invited into the Suchyta lecture hall located right off the Gathering Area for the evening program.  As they filed into the seats of the auditorium-style lecture hall, Msgr. Thomas C. Machalski, Chancellor-Rector of the Orchard Lake Schools and JJ Przewozniak, U.S. Project Manager for Forbidden Art, prepared to address the community.

Deepinder Uppal Singh welcomed those gathered for the event and thanked them for their support.  He welcomed Sr. Nancy to the podium to open with a prayer.  She then welcomed President Michael Grandillo to address the audience.  President Grandillo gave an address that touched upon the special connection between Madonna University and the Orchard Lake Schools, and encouraged all gathered to embrace the responsibility to educate others on the extreme terror of yesteryear.   He pledged that Madonna University would ever maintain the importance of the Holocaust education.

Next, Chris Seguin discussed her involvement with the project, and how meaningful the relationship between the two organizations has become, in light of the tragic subject being presented.  With her dedication to art and the history of art, she encouraged all to see the deep value in beholding the Forbidden Art exhibition, which gave viewers a unique glimpse into what life was like behind the barbed wire of Auschwitz.

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She introduced Monsignor Thomas C. Machalski, Jr., Chancellor-Rector of the Orchard Lake Schools, to share a few thoughts.  Msgr. Tom, after cordially thanking all those involved in forging the new partnership between Madonna University and The Polish Mission, took the time to share a moving anecdote with the gathered community.  He shared a personal story of meeting Franciszek Gajowniczek, the man whose life was saved by St. Maximilian Kolbe at Auschwitz in 1941.  Msgr. Machalski spoke about how moving Mr. Gajowniczek’s tale was, weaving each detail and absolute horror of the camps into the life-giving sacrifice of St. Kolbe, in testament to his faith.  Msgr. Machalski said that he never forgot the day he met Mr. Gajowniczek, and that through the Forbidden Art project, he has been able to share the story that influenced him so deeply many years ago.  Msgr. Tom also recognized the initiative of Polish Mission director Marcin Chumiecki, who by his dedication had made the Forbidden Art project a reality, as well as a particularly essential educational asset.

4236Msgr. Machalski then introduced the keynote speaker for the evening, JJ Przewozniak, Curator of Collections at The Polish Mission, and Project Manager for Forbidden Art North America.  Following the premier of Forbidden Art in Las Vegas, Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum Director Dr. Piotr Cywiński recognized the importance of Przewozniak’s role, and extended an invitation for him to be formally trained at the museum in Poland by department heads and team leaders.  Przewozniak serves as the central person in coordinating showings of the exhibit and presentations involving the Auschwitz Memorial.

He began by introducing unique perspectives on the art of Jan Komski and Marcin Chumiecki: “Komski and Chumiecki give us two perspectives on the same reality…  From these, the reality of Auschwitz is brought into our own understanding—these collections and the authenticity they depict prepare us to explore the artists and objects in Forbidden Art.”

Przewozniak continued to offer the audience an introduction to the history of Auschwitz, and an in-depth overview of the exhibit by sharing research on selected artists.  The room was at rapt attention, for about an hour, and at the close, the audience left the hall with much to ponder about the future.  As they stopped once more to study the art, with new awareness and perhaps a new perspective, pensive goodbyes were made as all departed into the January cold.

Forbidden Art is presented in North America by The Polish Mission of the Orchard Lake Schools in exclusive cooperation with the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum.  For more information, please visit www.polishmission.com, or https://www.facebook.com/polishmissionexhibits/

Do you want to become a host venue for Forbidden Art?  Please call JJ Przewozniak at (248) 738-6720 or email at jjprzewozniak@orchardlakeschools.com.