Extract from the Mortuary Letter for Bro. Edward Kowala, SDB
Hong Kong, 1 June 2017 -- The last words we heard from Br. Edward, before he passed away in Canossa hospital on February 10th, were (spoken in Cantonese): “Tin Jyu Bou Yao!” (“May God bless you!”) The last songs sung on February 18, 2017 over the tomb of Czech Salesian Brother Edward Kowala were the School Anthem of St. Louis School Br. Edward worked for 52 years and the Chinese “Giù dai colli” hymn to Don Bosco known by all in the China Province.
During the Vigil Requiem Mass were present a host of Past Pupils of Don Bosco from St. Louis School (Old Boys Association) who had come to say good-bye to their beloved teacher and mentor. The Mass was attended also by Consul General and other members of the Czech Consulate in Hong Kong.
The story of his early life, told by Br. Edward himself, is very moving: “I, Edward Kowala, was born in 1926 in Vendryně, Třinec, Silesia region of the Czechoslovakia, as the 3rd of the 9 children of John Kovala and Johanna Kotská. Six-year old, my family was reduced to extreme poverty by the Great Depression and by being cheated by unscrupulous speculators, the whole family was thrown onto the street. No regular schooling was possible, I attended Polish and Czech schools. Twelve-year old, in 1938, my motherland Silesia was carved up by Germany, Poland, and Hungary, so my further schooling was made in a German school. Fourteen-year old, in 1940, having no way to continue my schooling, began to work in Germany. I worked at first as a waiter in a restaurant, then I worked for some time on the Polish boarder, but was badly hurt while working. In Germany - Dresden I was employed as a mechanic dedicated to filing. Three months after return back home I was employed at Ludwigshafen factory as a mechanic. There I lived in a lager, my health undermined by the air pollution caused by the pervading ammonia powder. As I stayed not far from the infamous Auschwitz Labor Death-Camp, I met some English and Canadian prisoners of war. From them I learnt my first English sentence: “Will you give me a cigarette, please?” My next experience was forced Arbeitsdienst (“work-service”), done not with guns, but with shovels as slaves. We had to dig deep holes in the ground, then I was forcedly enlisted in the German army that was occupying Poland. After sometime we were deployed to West Germany, because our superiors were afraid that we would defect to the Russians who were advancing. We received training against gas warfare, against tanks on sand fields, hiding in holes dug by ourselves. The next deployment was as a messenger, having to move under American bombing. I was lucky not to get killed and not to kill anybody. We had the very dangerous task of digging trenches on the front line. Each day there was only one ration of food in the evening. Once, crawling out of my hole to take some peas from the fields, I was targeted by an American fighter plane. My helmet was destroyed, but I escaped unharmed. Few months later we were caught as prisoners of war, we were transported to Edinburgh, Scotland, Great Britain. For a few months we were held in a military prison. Finally, I was released wearing a British army uniform with Czech insignia. Next I was sent to France to work in a small workshop to repair tanks and armored cars. At the end of the war, I went back home, serving 2 years in the Czech army in Ostrovačice near Brno, then I worked for some time as a driver with my brother. It was then that I began to think of entering a Religious Order.”
“When in 1948 the Communists took power, I decided to escape. After passing a night in a hotel near the border, the next day I walked through the border into West Germany. For 3 months I was in a German refugee camp, then sent to a refugee camp in England, near Oxford. I was accepted, working mainly as a waiter, and so being able to devote the rest of the time to self-study with the Augustinian Order for 4 years. I confessed regularly to the local Parish Priest. When I expressed my desire to join the Benedictins, my confessor (who was an ex-Salesian) said: “Why not join the Salesians?”
That is how I went in 1953 to see the Salesian Provincial Fr. Thomas Hall in Battersea, London, then made my novitiate in Burwash, the philosophy studies in Beckford, but wasting time in the kitchen. The games after lunch left me all in a sweat. As no showers were taken and no drying up made, so I got terribly sick. I was sent to teach in Shrigley [the Salesian Missionary Aspirantate]. I asked to go to the missions. I was offered the choice of Germany, Malta, Hong Kong. I chose Hong Kong and arrived in Cheung Chau in November 1958 wearing a clerical cassock. The Diploma in Philosophy and Education of the Academy of Philosophy for the Far East Salesians of St. John Bosco is dated 13th April 1960. Then few years later his application for perpetual profession was accepted, but not as candidate to the Salesian Priesthood, but as candidate to the permanent Salesian Brotherhood.
“So in 1962 I was sent to St. Louis where I was asked to teach English in Form 3 and History in Form 4.” For the next 55 years, Br. Edward Kowala was an invaluable educative-pastoral presence in St. Louis School, first as a full-time teacher and then as a retired teacher still fully committed to the educative-pastoral formation of the young. There were only two short interruptions. First in1971-1972 for a full-time two-year study of Chinese gaining a double Certificate in Chinese Language from the University of Hong Kong (Cantonese 1971, Mandarin 1972). The second interruption was in 1974-1977, when Br. Edward, to upgrade his teaching of Religious Knowledge in the school, took up a full course of theological studies in Mayooth, Ireland, obtaining a Bachelor Degree in Theology.
Br. Edward’s dramatic early life had equipped him for an outstanding work of education and pastoral care of the young. The languages he had studied and could manage were Czech, German, English, Italian, Latin, Cantonese, and Mandarin. The courses he taught in ATS and in SLS were English Language, History, Algebra, Biology, and Biblical Knowledge. His hobby was coaching the St. Louis boys in their soccer teams. But what he kept up to the very end of his life, was the caring contact with old and new boys he met in the school and in the Sunday Oratory.
Like Don Bosco, Brother Edward spent time to walk along with his students even they no longer went to school. Truly, Br. Edward Kowala lived to the full the vocation of the Religious Brother as educator and evangelizer
Biographical Data of Bro. Edward Kowala, SDB
- 1926 Birth in Vendryne, Czechoslovakia
- 1940 Work as a mechanic in Germany
- 1941-1944 Forced Military Service in the German Army
- 1944-1945 Prisoner of War in England, France
- 1945-1948 Work in Czechoslovakia
- 1948 Escape from Communist Czechoslovakia, Asylum in England
- 1949-1953 House Services for the Benedictines, Huntingdon, England
- 1953-1955 Aspirantate in Beckford and Melchet Court, England
- 1956 First Profession in Burwash, England
- 1958 Missionary Arrival in Hong Kong, Philosoophy in Cheung Chau
- 1962 Perpetual Profession in Hong Kong
- 1962-1974 Educative-Pastoral Work in St. Louis School
- 1974-1977 Study of Theology in Maynooth, Ireland
- 1977-2017 Educative-Pastoral Work in St. Louis School
- 2017 Death in Canossa Hospital, Hong Kong