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Poland Pilgrimage Inspires ‘Spiritual Heroism’ for Battles Ahead

Tory Baucum, director of the Center for Family Life at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, led the six of the Center’s St. John Paul II Fellows on a pilgrimage to Poland, via Oxford, England, during Spring Break 2024, March 2-10.

“The goal was to have a deeper understanding of spiritual heroism,” he said. “I think 20th century Polish Catholicism is the best place to learn that quickly.”

Students said it was both instructive and inspiring as they work to strengthen family life in the United States in the 21st century.

“The trip was meant to put John Paul II’s thought in the context of the Polish culture that formed him and made him the loving pastor who was able to inspire the world,” said Baucum.

Senior theology major Benjamin Hoopes said the trip surpassed expectations.

“I was not prepared for how striking the atmosphere of Poland was,” he said. “Our guide for the trip, Konrad Milewski, a native of Poland who lives in Kansas City now, made Poland come alive with his stories of participating in Polish culture and with the special stops and notable places he would point out for us,” he added. “Konrad himself was such a powerful witness to the Gospel and of the contagious hope that came from his life lived in love and joy.”

The group traveled to Wadowice, Kraków, Wrocław, Warsaw, Częstochowa and Auschwitz.

Shea Nowicki said that she was impressed by Poland’s “great history of resilience and endurance in the face of difficulty, as well as a perpetual hope. … The Polish ability to hold these experiences together is something I want to intentionally foster in my own life, even here in America.”

A senior theology major from Scottsdale, Ariz., she plans to pursue graduate studies in theology, she was also moved also by seeing sites related to St. Edith Stein, the Jewish philosopher who became a Carmelie nun and died at Auschwitz with the name St. Benedicta of the Cross.

Students greatly appreciated visiting Oxford, the ancient city of Catholic scholars and saints, including St. John Henry Newman, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Evelyn Waugh and Dorothy Sayers.

Baucum said, “The trip to Oxford was very special in its own way. What the students got exposed to was extraordinary. Our hosts rolled out the red carpet for our students and our students really represented the college well.”

The students had the rare opportunity to participate in Oxford activities closed to the general public, including the Oxford Formal Dining Hall & High Table.

“They were having really rich conversations with students in the dining hall, about a better basis for feminism, Edith Stein, and nuptial theology,” said Baucum. “I was proud of our students because I felt like they would hold their own in that intellectual environment.”

Ultimately, Baucum hopes that the trip will make his students better able to participate in the “spiritual heroism” necessary for the battles ahead.

“Like everything I do in the fellowship, it’s to help us to become lovers of human love. That’s the only way to fight what we’re up against. You can’t do it as a negative,” he said. “We have to go in with what God designed and why it’s still the best path forward.”


Benedictine College

Founded in 1858, Benedictine College is a Catholic, Benedictine, residential, liberal arts college located on the bluffs above the Missouri River in Atchison, Kansas. The school is honored to have been named one of America’s Best Colleges by U.S. News & World Report, the best private college in Kansas by The Wall Street Journal, and one of the top Catholic colleges in the nation by First Things magazine and the Newman Guide. It prides itself on outstanding academics, extraordinary faith life, strong athletic programs, and an exceptional sense of community and belonging. Benedictine College is dedicated to transforming culture in America through its mission to educate men and women within a community of faith and scholarship.