The subject of the latest episode in the “My Armenia, My Armenians” series was born in Kraków in 1956 as Tadeusz Zaleski. His father, Jan Zaleski (1926-1981) was a Pole and a linguist by profession, while his mother, Teresa (née Isakowicz; 1933-2011) was a Polish Armenian and a Polish language specialist. He is related to the penultimate Armenian Catholic archbishop of Lwów, the outstanding preacher and philanthropist Izaak Mikołaj Isakowicz (Fr Tadeusz is the great-great grandson of the archbishop’s brother). His mother’s twin sister joined the Order of the Franciscan Sisters, Servants of the Cross and, as sister Miriam Isakowicz, performed pious and charitable works in Poland and Ukraine.
On finishing school, Tadeusz Zaleski began attending the archdiocesan seminary in Kraków. In 1975, by then an ordinand, he was compelled by the communist authorities to do military service, which constituted a form of repression. At the end of the 1970s, while at the seminary, he helped to edit the Catholic samizdat publication “Krzyż Nowohucki” (Nowa Huta Cross) and was active as a member of the Student Committee of Solidarity. He made his debut as a poet in the pages of “Tygodnik Powszechny” (this should not be confused with the contemporary magazine of the same name). From 1980 he began to be active in NSZZ Solidarność (the Independent, Self-Governing Trade Union Solidarity). In this period he was targeted by the SB (Security Service of the Polish People’s Republic) and was twice severely beaten by its functionaries. It was this persecution that formed the background to Maciej Gawlikowski’s fiim Zastraszyć księdza (To terrorize a priest; 2006). At the same time, he devoted himself to good works and to helping people with disabilities. He was among the founders, in 1987, of the Saint Brother Albert Foundation (Fundacja im. św. Brata Alberta), which provides assistance to disabled people and runs a shelter in Radwanowice near Kraków. He is now its president.
Upon receiving Holy Orders in 1983, he was sent to study at the Pontifical Armenian College in Rome. On three occasions, however, the communist authorities refused him a passport because of his activities within the underground Solidarity trade union and movement. Indeed, it was not until 2001 that he was able to take up his studies in Rome. Having completed them, Cardinal Józef Glemp, who was then Ordinary for the faithful of the Armenian rite in Poland, appointed him priest with care of the Armenians in the Kraków archdiocese. In 2002-2009 he had care of Armenian souls in southern Poland and in 2009-2017 he served as pastor to the Armenian Catholic southern parish of St. Gregory the Illuminator based at the Holy Trinity Church in Gliwice. By then he was using a hyphenated surname, Isakowicz-Zaleski, which signified his profound identification with the tradition and culture of Polish Armenians.
As an active member of the Armenian community, Fr Isakowicz-Zaleski works to spread knowledge of Armenian history and culture, and especially of the Armenian Catholic rite. Indeed, he has written valuable historical studies on this subject, including Słownik biograficzny księży ormiańskich i pochodzenia ormiańskiego w Polsce w latach 1750–2000 [Biographical dictionary of Armenian priests and priests of Armenian origin in Poland in 1750-2000] and Arcybiskup ormiański Izaak Mikołaj Isakowicz „Złotousty”: duszpasterz, społecznik i patriota 1824–1901 [Armenian Archbishop Izaak Mikołaj Isakowicz ‘The Golden Voiced’: priest, community advocate and patriot 1824-1901]. He was responsible for a rapprochement between what is known as the old Armenian migration, whose roots are in some cases several centuries old, and the new, which began in the 1980s. He is also an indefatigable advocate of commemorating the victims of the Armenian genocide, both the widely known genocide that took place in 1915 in the Ottoman Empire and the genocide that befell Polish Armenians at the hands of Ukrainian nationalists in the years of the German occupation (he wrote of this in his book Przemilczane ludobójstwo na Kresach [The silenced genocide of the Eastern Borderlands of Old Poland]. On many occasions, Fr Isakowicz-Zaleski has appeared on the radio and on television to discuss the history of the Armenian church and nation and the problems facing Polish Armenians. In 2009-2014 he represented the Armenian minority on the Joint Commission of the Government of the Republic of Poland and the National and Ethnic Minorities.
The conversation with Fr Tadeusz Isakowicz-Zaleski will be broadcast on YouTube on the final Monday of May, that is, May 31, at 17.00. You are warmly invited!