Father Esmond Louis Klimeck O. P. MA., Ph.D., Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice
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Martin Joseph Klimeck was born on the 29th of May 1895 in the small town of Milton, being the fifth child of seven to Martin Klimek and Wilhelmina Auguste Barra. His parents arrived in New Zealand with their parents and siblings aboard the Gutenburg and Reichstag in 1874 and were married on the 22nd of February 1887 at the Catholic Church of St. John’s at Milton. Their families were assisted immigrants sent out from Hamburg to work on the railway works south of Dunedin and settled at Waihola. His father, Martin Klimek was born on the 12th of November 1863 at the village of Małżewo and his mother, Wilhelmina Augusta Barra was born on the 6th of November 1867 at Gniszewo. Both villages are situated in the ethnic region of Kociewie, Poland and lie approximately eight kilometres apart.
As a child Martin first received his primary education at the Akatore Public School while living on the family farm at Loudens Gully. The family moved to Johnson Street, Milton around 1808 where he attended the Dominican Sister’s Convent School at Milton with his siblings. Around the age of 13 or 14, Martin was regularly visiting the Catholic Presbytery at Milton during the holiday time. It was common in those days for the priest to visit his parishioners in a horse and trap, and Martin would go along for the ride to open and shut the many gates. Rosalie, a younger sister, recalls asking her brother “Would you like to be a priest.” He answered, “Yes I would.” “I’m sure, that all he was thinking of at the time was if he was a priest, he would also have a boy to open all the gates.” So, around 1910, a small chubby boy at the age of 14 left to study for the Priesthood at the Holy Cross College Seminary at Mosgiel. Later in life he maintained that he never went away from that final yes.
In 1911 his father sold the family farm at Loudens Gully to Richard Pearce (NZ’s first aviator) and the family moved to 61 Clyde Street in Dunedin. Here, Martin Senior did a variety of labouring work before finally taking on hotel keeping. Due to the outbreak of World War One, Martin junior entered in to the Territorials with other Holy Cross students.
At the age of 25, Martin Joseph Klimeck was ordained Father Esmond Louis Klimeck on the 8th of December 1920 by the Right Reverend Dr. Brodie (Bishop of Christchurch) at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Dunedin, holding the distinction of being the first Catholic priest in New Zealand of Kociewian-Polish origin. After having been a curate in Dunedin for four months he was sent to Invercargill where he first served six months as an assistant priest. Martin was then sent on exchange to the Archdiocese of Wellington which he accepted without question. He first served as parish priest for Takapau in June of 1921 and being an avid student, he achieved his B.A. degree of (Mental and Moral Philosophy) at Victoria University in 1922. It was at this time Rosalie moved north to housekeep for her brother the priest. He then served as parish priest for Upper Hutt early 1923 and later at Marton in February of 1925.
Rosalie recalls, “He was a man of his word and just this once that I know of, they tripped him up. Upper Hutt was a small parish but rapidly improving. The church was not big enough and needed extending. A bazar and sale were organised, which proved very successful, with several hundreds of pounds being raised. One evening at about 6.30pm the proceeds were brought to him in a hard round white cotton bag. He didn’t want to keep this in the house and so decided to take it to the secretary who had a safe. He insisted he would be back by 8 pm as he had a man coming to see him. The man arrived on time but no Father. He waited until 9 pm and then said he must go as his wife didn’t like being left on her own. I had rung all the people I knew but no one had seen Father. Ten & eleven o’clock came and naturally my anxiety mounted. I was sure he had been bumped off with that white bag. The phone closed down at midnight, so at five minutes to midnight I rang the police. He agreed to go and look for him and I offered to go to. I said I would get a coat and meet him at the gate. I went upstairs for the coat and as it was a summer night the windows were wide open. Just then I heard voices at the gate. I called out, and it was himself. He replied he would be in soon. Just then a police car arrived, and I stood to listen of course. His inquiries to the police were, “What are you looking for at this time of night?” “Looking for you” – “For me why?” “Your sister is very worried.” “Why is she worried? I told her I would be in at 8 pm.” “Yes, that’s why she is worried, as it’s now after twelve.” The man he had been talking to, exclaimed, “After twelve? – my wife will be looking for me—I’m off.” The policeman replied, “You had better go in. Your sister is worrying.” Father replied, “She called out before, she knows I’m here.” I quickly scurried off to my bed as I had had enough that day. But there was no storm the next day.”
From the North Island Fr. Klimeck was sent back to Holy Cross College, where he became the Vice-Rector and Professor from 1926-29. He obtained his M.A. at Otago University in 1926 and proceeded to lecture at Holy Cross on subjects such as the “History of the Little Sisters of the Poor” and ”The Church and the Heathen”, both available in the NZ Tablet 1927. In August 1929, the rector and professors of Holy Cross College entertained the Rev. Fr. Klimeck to dinner on the eve of his departure for Rome. “Too much praise can scarcely be given to Father Klimeck for his untiring zeal and energy with which he has worked in this appeal for the Holy Cross College building fund…” Father managed to collect over £3,000 from the generosity of the Dunedin diocese and gained the esteem and respect of priests and people. After a farewell social by the parishioners at Mosgiel and presented with a Mosgiel rug, Martin set off for Rome to take his Ph.D. at the Angelicum University.
When her brother moved overseas Rosalie met and married Thomas Prescott. Thomas inherited the family farm being the only son. They purchased another farm at Kopua and after some time brought out some Cistercian monks from Ireland. Tom and Rosalie decided that all the land be given to the monks in order to build a monastery, naming it the “Southern Star Abbey.” The Abbey was created from the very buildings that housed and schooled the Polish children of Pahiatua after the Second World War. Rosalie Prescott was an avid member of the “Polish Heritage Trust of Otago & Southland” and took a keen interest in her Polish heritage donating generously. She passed away at her home in Kopua, Hawkes Bay in 2003 on the 17th of July, four days shy of her 104th birthday.
Bernard Moran, for the Tablet writes; Fr. Klimeck obtained his degree of Doctor of Philosophy at the College Angelica, under the Dominican Fathers at Rome in 1931 and returned back to New Zealand later that year. While studying in Rome and making the most of his travel through Europe, he visited Ireland and met the late Frank Duff, who founded the “Legion of Mary” in Dublin 1921, a lay Catholic Organisation whose members voluntarily gave service to the Church, and was so overwhelmed by its possibilities.
In February of 1932, Rev. Dr. Klimeck held an annual retreat for the senior boys at the Christian Brothers High School conducting spiritual exercises inspiring the young students with his own earnestness with lectures on the “Life of Our Lord” and “Devotion to the Blessed Virgin”. Only months later, Fr. Klimeck experienced the loss of his father, Martin, on the 8th of July 1932 at their family home in St. Kilda, Dunedin. In the next year, with the approval of Bishop Whyte, Father Klimeck set up the first praesidium of the Legion (Our Lady of Mercy), in New Zealand, being its chief Spiritual Director. The Legion met in South Dunedin on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, on the 8th of December 1933. The Legion then spread to Christchurch in 1934 and the Auckland diocese in 1938. In 1934, Fr. Klimeck became Administrator for St. Joseph’s Cathedral and later Administrator for South Dunedin in 1935. At the annual conference of the Catholic Teachers’ Association of NZ in Dunedin: “The Cinema and the Child” was the title of an informative paper read by Rev. Dr. M. Klimeck, who discussed the powerful influence for good or evil exercised on the child’s mind by moving pictures, and quoted some startling results of recent scientific research into the matter. “Every available educational agency should be mobilized to support the crusade for clean films, he said.” 22 Jan 1935.
In 1936, Fr. Klimeck felt strongly drawn to the Dominican Order chiefly through the reading of “The Life and Letters of Father Bertrand Wilberforce, O.P.”. He had at this time, a widowed mother with whom he had great rapport. To leave her would be to bring much sorrow to her, as the parting could be final. As he was in his forties, it would be difficult for a senior ex-seminary professor to go through the Dominican training routine of the postulancy and novitiate with young men in their late teens and early twenties. Also, he had been vice rector of Mosgiel and administrator of the Dunedin Cathedral. However, all this counted for naught to Fr. Klimeck once he became convinced that the Lord was asking him to go to England. He was the first New Zealander to join the Dominicans and the English Province at a time when it was rich with eccentrics and characters. He left Dunedin for Wellington where he boarded the “Wanganella” on March the 12th for America and then England where he joined the Dominican Order of Preachers, thus covering some 25,000 miles in eight steamers. After three years, Fr. Klimeck was able to wear the white habit of a Dominican, being ordained into the Dominican Order on the 30th of September 1940 at Woodchester, Gloucester, England. While at the Blackfriars, the Dominican House of Studies at Oxford, he found himself engaged in the art of filmmaking, creating 16mm films for the Oxford branch of the Catholic Film Society. His first effort, “The Blackfriars of Oxford” was shown in London, where it was enthusiastically received.
It was 1939, and soon he was swapping the habit for the blue uniform and was placed in charge of the Parish of Woodchester, Glos, becoming a Chaplain in the Royal Air Force early in the war. “It was grand work,” he said, “helping the thousands of R.A.F. and W.A.A.F. boys and girls who passed through” the large station of which he was in charge, but it seemed so much a step into the unknown, considering the security that he was enjoying in New Zealand. He was also to serve in Africa, Greece, Italy and Malta during the entire Second World War. In Sydney Rev. Dr. Klimeck joined the N.Y.K. Japan mail line steamer, the “Kitano Maru”, to places such as Manila, the Philippines and Shanghai. “The Philippines had just elected their first president, Manuel Quezon, as he landed at Davao, in the southern part of the territory. The day we arrived,” he recalled in a chat with the “New Zealand Free Lance,” “I had recently purchased the cine-camera, and in proper newspaperman style I clambered up on vantage points to photograph him. I got quite a good picture, which I still possess. Even at this time there was a great deal of alarm over the Japanese infiltration in the Davao area and fear that Japan would take ‘protective’ steps. The Philippines was becoming very jittery.” He spent some of his time in Manila at the house of the St. Columbian Mission. It has poignant memories, for many of those he met here, including Father Vernon Douglas, a New Zealand priest, who was tortured and murdered by the Japanese during the war. Subsequent traveling took the peripatetic priest through China and Japan, visiting Catholic Missions as in Shanghai and the region of Peiping where there was lively evidence of Japanese influence. Apart from this he saw the many views of culture and way of life in these countries. Incidentally it was Japan where he could not use a camera, for fear of being imprisoned. He tells with a smile, that he did preserve the continuity of the pictorial record by taking some cine-pictures as the ship pulled out for America, where he spent a leisurely six weeks before leaving for England aboard the “Queen Mary”. Long before the raid on Pearl Harbour he had observed at first-hand unmistakable signs of Japanese territorial ambitions. “I have always had the greatest interest in the missions and the propagation of the Faith. I always placed the needs of the foreign missions as the first and most important duty of the Catholics of today who live in a land where the Church is already well established and flourishing. It is but natural, then to wish to have, if possible, first-hand knowledge to aid me in furthering this work in future. Another object which will receive my attention during my travels is work on behalf of the Legion of Mary. My work in that regard was begun in Dunedin. The results of it are well known, but I have no intention of it being finished there. I have indeed authority from the Council of the Legion in Dublin to try and spread the knowledge of the society in the lands I shall visit. In America the Legion authorities have placed certain funds at my disposal for the purpose of organising work, if time and circumstances permit. I hope to be able to do something to carry out this commission. My final destination is still England and the Dominican Order. Whether the vocation of which I go to make trial shall be realised, no one but God knows. I feel that it will be. If perchance it be not, my time abroad will give me further valuable knowledge and experience. Both in America and England I shall make a close study of Catholic Action and social organisation”. Adventures, they say, are to the adventurous, and judged by that standard, Father Esmond Klimeck, O.P, Ph. D. M.A. was an adventurous priest. His greatest adventure, however, at this time, has been the campaigning for Christ not only in the Order of Friars Preachers, but among the members of the Royal Air Force.
At the same time Father Klimeck did some remarkable and far-reaching work in conjunction with the Sword of the Spirit movement, organising not only Catholic and non-Catholic cooperation but enlisting the sympathy and support of local body government and of secular societies. His efforts in this field were crowned with much success, and though the removal of the danger of war has resulted in a certain amount of cooling off, Fr. Klimeck considered that an appreciable amount of solid gain would remain, binding together Catholic and non-Catholic Christians in England in worthwhile social effort and in forming a stand for God against the encroachments of neo-paganism.
He returned to New Zealand late 1945, where he received a very warm welcome not only in Dunedin, but while on the “Rangitata”, which carried the wives and children of a number of New Zealand servicemen and which was affectionately called the “Stork Ship.” During the voyage he was described as a tower of strength, and with funds collected from the passengers did a grand shopping tour in Port Said which enabled every child to have a present off the Christmas tree. Stockings made from muslin by women passengers were filled with an orange, banana and sweets and the sight of 16 pink-frosted Christmas cakes was almost too much for the children. In Dunedin he enjoyed a reunion with members of his family including his sister Mrs. T. G. Prescott, of Takapau, a sister who met him in Wellington, and his mother who at this time was well in her seventies.
He looked back with satisfaction on his pre-war experience in England. In the course of a good deal of historical research at Oxford he used his camera extensively, photographing architectural relics and reconstructing scenes from the past. When war came, he did not discard the camera, making a film of fire-fighting methods at Oxford, simulating real events. “Sometimes I had to take part myself, and in one scene I’m supposed to be lying moaning under a piece of masonry. You can’t hear me, of course, but you can see it, all right! Of course, I had to get someone else to work the camera for those shots.” He finally brought back about 1000 feet of cine-film shot by himself in many of the countries he visited. Oxford was not subjected to organised bombing, and in the earlier years of the war he joined the R.A.F in 1940. Nevertheless, he had the doubtful pleasure of being in London during the first big raid on Croydon on the 15th of August, 1940, and also for the last and biggest attack in the Battle of Britain—a dusk-to-dawn affair. While in England he was one of the first directors of the R.A.F. Catholic leadership courses. A new and interesting chapter of events unfolded when, as Squadron Leader Klimeck, he went to North Africa towards the end of the Allied campaign. “I caught up with the advancing forces in the campaign in Italy, being attached to the Tactical Air Force. I was in Rome for four days after its capture. I was pretty keen to keep up with the front-line troops, but I ended up by being stationed in Rome for six months. I knew the city pretty well and could speak Italian, and when they said a chaplain was required to stay there, It seemed the logical choice. I virtually acted as liaison officer between other denominations.” “Part of my duties was to arrange for audience with the Pope by ‘higher-ups’ such as air-marshals and similar ranks. As a result, I had practically daily audiences with the Pope, many of them in his private study as well as in public. I remember in particular arranging the audience for Lieut-General Freyberg, who invited me, as the only R.N.Z.A.F. chaplain in Italy at the time, to be present. General Freyberg was most popular with all our men, and I never heard a critical world about him. ‘The “Old Man’s” all right, the men used to say.” Since his earlier trip abroad in 1930, Squadron-Leader (Rev. Father E. L. Klimeck, Italy Star, 1939-45 Star and Defence Medal), had visited practically every part of the world except Russia. Few New Zealanders, for example, could parallel his experiences of enjoying practically daily audiences with the Pope. He wore out two motor-trucks as a chaplain with the forces, driving himself 25,000 miles, at a conservative estimate. After a couple of “prangs” with motorcycles without injury to himself, he picked up his first truck in Tunis, and took it to Bizerta, eventually driving aboard a landing-craft for transport to Italy. Snow, gales, flooded rivers and ignorance of the routes held no terrors for the resourceful priest, who made his own repairs when the distributor became flooded and other ills occurred. Travelling alone he recalls only one major hold-up when he was stuck in the snow in an Italian village for three or four days.
Fr. Klimek arrived back in New Zealand only a few weeks before a short illness preceded the death of his mother of which his presence was without doubt an answer to a mother’s prayer. Wilhelmina Klimeck (nee Barra) passed away on the 25th of February 1946 at the age of 78. A Requiem Mass was celebrated on February 27 at St. Patrick’s Basilica, South Dunedin by Fr. Klimeck himself who also officiated at the graveside.
In 1947, he was elected Prior of Leicester, and organised the now famous British national pilgrimages to the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. In 1948, from 14 different points in England, groups of pilgrims converged on the shrine, praying the Rosary and carrying in turns a heavy wooden cross weighing 100lbs. Fr. Klimeck’s group walked 230 miles. This national pilgrimage has now become a major annual event in English Catholic life. The apostle in Fr. Klimeck saw him outfitting an old Morris van, and soon he was criss-crossing the length and breadth of the United Kingdom, preaching and spreading devotion to the Rosary. In 1950 he resigned from office at Leicester in order to devote himself as promoter and director of the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary and all other Dominican Confraternities in England, Scotland, Wales, South Africa and parts of the West Indies. Here he gave birth to the idea of the Rosary Crusader travelling around in a small van, transporting a beautiful statue of Our Lady he purchased in Fatima, along with films, cinema equipment and reading material, etc. At the same time Fr. Klimeck published his first book: “A Modern Crusader.” His last work was “The Royal Rosary Road” published in 1982. While in Kenya he edited the “Voice of the People,” the magazine of the Legion of Mary in East Africa.
Appointed Provincial of Malta in 1952-56, one of the oldest Provinces in the Order, he used his time to good purpose. He initiated and saw the completion there of the shrine to Our Lady of the Rosary. Not just a small shrine, but a large church with a tower, a priory and novitiate for seminarians. There was just enough time to admire the grand new building in Valetta before fresh orders arrived sending him to the University of Cape Town as chaplain. His travels in most parts of the world over 34 years also gained him a Fellowship of the Royal Geographical Society of Great Britain, awarded to him in 1954. From 1963-70, he taught at the seminary in Nairobi as Professor of Philosophy and Spiritual Director, which gave him a very perceptive insight and knowledge of the Black clergy in Southern Africa. Once, during a Rosary renewal Crusade through East Africa, Fr. Klimeck took time out to climb Africa’s highest mountain, Mt Kilimanjaro in 1966. He was then a sprightly 70-year-old, and apparently one of the oldest to climb the mountain. In his youth he climbed many of New Zealand’s mountains and is said to have left a set of Rosary Beads at every mountain he climbed. While on holiday in NZ, Father Klimeck was made an honorary member of the Cistercian Order at the Southern Star Abbey, Kopua, on the 2nd of August 1970. For his missionary work in different parts of Africa, mainly in East and South Africa he received from Pope Paul VI, the “Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice” (The Papal Cross) on the 1st of January 1971. The Investiture took place at the Southern Star Abbey, in the presence of a large number of his fellow Dominicans. Father Klimeck was the only priest in New Zealand at the time to have received the Papal Decoration and could claim living through the Pontificate of nine Popes; from Leo XIII to John Paul II. It is said where ever he went in his travels he proudly proclaimed that he was a genuine Kiwi.
Returning for good, and no sooner had he unpacked his bags, he was looking around for ways to be an apostle. A Morris campervan, aptly dubbed “The Ark”, was purchased with the help some friends and a relative, and throughout the early seventies, Father “Klim” was an inspiring figure, travelling the road and preaching on the Rosary in hundreds of parishes. At the age of 76 he had decided to go no more a-roving beyond the shores of New Zealand. He was often seen wearing robes which dated back to 1216—his normal ecclesiastic dress, he said jocularly. “I must take first prize as the oldest living relic of antiquity to be found in these parts today.” The first item on which the eye alights is a beautiful three-foot statue of Our Lady of Fatima, hand carved in Portugal – “The most travelled statue in the world,” Father Klimek says. A Maori tipare or headband woven in red and black encircles the top of the transparent dome surrounding the statue. This was specially woven by the Maoris who have always received the statue with VIP honours at their various maraes which Father had visited. A shortage of rosary beads in the country brought to life a philanthropic facility in his hands, and Father readily became a manufacturer of rosary beads whose variety radiated a warmth from the walls of this nomadic home. The most spectacular pair of rosary beads made were over fifteen feet long and qualify as the world’s largest. Father wore these to the school visits usually making a memorable impact on the students. When crucifixes became unobtainable at a realistic price, with the help of his sister, Fr. Klimeck took to manufacturing ethnic looking crosses, no two alike. He was also known to cycle everywhere while on his prayer mission around the country. He remarked. “I did have a car with my cycle on the back. People used to think I was a bit of a pessimist: carrying my bike round, but I used to tell them I would tow the car if it had broken down.” So, at the age of 77 Father Klimeck was seen cycling everywhere he went. When failing health put an end to the van, he developed his apostolate around his beloved St Ben’s, the Dominican Priory in Auckland, blessing the sick, saying Sunday Masses, running first Friday all-night vigils, and giving spiritual advice to Catholics, particularly those in the Charismatic Renewal. Through all this, as his health weakened, he made hundreds of rosaries.
On the 8th of December 1980, Father Klimeck celebrated the Diamond Jubilee of his Ordination at the Dominican Convent, Fielding. 1n 1982, after nearly two years of travelling up and down New Zealand since his return, Father released his publication of the Rosary, aptly named “The Royal Rosary Road.” The introduction gave a brief history of his Rosary campaign, that begun in England before the last war, and carried on in Malta, Africa and now New Zealand. The bulk of the booklet was a discussion on the doctrinal basis of the Rosary by Fr. Hilary Carpenter, formerly English Assistant General of the Dominicans, and Fr. Klimeck’s lifelong friend. He outlined the main doctrinal basis of the Rosary and gave some lines of how this was developed in the individual mysteries. Father believed that the “Rosary” as being an excellent preparation for us to be able to use with greater spiritual benefit Holy Mass and the other public liturgical offices of the church.
The following is a letter written by Father to a cousin in Australia who was researching the family tree, a year before his death. Dear Mrs. Taylor, I was hoping to have had a chance of answering your inquiry via Dunedin etc. A long time ago and eventually I have worked in many countries – especially 14yrs in Africa after becoming a Dominican. I find your work in the family tree field but sorry I can’t help you. After all, my parents arrived here as children – I remember my mother was 5yrs. I eventually was the 5th child of a family of 7. Our interest in Poland – then under Germany (part where parents came from) and any documents you were registered as German. The two other parts had been parcelled out to Austria & Russia after a war in which Poland so surrounded was defeated. Poor Poland always under the heal of the big nations as now worse than ever. Before the 2nd World War when I was first in Europe, I made a sentimental journey especially visiting Krakow (our great Pope Sec) as well as the National Marian Shrine of Mary Queen of Poland. The country was just making headway in its short term of freedom after the 1st World War – now worse than ever. I took in interest in Poland from then on but never expected to ever rise from the meagre education one was lucky to get at one teacher country schools. Certainly wouldn’t force myself becoming an M.A, D.Ph. etc and a priest and later a Prior Provincial of the oldest Christian country in the world which has kept the faith implanted when St. Paul was wrecked there. But re the Klimeck family – besides my father Martin (after whom I was called) the only other one I knew was an older brother of his, re Frank. However, I used to hear them talk of another (you mentioned) – Louis. This branch I gathered settled in Tasmania and I’m sure must have left a good bunch of Klimecks behind them. I have been to Australia often never Tasmania. The eldest living of my family (an elder sister died) is 93 and still writing letters. As the 2nd eldest of the family, she may have heard and remember this or that. If you think it worth a trial her address is C/o- Mater Misericor, Private Bag, Dunedin. Her name is Mrs. Wihelmina Tarleton, (which she shortened eventually to Wilma). At 85 I still try to keep up necessary correspondence but with difficulty. I know we had a fine big photo album which as in those days had place of honour with the Bible in the sitting room. What became of it when all the family (excepting self) married and moved away. I was out of N.Z for some 34 years and only returned supposedly to retire when I was 75 – but still going but with various ailments – one was malignant cancer – which after several years when it should have been finishing me (constant treatment) suddenly disappeared. Somebody’s prayers as I wasn’t asking miracles at that time of life. Write again if you wish & also the Chancellery Hobart, Tasmania. Happy hunting – God Bless 1982.
Fr. Klimeck, a well-known figure throughout New Zealand and the world died on the 11th of May 1983 at Auckland, aged 87 years. It is significant that he was born during Mary’s Month, and died in May also. He was buried on the 16th of May, at the Southern Star Abbey Cemetery, Kopua, Takapau, Hawke’s Bay. At his Requiem Mass, Father David Halstead OP, delivered the homily, based on John, Chapter 7, vs 16-18. He said that Father Klimeck was a man of obedience who respected authority. His vocation, as he saw it, was to pass on the message that he had himself received. Father Aquinas McComb, OP, told The Tablet that Father Klimeck often preached the Fatima message. He stressed the hope that lay beyond the initially gloomy tidings for the world. He wanted people to put into practice Our Lady’s instructions, but was always constructive in his approach. “’Klim’ was always inventive, imaginative,” said Father McComb, “always wrapped up in new ways to present Christ and His Mother.” In his last months, he was studying the Infant of Prague and trying to spread the devotion. To him, it was a fitting devotion for children, so put upon and deprived in these days. “In his last year, he gave us the impression of a man on the job now, and when he spoke of the past, it was to reinforce with that experience what new form of apostolic work he had embarked upon.” Father McComb has no doubt that the major work and legacy of Father Klimeck’s life was to renew the ways of looking at the saying the Rosary. “He opened up the riches of the Rosary to Scripture in an imaginative and resourceful way. From mind-freezing repetition, where people try to think of the Mystery whilst saying something quite different, and end up in confusion, he made the Rosary mind-freezing—building up the picture of the Mystery. He opened the Rosary up for Scripture, discussion groups, Charismatic Renewal meetings and ecumenical gatherings. All who met “Father Klim” were struck by his enthusiasm, but most of all by his childlike simplicity. World-weariness and cynicism were not for him. He was obviously aware of them, but to one so conscious of God’s goodness and grace, and His wonderful ways, such attitudes were a waste of time. There was simply too much to be done getting on with doing God’s will to be cynical.”
Thank God I can still write legibly in spite of just entering my 90th year. If I type, the head and fingers don’t coordinate… And now to business, for this isn’t a health bulletin.” These among the last words Father Klimeck wrote when writing to the Tablet. The “business” of the letter was a request for The Tablet to give publicity to his booklet, “The Royal Rosary Road”, which at that time had sold more than 3000 copies in New Zealand, with publications translated for West Germany and Holland. Auckland correspondent, Bernard Moran, editor for the Tablet wrote an obituary which began; “Such was the enthusiasm, which Father Klimeck displayed in living his priesthood that it is difficult to write about him dying. He is obviously running around happy as a sand boy in heaven.” Possibly his strength as a priest sprang from his humility and obedience. He later recalled his first mission since his ordination; “Because I went without question when another priest had refused, I was immediately (for that reason) entrusted with a parish by the archbishop. Although few these days are brave enough to defend authority, it is worth saying en passant that on this simple act of obedience (which really cost me nothing), the whole of my future life, with its interesting and important work in many countries, has depended.” He was the embodiment of what Jesus meant when he said that unless we become like little children, we are not of His Kingdom; that and his love for God and for his fellows.
May he rest in peace.
“He who begets a stupid son begets him to his sorrow; the father of a fool knows no joy —–PROVERBS.“
- 1895, 29th May – Born in Milton, Otago to Martin Klimek born; Małźewo, Lubiszewo-Tczewskie, Gdanskie, Poland & Wilhelmina Eleanora Barra born; Gnieszewo, Subkowy, Gdanskie, Poland. Parents arrived in NZ in 1874 and were sent to work on the Southern Railway.
• 1901- 1909 – Attended Akatore Public School & Dominican Sister’s Convent School, Milton.
• 1908 – 1909 – Martin regularly visited the Catholic Presbytery at Milton during holiday time. The Priest in horse and trap would visit his parishioners in the area, so Martin would go along for the ride to open and shut the many gates. From then on Martin had a yearning desire to become a priest.
• 1910 – Entered Holy Cross College Seminary, Mosgiel to study for the Priesthood.
• 1920, 8th December – Ordained to the Priesthood, Holy Cross College. First Priest of Polish origin.
• 1921, Curate, Dunedin – Six months.
• 1921 – Assistant Priest, Invercargill.
• 1921, June – Parish Priest, Takapau.
• 1922 – Obtained B.A. degree of (Mental & Moral Philosophy) at Victoria University.
• 1923, February – Parish Priest, Upper Hutt.
• 1925, February – Parish Priest, Marton.
• 1926 – Obtained his M.A. at Otago University.
• 1926-1929 – Professor of Holy Cross College.
• 1931 – Obtained Ph. D. (Doctor of Philosophy), College Angelica, Rome.
• 1932-1933 – Professor & Vice Rector of Holy Cross College.
• 1933, 8th December – Set up the first praesidium of the Legion (Our Lady of Mercy), in NZ, as chief Spiritual Director. They met in South Dunedin on the feast of the Immaculate Conception.
• 1934 – Administrator of St. Joseph’s Cathedral, Dunedin.
• 1935 – Administrator of South Dunedin.
• 1939-1945 – Placed in charge of the Parish of Woodchester, Gloucester, England, R.N.Z.A.F. Chaplain, (Italy Star, 1939-45 Star and Defence Medal). Rome for six months as Chaplain for the Royal Air Force in Italy as liaison officer between other denominations. Part of his duties was to arrange for audiences with the Pope such as air-marshals and similar ranks. He had daily audiences with the Pope, many of them in his private study as well as in public, one such meeting was arranged for Lieut-General Freyberg.
• 1940, 30th September – Ordained into the Dominican Order, Woodchester, Gloucester, England. While at the Blackfriars, the Dominican house of studies at Oxford, he engaged in filmmaking, creating 16mm films for the Oxford branch of the Catholic Film Society. His first effort, “The Blackfriars of Oxford” was enthusiastically received. He also became one of the first directors of the R.A.F. Catholic leadership courses.
• 1947 – Appointed Prior of Leicester, England.
• 1948 – Organised a Marian Crusade in England, the now famous British national pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham
• 1950 – 1952 – Here he gave birth to the idea of the Rosary Crusader, transporting a beautiful statue of Our Lady he purchased in Fatima, along with films, cinema equipment and reading material, etc. & published his first book “A Modern Crusader”.
• 1852-1956 – Appointed Provincial of Malta, one of the oldest Provinces in the Order. Built a monumental church and monastery.
• 1954 – His travels in most parts of the world over 34 years gained him a Fellowship of the Royal Geographical Society of Great Britain.
• 1956 – Chaplain for the University of Cape Town.
• 1963-1970 – Professor of Philosophy and Spiritual Director in Nairobi Seminary.
• 1966 – Climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania – 19, 342 feet aged 70. While in Kenya he edited the “Voice of the People,” the magazine of the Legion of Mary in East Africa.
• 1970, 2nd August – Honorary member of the Cistercian Order at the “Southern Star Abbey”, Kopua
• 1971, 1st January – The first in NZ to have received the “Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice” (The Papal Cross) from Pope Paul VI for his missionary work mainly in East and South Africa – He could claim living through the Pontificate of nine Popes; from Leo XIII to John Paul II. During the 1970’s in NZ he was an inspiring figure, travelling the road and preaching on the Rosary in hundreds of Parishes. A shortage of rosary beads in the country saw him the manufacturer of rosary beads whose variety radiated a warmth from the walls of his nomadic home, a caravan he aptly named “The Ark”.
• 1980, 8th December – celebrated the Diamond Jubilee of his Ordination at the Dominican Convent, Fielding.
• 1982 – After nearly two years of travelling up and down New Zealand since his return, Fr. released his publication of the Rosary, aptly named “The Royal Rosary Road.”
• 1983, 11th May – Died at Auckland, aged 87 years. Buried May 16th – “Southern Star Abbey Cemetery”, Kopua, Takapau, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand. It is significant that he was born during Mary’s Month, and died in May also.
Pobόg-Jaworowski, J. W, History of the Polish Settlers in New Zealand, ed. Warsaw; Chz “Ars Polonia.” 1990, page 116.
Lee Pauline, Catholic Diocese of Dunedin Archives, provided photos & information.
Lubiszewo Tczewskie & Subkowy Parish Records, Pelplin Diocese, Poland.
Moran Bernard, Editor of the New Zealand Tablet, This Towering Priest, New Zealand Tablet, 1 June 1983, p 3.
Prescott Rosalie, (sister), supplied information about the Klimeck family and working for her brother. Letter written by Helen Gawith (neighbour) on Rosalie’s behalf (2001)
Taylor Mary, Bendigo, Australia, provided correspondence she received from Father Esmond Louis Klimeck O.P. MA, Ph.D, Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, about memoirs of family & career (1982).
Compiled by Paul Klemick (2022) based on the writings of Bernard Moran.
The Polish Heritage of Otago & Southland Charitable Trust
Chairperson ..... Ewa Rozecka-Pollard
Phone ......+64 3 477 5552
Secretary ..... Anna McCreath Munro
Phone ..... +64 3 464 0053
facebook ..... Poles Down South
Contact Poles Down South
Poles in New Zealand We would like to hear from Poles or people with any Polish connection, who visited New Zealand and particularly those of you who paid a visit or lived anywhere in Otago or Southland.
Polski “Poles Down South” jest stroną internetową organizacji polonijnej w Nowej Zelandii działającej w rejonie Otago i Southland na Wyspie Południowej. Siedzibą organizacji jest Dunedin.