My wife, Barbara (Mikulski), and I began our lives together in 1980. We had settled into our Wisconsin home in 1995 and had recently acquired our company. While I had three wonderful adult children from a previous marriage, we wanted to share our lives with a child. Because adoption of children for people over age 40 in the USA is more difficult, our social worker from Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee said, “Go international.” But where to go? How to start? Who to ask? Catholic Charities only offered domestic adoption services. We’d have to conduct our international adoption process independently.
We’d heard it was possible, so we began searching the Internet and researching in libraries. We had seen many advertisements about adoption from countries around the world, and we were especially interested in European countries. It was possible to adopt from Poland, we learned, but not easy. Barbara was fluent in the language and still had relatives in Poland. We concentrated on Polish adoption and became determined to adopt a Polish child.
Having three girls already, our first choice was to find a boy between the ages of 3 and 5. First we had to gain approval from our State and Federal Government officials through a home study and background investigation. We were told we should consider getting pre-approved for two children. There are more sibling groups of young children in Poland than single children. We agreed to consider that option. We started the process in May, and by September, we had a complete dossier assembled and stamped by the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland in Chicago. It was then placed in the hands of Mrs. Elóbieta Podczaska, Director of the Public Office of Adoption and Care (POAO) in Warsaw, for official review and approval.
We planned to visit my wife’s relatives and Mrs. Podczaska in Poland. We had been in Poland before, for pleasure, and Barbara had been back several times since immigrating with her family from Sochaczew to Chicago. While there, we were approved to be matched with children available for international adoption. This was still only the beginning. Our adoption process was an emotional roller coaster ride, taking us from extreme exhilaration to deep depression. It was very different than what I had experienced with the natural birth of my girls. If there is such a thing as being on a mission from God, adopting children must qualify for such a mission. It requires complete commitment of heart and soul.
Mrs. Podczaska immediately offered us a family of four children to consider, but we decided four would be too many for our stage of life. We would wait for the POAO to look for one or two children for us; asking that one be a boy.
After our trip we stayed in touch and made contacts with anyone knowledgeable in Polish adoption. There are several Orders of Women Religious with Polish roots in the Chicago and Milwaukee areas, including the Missionary Sisters of the Holy Family. We contacted them and by March of the next year, the blessings of God were shining upon us. Fr. Jerzy Sermak, S.J., now living back in Poland, referred us to Sister Lucinda, an American Provincial member of the Little Servant Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Immaculate Conception. She contacted a fellow member of her Order in Czestochowa, Sister Rafaela, who had two children who might fit our request. After getting permission from Mrs. Podczaska, we received a picture of a sister and brother. She was 7-years-old and he was about to turn 6-years-old. Within a fairly short amount of time we agreed to go to Poland and meet them. We hoped we would be meeting our children-to-be.
It was May 10 of that same year; Mother’s Day in America, and a beautiful, warm, spring day in Czestochowa. We arrived at the Dom Maych Dziecka in Czestochowa. There to greet us was Sister Rafaela, Sister Jadwiga, and Sister Iza. Sister Rafaela told us we’d be first introduced as Auntie and Uncle until we determined whether we wanted to adopt the children. Excitement and something very special was in the air. All the children were preparing for visitors.
We spotted our daughter first, then our son. It was hard to contain ourselves. The day was perfect. The feeling of love and compassion was immediate. The fear of what we were committing to do was real, but we had to press on. There was a feeling of hope that was so deep we felt it had to be the Holy Spirit guiding us. We played with the children, talked with the Sisters, took in the sights of the Dom Dziecka with all its colors and other children. We were being fully absorbed into the atmosphere of the holiest city in Poland. Within one hour the children were calling us Mama and Tata. They haven’t stopped since.
If you’ve ever been to Czestochowa in the month of May, you know how special a time it is for Catholics. May is the month when we venerate the Blessed Virgin Mary. During the next two weeks, we stayed in Czestochowa visiting our children-to-be, getting to know them, learning about the systems of social care in Poland, meeting other children at Sister’s place, and becoming deeply aware of the ongoing needs of orphans in Poland. We spent hours discussing these needs with Sister Rafaela, thinking, “We must do something.” Our children would be well provided for, but what about all these others left behind?
Seeing these beautiful, loving children of God who had been deprived of their natural parents made us think of the hard-learned lessons of our faith. Beyond adopting our two children, Barbara and I felt we had to do something else to help the other children, and others like them. It was hard to describe the feeling– one might say it felt like a calling. We continued to think and pray about it; to try to figure out what it meant for us.
But first, we had to get our children adopted and home. After our first two-week visit, we did return home to await the due process of the Polish court system. At the end of June we finally got the word. We were back in Czestochowa in July for the first of two court dates. In early August, we were home with our children in Milwaukee to begin our lives together as a forever family. Mission accomplished. We had our children, and our home was changed forever; never to be the same again. God had blessed us abundantly. And while we could have been content to live out our lives together without another thought for those left behind, something else happened in Czestochowa. We still had resources left and there were still needs to be fulfilled …