BY MARK GREAVES
POLICE are questioning Polish Marian Fathers over the whereabouts of a body that was dug up without permission from a property they are trying to sell.
The body, of a teenage boy called Witold Orlowski, was reported to be missing by the boy’s cousin who had travelled from Poland to visit his grave.
The cousin, Zbigniew Mantorski, had been informed by the Marian Fathers’ superior that the boy had been moved to Fair Mile cemetery in Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, to rest with his mother.
But when he arrived at the cemetery he found no sign of his cousin’s remains and no record that he had ever been moved there.
Fr Wojtek Jasinski, superior of the Marian Fathers in England, told The Catholic Herald that he reburied the remains himself last October so that the grave would not be bulldozed by developers.
He said he did not seek permission to do so either from the Ministry of Justice or from the cemetery authorities because the boy’s remains never legally existed in England.
The remains – the boy’s bones contained in a box – were brought over from Mexico by his mother who was terrified that she would not be allowed to bring them into the country and so evaded customs officials on her arrival.
Fr Jasinski said he also did not mark the boy’s remains with a plaque because he was afraid of what would happen if the cemetery authorities discovered them.
The site where the boy was originally buried – the St Raphael former convent and school in Lower Bullingham, near Hereford – is on the market for £1.5 million but has not yet been sold.
Fr Jasinski said it was a “mistake” to keep the re-burial a secret but insisted that it was the wish of the boy’s mother, who died in 1995, that he be buried with her.
He said: “I was afraid that [developers] would come with machinery and remove the grave together with the human remains. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want them to end up in a landfill.
“So I removed the remains, I interred them, I put them into the grave of Zofia Orlowski [the boy’s mother]. I should have contacted the police. I should have contacted the Ministry of Justice. It was a mistake.
“I’m going now to be interviewed by police. I don’t think I’ve done anything bad. I think it was humane what I’ve done. I have done it with decency, with prayer, with saying Mass for the people [involved]. I omitted [to ask for] permission and I regret that,” he said.
Fr Jasinski said he did not have any idea that the boy had living relatives until he received a phone call from the boy’s cousin, Mr Mantorski, about two months ago.
Mr Mantorski, who lives in Poland, said it was “very, very unpleasant” to be unable to find the remains of his cousin.
“I was astonished. It is very difficult for me to imagine that people were able to move the remains of my cousin [without permission],” he said.
The boy’s mother, Zofia Orlowski, arrived in England after a heartbreaking journey around the world in which her husband and both her children died.
They fled Poland at the outbreak of the Second World War and travelled first to Lvov, in modern-day Ukraine, and then to western Siberia. During the trip her husband and daughter died of typhus.
She reached Mexico with her son Witold and several hundred Polish orphans. In 1944, at the age of 14, Witold died of tetanus after he was run over by an ox-cart.
It is said that he had prayed for God to take his own life instead of that of a revered Marian Father, Fr Jozef Jarzebowski, who was seriously ill at the time.
Fr Jarzebowski, regarded by many people as a saint, spread the message of Divine Mercy around the world at the request of Fr Michael Sopocko, confessor of the visionary Sister Faustina.
Fr Jarzebowski is now buried at Fawley Court, a 17th-century mansion near Henley-on-Thames that was recently sold by the Marian Fathers for an estimated £22 million.
The Marian Fathers were granted permission to move Fr Jarzebowski’s body to the nearby Fair Mile cemetery earlier this month.
That permission, granted by the Ministry of Justice, has been suspended pending a judicial review sought by Poles opposed to the sale of Fawley Court. A High Court hearing is expected in June.