Author Philip Kosloski illuminates the story of Fr. Joe Walijewski in beautiful new graphic novel.
When the topic of graphic novels comes up, our minds immediately jump towards superheroes. For over half a century they have tantalized fans as paragons of charity and justice. Now a new hero is joining their ranks, as the true life story of a priest with an open cause for sainthood has been adapted to a graphic novel.
Father Joe Walijewski is the subject of the new illustrated work, Champion of the Poor: Father Joe Walijewski, from Voyage Comics & Publishing. Written by Voyage’s founder, Aleteia’s own Philip Kosloski, the work follows Fr. Walijewski’s life and works from childhood.
Born in 1924 to a family of Polish immigrants, Walijewski began discerning a vocation to the priesthood as a child. Inspired by Spencer Tracy’s portrayal of Father Flanagan in the 1938 classic, Boy’s Town, he especially wanted to help orphaned children. He felt called to be a missionary, even going so far as to promise God that he would take up a mission if he could become a priest.
When he was finally ordained, in 1950, he remembered this promise and requested a mission from his Bishop. Fr. Walijewski was sent to Boliva where he began the work that would eventually see him named Servant of God. There he served the parish of Santa Cruz, where he built a church and grew a community.
Fr. Walijewski’s crowning achievement was building an orphanage, for which he sought and was granted funding from Pope St. John Paul II. He spent the rest of his life tending to the orphans of Bolivia, taking on the position of father figure and role model. As the graphic novel notes of his latter years, he lived much like the Fr. Flanagan of Boy’s Town.
Champion of the Poor
Kosloski’s new comic covers many important moments of Walijewski’s life. Supported by the fantastic art of Michael LaVoy, who has previously worked with Philip on The Phantom Phoenix and Voyage’s Finnian and the Seven Mountains series, the graphic novel stands out as a modern-day illuminated manuscript, documenting the life’s work of this great Catholic figure.
Philip was kind enough to sit down with Aleteia and talk about Champion of the Poor: Father Joe Walijewski:
What first drew you to Fr. Joe Walijewski’s story? What spurs your own passion for this medium?
Part of what drew me to Fr. Joe was my own experience with his apostolate. I went on a mission trip in 2006 to his orphanage in Peru. I saw first-hand the impact he had on the children and his remarkable legacy in South America. He was a “trailblazer” and I thought his life had many powerful stories that could be portrayed in a visual manner.
I believe comic books have great potential to tell stories to a wide audience. Some children and even adults, are reluctant to open up a long, dry biography. A comic book, on the other hand, is easy to pick up and less threatening. It can open the door and help inspire others by the stories it can tell.
Fr. Walijewski’s deeds were inspired by early 20th-century cinema, particularly the 1938 classic Boys Town. Do you think modern cinema still has this potential to inspire young Catholics? Are there any modern titles that stick out to you?
I do believe that movies continue to be a powerful medium to tell stories and often those stories, if done well, can stick in your mind long after you see them. There are still glimpses of beauty and truth in today’s cinema. Nowadays it is more difficult to find a perfect movie, but beauty can still sneak its way in. For example, A Quiet Place (both Part I and II), had many profound moments of hope and sacrifice that make it inspiring.
Early on in his education Fr. Walijewski struggled with his studies. What can his story teach someone who is discerning a vocation, but does not believe they have the merit or credentials to achieve their goal?
There are many stories of saints who struggled with academics. Instead of giving up, they persevered and God opened-up doors for them. It shows that if you follow God’s will, he will always lead you, even when you think there is no hope.
If Fr. Walijewski is named a saint, what would you like to see him become the patron of?
Fr. Walijewski was a great advocate of the poor and, in a particular way, orphans. Above all he believed every child deserved a loving home, so he could easily be a patron of orphans, or the family.
A saint’s life is long and a graphic novel’s pages are limited. When you write a graphic novel how do you choose which events to cover?
His life had many stories we couldn’t fit into 25 pages, and so we stuck to those we thought best summarized his life and mission.
What would you say graphic novels bring to the lives of saints and those with causes open for sainthood?
The benefit of creating graphic novels and comic books about men and women on the path to canonization is to make their lives more accessible to the general public. The hope is that these comics help create a greater awareness of the saint, with more people invoking their intercession in their times of need. If more people pray to them in faith, more miracles are likely to occur, which opens the door to being officially recognized by the Church as a saint.